Wednesday 8th December 2017 finally saw the culmination of a good week’s worth of personal effort as I finally got to don my Sith cloak, fire up the lightsabre and walk the red carpet with plenty of other local Star Wars fans here in Dubai. The 14th annual Dubai Film Festival closed this year with the regional premiere of the much anticipated latest instalment of Star Wars, with this year’s hot release being The Last Jedi, that picked up from precisely where The Force Awakens left off.
As soon as I saw that they were screening it at the festival I knew that I wanted tickets but had every expectation of it already being sold out, such is the usual demand for not only a Star Wars release but also a closing night gala screening. To my incredible excitement and surprise there were tickets up for grabs and grab a couple I did. To add to the sense of anticipation and occasion the organisers stated that they were encouraging fans to attend in fancy dress: magic words for me. I love fancy dress and if it’s a theme that involves a sword, whether standard or laser, as in Star Wars, then I am all over it! This was demonstrated clearly back in my uni days when I actually spent two weeks working closely with the head of the physics department workshop to create a real set of Trojan armour, including authentic brush helmet and sword, for a veterinary party weekend. That’s how into fancy dress I get.
So, with a little under a week to get a costume together, and with the stakes elevated by the announcement that there would be prizes on offer for the best, I set to thinking of what to go as and how to piece it all together, including the major question of what to do regarding a lightsabre. My first decision was to go as a Sith, as I tend to think that the darker characters are usually the most interesting and seem to have the best costumes. But who? Kylo Ren was the obvious choice and I figured that loads of people would be opting for him, in addition to his costume not actually being that interesting. Sure he has a badass helmet and a slightly more interesting lightsabre but there just wasn’t that ‘wow’ factor that I wanted. I then considered Anakin Skywalker, as he embraced the dark side. The costume looked simple enough, with the base looking to be a black, or very dark brown, martial arts suit, paired with a large central belt, some fancy looking leather strips that hung down over the shoulders and, of course, a Sith cloak and hood. I would also be needing boots, or be able to fashion something that looked like boots. Some intial sketching and web research revealed the basic design and I even considered a wacky idea to augment the costume, and add to the overall theatric effect, by rigging up a small Yoda soft toy on the end of a clear length of plastic tubing, or the like, and attach it to my wrist somehow so as to appear as though I was making Yoda levitate by way of the force! I imagined the effect would be quite striking as well as being relatively simple to pull off.
As is often the case with creative pursuits one tends to tumble down the rabbit hole and new and more interesting ideas sometimes spring up where the previous ones were fulminating. So it was that as I was researching ‘sith costumes’ online I came across an image of Darth Revan, from the Old Republic series. In an instant I knew that he was the character I wanted to replicate: a bad ass, mask-wearing ninja-style warrior complete with his awesome cloak and lightsabre. Done! Now I just needed to figure out what to get in order to achieve the most authentic look possible.
Darth Revan’s mask is quite unique, as can be seen from the pictures. Whilst everything I needed could, in principle, be ordered online I simply didn’t have the time to wait and, besides, there is way more pride to be gained from actually making something as opposed to simply buying it. Several video tutorials ran through how to construct a costume version and so equipped with a supply of craft foam, spray paint, elastic (recycled from an old Emirates airlines eye mask), a hot glue gun, superglue, black plastic and imagination I managed a pretty decent job if I do say so myself. The only thing I would change were I do make another is to either find some less opaque pastic for the visor or cut some very thin spaces through it so I could see more than just shadows. The visual effect was awesome but I couldn’t really see a damned thing!
This was one of my proudest creations and whilst I could very easily have purchased a toy I wanted something that felt more realistic. Again, there were loads of online videos providing detailed instructions of how to make your own but all of them required a fully functioning workshop, electronics and more time than I had available. I didn’t need my lightsabre to make any noise or be so closely replicant of the ones in the films – all I really needed and wanted was something that lit up red and looked badass!
