Gray Leader Standing By
For many, many years the detail of the Y-Wing Pilot costume as seen in Return of the Jedi was unknown. Cosplayers had to base their design on fuzzy screen captures from the movie. As these costumes were seen in the background, the imagery to go off of wasn't good. This meant that not many people attempted the costume, and those that did made costumes that looked nothing like each other. Flak vest designs were all over the galactic map. I decided to give it my best guess, and for a while most people considered my version the most accurate. A handful of people at the Rebel Legion followed my design.
I'll spare you the detail on how I came up with this design. As you'll see, it wasn't too bad of a guess. I got that the bottom was a pouch, where others made it a plastic tube. I was also the first to realize there was no strap across it, just an indent where the top vest and bottom pouch meet, creating a shadow. The placement of the greeblies were correct too, but what they actually were was unknown at the time, so I just made it up. After I made the vest, others identified the chest box at the top of the vest as a Motorola Pageboy II. So, I bought one on ebay, of course.
After purchasing the Pageboy, I made a silicone mold so I could make several of them for other people at the Legion. Initially, I cast the Pageboy in Smooth Cast 300 white resin, then painted it gray. Then, I switched to 65D and added So-Strong black dye so that it cured gray. I like not having to worry about paint chipping off.
Then at long last we finally found the pictures we were looking for. The Star Wars Costumes book had detailed images of all the pilots, including the Y-Wing. I patted myself on the shoulder for my good guess, but now it was time to make a newer, more accurate version, especially since Star Wars Celebration was going to be held in Chicago. I wanted to be screen accurate, like every other costume that was going to be there. Star Wars fans take their attention to detail very seriously!
I decided the upper vest was made in two parts; the main vest and the padded front. The main vest would have the shoulder straps and be slightly padded, with a half layer of already thin batting. The padded front would be wider than the main vest to allow for a curtain pleat to run down the center. This part was padded with multiple layers of batting. It would also be sinched in the sides. I patterned it out of muslin first, but the actual vest would be made from 100% white nylon, like the X-Wing vests.
The first vest I made I included the pleating on the sides. I wasn't sure I got it right, so I didn't include it on my second vest. There are photos available of two different vests. One vest, which doesn't appear to be screen used, has very obvious pleating. The screen used versions, the pleating looks less significant. I added two little pleats at the bottom of the vest at the edge of the bottom pouch. I used iron on transfer paper for the patches.
The back strap is two inch white nylon straps. There are also two inch slides just past the four ribs to make the vest more adjustable, and these are accurate to the originals. The hose (a rope covered in cotton fabric) is attached with a bolt and washer, and I used half inch screws on the chest box, ensuring neither would ever fall off. The small, and light weight, greeblies are attached with hot glue. With all the greeblies attached, I airbrushed the vest with black FW Ink. The ink dries very light on the nylon, allowing several passes to get more layers. The following pics were after my first pass, and the vest doesn't look too dirty. A bit of cosplay advice I learned, is always judge your costume through pictures, because more people will see it online than in person. If you ever have to say, "It looks better in person," then you're not really done.
After another round of weathering, I took my Y-Wing costume to Star Wars Celebration in Chicago in 2019. I was the only Y-Wing pilot there. To add some flair, I donned my Sullustan mask, and ran into some rather familar looking folks, as well as other aliens and pilots. I even got to meet the great Tom Spina! The helmet doesn't fit over the mask, so after a while I took it off and went as a plain ol' human.
After Celebration, I decided to rework the pattern to be more accurate. I brought back the pleating, finally getting it right, and made a more accurate pocket radio. No one knows what was actually used, but it was a Motorola product of some kind. I used the back of a Motorola transistor radio. It was too big, so I tried shrinking the mold for the first time. I added mineral spirits to the silicone when mixing it. Over the next week, the mold slowly shrunk. I also fabricated a new belt box and new greeblies, so I can boast that this vest is 100% my work. Finally, I also hand wrote the patches with a paint marker, which is screen accurate.
I'm much happier with this version. The only thing left I have to do to make this outfit a fully accurate Return of the Jedi Y-Wing costume is to make or buy the specific gray flight suit they used in the movies. And then I'll be ready to get professional photos done.