John Boyega

Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor (An Imperial Talker Review)

I recently picked up a copy of Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and, I have to say, it was a serendipitous find. While the encyclopedic book by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray had been on my radar for a while, it was not a purchase I was planning on making any time soon. That is until I stumbled upon a copy for a reduced price on recent shopping trip. Immediately scooping it up, I dove into the book the night I bought it and found myself incapable of putting it down. From the Foreword, written by Star Wars actor John Boyega who portrays First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187 (Finn), to the final pages which detail the popular fan organization known as the 501st Legion, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor is a fascinating read that explores the history and cultural relevance of the iconic white-armored Imperial soldiers.

For one who is interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of Star Wars, especially the endless creative decisions that have gone into the universe, this book will definitely satisfy. Beginning in Chapter One (“Creating an Army”), Windham and Bray offer an in-depth understanding of the vision George Lucas had for stormtroopers and how that vision blossomed into reality on the big screen. Laying out explanations and examples of the early stormtrooper designs created by artist Ralph McQuarrie, and describing the aesthetic choices made by the production and art departments working on the film, the authors provide a rich picture of the development of stormtroopers for A New Hope. In subsequent chapters, Windham and Bray expand on these creative choices by examining how the original design of the stormtroopers would be altered time and again, with new trooper variants being incorporated into the ever growing Star Wars galaxy.

In regards to these variants, as a big fan of the Snowtrooper – check out my piece Trooping Through the Snow – I particularly enjoyed learning about how the specialized troops in cold weather gear were created for The Empire Strikes Back. As Windham and Bray mention in this section, McQuarrie’s original design for the snowtrooper officers – which were conceptualized as super commandos from the planet Mandalore – would ultimately be used by Lucas as the armor schematic for Boba Fett. As well, the all-white super commando design would be used in the Star Wars Rebels animated show, debuting in the aptly named episode “Imperial Super Commandos.” As well, I also found the information detailing Death Troopers from the film standalone film Rogue One to be  fascinating. The design of the Death Trooper, the authors note, goes back to the original McQuarrie concepts which depict tall, sleek stormtroopers. 

While the aesthetics and production decisions which have gone into designing stormtroopers and their many variants for the films (and other mediums) are explored in Beyond the Armor, Windham and Bray also explore the variety of stormtrooper toys and collectibles which have been created over the years. Admittedly, these sections really stood out as I know very little about the way the toy industry operates, but also because the authors discuss a handful of toys which I had as a kid. And for me, no stormtrooper-related toy described in the book stood out more than the Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set because it is one of the Star Wars toys I still own from my childhood. Plus, it is still in perfect condition, a Star Wars miracle considering all of the other Micro Machines action sets I owned did not survive the disaster area known as “Jeff’s room.”

Stormtroopers
The Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set (center) with a few other pieces of my “Trooper Collection.”

The relationship between stormtroopers and fan culture is also explored in Beyond the Armor, with special emphasis focusing on the 501st Legion. A fan-led organization that specializes in the “bad guys” of Star Wars, the 501st Legion, founded by Albin Johnson in 1997, combines a love of costuming with community service. While the information about fan culture and the 501st Legion was not as interesting or relevant to me, it is never-the-less a critical aspect of the book which helps to highlight the cultural legacy of stormtroopers specifically, and Star Wars more generally. And, at the very least, one will undoubtedly walk away from the book knowing far more about Star Wars fan culture than when they first started reading. I certainly did. 

As I said at the outset, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor was an unintended purchase but, in the end, one that worked out for the best. While reading an encyclopedic book with behind-the-scenes information about Star Wars is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, this book is definitely one worth getting, especially if you happen to stumble upon it for a reduced price like I did. Admittedly, there are some sections that drag on a bit more than I thought necessary but this never kept me from wanting to keep reading and learning. In all likelihood, I won’t be reading Beyond the Armor again from cover-to-cover unless I get really ambitious, but it will definitely come in handy as a reference book when I need to refresh my memory about some stormtrooper-related topic. Plus, if nothing else, it will look pretty cool on one of my Star Wars bookshelves.

If you have read Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and would like to share your thoughts on it, leave a comment below.