The answer came to me as I was browsing in Deira and a guy tried to upsell me on a torch that I really didn’t need. The shape of it – long, thin and black – suddenly looked to me like a pretty convincing lightsabre handle and when I inspected it, removing the head to discover that it had a powerful single bright LED at the end I knew that I had my base. All I needed to do was add a length of acrylic tubing and somehow create a red light instead of the bright white of the torch, and I would have a very convincing laser sword. But where to get the materials? My first thought was Ace Hardware in Dubai but after a previous visit to source some basic materials that did not leave me impressed I looked for alternatives. The answer came in the form of a company called Accurate Acrylics LLC based in Al Quoz. Seeing that they were open at 8am I popped over one Saturday morning before I was due to start work and was introduced to the manager, Sadyajit, who humored me as he listened to my mad cap request – the fact that I had the torch and pictures of what I was aiming to achieve surely helped. Lo and behold they were able to help and so an order was placed for a single length of 35mm diameter clear acrylic plus an end piece to seal the far end of the lightsabre. The cost? A mere 100AED. Sadyajit also arranged for it to be cut so that it would, in theory, slide snugly into place over the end of the torch base.
The piece was perfect, although I later discovered that I also needed to create a small hole on the reverse to enable the torch to be recharged once it was all put together, a minor roadblock that was overcome though application of a gas hob, a pointy-ended knife and time enough to slowly melt a hole where it was needed. For the color effect I used red packing film that I rolled several times and slid inside the entire length of the tubing, so as to diffuse the light produced by the LED into the desired level of red. A neat hint I gleaned from the online tutorials was to back the end disc with a reflective material, such as tin foil, so as to reflect back the light travelling up the tube, thus ensuring a realistic lightsabre effect. This was certainly a key design feature and really helped create the desired outcome. The final touch was to embellish the power button with some red craft foam, raising it such that I could switch the lightsabre on and off easily and adding some more color to the design. One of the advantages of constructing it the way I did was that it had a weight to it that really added to the impression of it being a real device, very similar to the Trojan sword that made part of my costume all those years before.
I don’t own boots and couldn’t find anything that was either in my size or that wasn’t for women in Deira. What I did do was to pair a relatively cheap pair of black men’s zipped shoes with my horseriding calf-chaps. The latter I had to fabric paint black, a step that saw me go through an entire can of black fabric spray paint – leather, it seems, really does soak up paint well – and required a few solid days of drying before they could be worn.
Most of the pictures I had seen of Darth Revan showed him wearing a dark full length tunic and I imagined that a very dark grey or black kandura would have substituted for the same perfectly. However, finding one in Deira proved to be incredibly difficult and after the umpteenth “no” and shake of the head from the vendors I spoke with I did start to wonder whether the reason they were claiming it wasn’t possible was that it might be somehow considered disrepectful to use one as part of a costume(?). My second thought, that being that an abaya would actually be even better, was quickly resigned to the mental “no way” file and so I decided to slightly alter the Darth Revan base by going a bit more Anakin Skywalker for that part. This essentially meant a trouser-tunic combo as the base, with the rest of the costume built around that.
I found a great Indian-style long sleeved top in Deira that had the classic look I was after and simply paired it with a loose pair of athletic training bottoms to give that combat effect. Darth Revan wears armour and if I had more time then I am certain that I would have found a way to create both the breast plate and wrist plates out of metal. Given the time constraints, however, I once again turned to the craft foam for their construction. The centrepiece of the costume was a central ring, that hangs from the main belt and that in turn has both a red length of silky fabric cascading towards the floor and a black length of similar material that wraps around the body. As I said before, the overall look is one of an ornately battle-dressed ninja, even down to the absence of any skin showing. This effect was achieved by wearing gloves and my black snood, that I wore up over my head such that when the mask was worn there was nothing but black showing. Very Sith indeed! In terms of where to get the central ring from I had initially thought to head to a plumbing store to buy a towel rack ring, as I imagined it would be about the right size. As it turned out what I actually found was actually a large seal for a a valve in an oil rig, or at least that’s what the guy in Al Quoz who looked very confused as he sold it to me said. Being bright red also added to its appeal as the flashes of red in my costume really contrasted brilliantly with the overall sense of black and paired brilliantly with the red glow of the lightsabre.
