Perhaps only matched by the innovations of Ralph McQuarrie, John Mollo helped bring the two-dimensional dream of Star Wars into the three-dimensional world. Winning an Oscar for his efforts, Mollo – who has passed away at 86 – also brought his considerable talents to Alien and The Empire Strikes Back.
A military history expert, Mollo had never seen a science-fiction film before agreeing to meet with Lucas, who was planning his third feature after his Oscar-nominated American Graffiti (1973).
“We discussed a few concepts when I joined the team, and George had a clear vision of what he was looking for. He liked the idea of the baddies having a fascist look about them, with the heroes reflecting the look of heroes of the American Wild West,” he told www.starwarshelmets.com.
With McQuarrie’s sketches and a meager budget of $1,173 for one costume, the London-born Mollo began shaping and fine-tuning Darth Vader’s image through his knowledge of World War 1 trench armour and Nazi helmets, ultimately creating the look of one cinema’s most memorable villains. His military influence is also visible in the regalia worn by the crew of the Death Star.
Star Wars went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1977 and received 10 Oscar nominations (and a Special Achievement award). Mollo won for best costume design.
“As you see, the costumes from Star Wars are really not so much costumes as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering,” he said upon receiving his Oscar, flanked by his creations of Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Stormtroopers.