As much as I had initially wanted to create my own Sith cloak and hood, even purchasing a decent amount of material in the process, the fact is I ran out of time to get anything tailored and so I bit the bullet and purchased a costume version. It did the trick and I attached it to my armor with the use of tiny climbing clips in much the same way that I saw it was in all of the pictures I saw of Darth Revan.
I knew that I was not going to wear the mask the entire night and so in the interests of paying attention to detail I decided to apply some dark side of the force inspired eye makeup, blacking them up and smearing it down my face. This lent me a haunted, dark look that was absolutely in keeping with the entire ethos of the costume.
The overall effect was, in my own estimation, pretty awesome and when I first switched on the lightsabre and saw it’s deep red, eery glow in combination with the entire costume I felt that thrill of excitement and satisfaction that comes from putting something awesome together.
The Show Itself
I really enjoy the Dubai Film Festival and have been fortunate enough to attend gala screenings on more than one occasion. The venue – just adjacent to Souk Madinat – is superbly glitzy and they always do a fantastic job of setting up the screening room, with this year being no different as the room sparkled, literally, and treated film goers to extremely comfortable seats.
I arrived relatively early and chose to jump out of my cab just before the venue, meaning that those driving along Beach Road were the first to see my costume in all it’s Sith glory. One thing I did discover quite early on was that I had to be careful walking, as the red sash was very easy to step on and I nearly went A over T a couple of times. If I walked a little like John Wayne then it seemed to be ok though. I caught sight of a few other cosplayers on the way in, with a guy in a tux and a Darth Vader mask one standout, as well as a couple of Jedis, a couple of Kylo Rens – obviously – and a few girls channeling Rey. Rather than go straight through and soak up the red carpet atmosphere immediately I waited a while for my friend, Kaiya, to join me, although when it became apparent that she was delayed made the decision to meet her inside rather than miss the big walk through.
I did realise fairly quickly just how little I could actually see through my mask’s visor as I trod the carpet and suspect I may have missed a few more interview and photo requests than I actually received. One guy, from Gulf News I believe, stopped me early into the walk to ask where I was from and who I had come as, in addition to taking a photo, which I took the opportunity to brandish my lightsabre for. I found the corresponding Twitter post a couple of days later, although it turned out that he seemed to have gotten his guys from the UK and Star Wars characters well and truly mixed up as I was reported to have been “Rob” from the UK and to have come as “Darth Vader.” Err….no, not quite mate.
One thing that I did end up feeling a bit bummed about was that because I was a bit late into the gala I ended up missing, or being missed, by those who were judging the costumes. This I surmised from the fact that shortly after the introduction speeches were given they announced the winners and not being arrogant or ‘owt but my costume was significantly more impressive than most of those that won, especially the eventual winner who – surprise, surprise – came as Kylo Ren. As much as it wasn’t all about the competition – just getting to attend and enjoy both the film and dressing up was awesome enough – the prizes were pretty great, with the top four or five each getting one of those awesome little Sphero BB8 programmable robots. Nice. Still, you win some, you lose some 🙂
The film itself, screened in 3D, which was actually brilliant, was one of the best Star Wars episodes so far and suffice to say that it was very well received, with the 2.5 hours running time flying by like a Poe Damaron piloted X-Wing. I won’t run into a full blown review of the film though as there are about a zillion online already and, to be honest, you’re better off just going to watch it yourself. Do make sure that you’ve seen The Force Awakens first though as it follows on immediately from that one.
One of the most fun moments of the evening was actually the slow walk out, as it was then that both Kaiya and I got to feel like film stars as we were asked to pose in various photos. Whilst I am an introvert in spirit, when I get a decent character costume on I am happy to enthusiatically play a role 🙂 We even got to be interviewed by a movie channel as our very final act before hopping in a taxi and bringing the evening to an end. The lightsabre, mask and cloak are now hung up for a year when I hope to dust them off, re-channel the force and tread the red carpet once again as a Sith.