For the legion

What’s it like to suit up as a 501st Clone Trooper for real?

For the legion
Image: Andrew Liptak 

Earlier this year, I attended Star Wars Celebration and San Diego Comic-Con, where I met a fellow 501st member named Ardeshir Radpour. He occupies a rare space in the Star Wars fan community: in addition to suiting up as a stormtrooper, he's a stunt actor. If you saw Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Book of Boba Fett, you saw him on screen. In Obi-Wan Kenobi, he suited up as a 501st Legion Clone Trooper, the first time that particular costume had ever been depicted in live action (the troopers in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith? Computer-generated), as well as some of the stormtroopers that Obi-Wan encounters throughout the series.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episodes Features Members Of The 501st Legion
The latest episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi included the 501st Legion as extras in the show.

Lucasfilm has utilized fans as actors before. In The Mandalorian, the studio brought in troopers when they needed large numbers of stormtroopers, putting them in a unique position in the history of Star Wars fandom: the cosplayers who were replicating the costumes from the franchise were now part of it. This happened again in Obi-Wan Kenobi: LFL brought in large numbers of 501st members to suit up as stormtroopers for some of the bigger scenes. These fans get the bragging rights of being in their favorite franchise, while the film's production gets away with not having to build a ton of new stormtrooper costumes.

Radpour's role here is a bit above and beyond those background appearances: he trained as a stunt performer, and was one of the troopers who's taking on the action scenes that require more than simple direction. It's a unique spot in fandom, and it's an indication of the closeness between studio and fan movement, and how the two sides can benefit from one another.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ardeshir Radpour at San Diego Comic Con. Image: Andrew Liptak

You moved to the US in 1977 from Iran: when was the first time that you saw Star Wars? What was your impression of it at the time?

I saw it that summer and I was blown away, just absolutely blown away. I have seen it a few hundred times; [it's] always been on the top of my list. [It was] nothing like I had ever been seen before and it was like right out of my dreams.  Also as a Zoroastrian Persian, I am very familiar the Force and the Jedi: a lot of that comes from what we were raised with.

You've since become an actor and stunt person: how did you end up in the film industry?  

I ended up in film work by chance – I ended up doing some work as a polo player or training some people for horse or weapons work. I kinda dabbled a little bit in it for fun. But who thought it would be real or possible? In 2008 I decided to go full time in the business after the economic collapse. And I did it because I truly enjoy it.

Tell me a bit about how you first found out about the 501st Legion and what prompted you to join. What was the first costume that you built?

So I had heard about the 501st Legion on and off, and always was interested but didn’t know how accessible it was. How do you get the armor and how do you build it and what do you do?

I had always been involved in all kinds of charity functions, so when I joined the film business I began to get hungrier for giving back even more. I looked in to it and joined the Legion, and it was hands-down one of the best decisions I have made.

As far as the armor goes, I wanted one stormtrooper. They always were mysterious to me and their armor was so cool and so different than anything we had seen. Same with Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Biker Scouts, and Snow Troopers. Sen Centurion level [a qualification from the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment denoting the highest level of accuracy] approvals and one Lancer [qualification from the 501st Pathfinders for quality] approval, as well as 11 different variations. I'm working on centurion 8, 9, and 10, and soon maybe 11, 12, and 13 and a completely new costume. I kinda blew way past what I thought.

You were cast in The Book of Boba Fett as both a stunt performer and as an actor: you played a Klatoonian Boss and Kaba Baiz. A *lot* of Star Wars cosplayers are undoubtably asking the same question: how did you manage to do that?

So the stunt community is a very tight community and the Stunt Coordinator selected me to play the characters, because not only did they need to test acting chops, and the ability to perform the stunts potentially required, but also, having to wear the prosthetics for long long days and being able to perform in them.

When I saw the roles, I was stunned and couldn’t believe I was being given this opportunity and honor.

We see the stunts on screen, but there’s obviously a lot that goes into setting up that moment. Can you walk me through some of what goes into planning something like that?

Every stunt is different and every stunt brings with itself different skills and set ups. It always starts out with bringing in the right skilled people and setting up rehearsals and preparation so that you are going after the vision of the particular stunt or sequence and applying all necessary safety measures so that the choreography can be rehearsed over and over until it’s go time. This could take a few hours or days or weeks.

Image: Ardeshir Radpour. Radpour is the second trooper on the left.

You’ve since appeared in armor as one of the 501st Legion Clone Troopers. This was the first time that the character has ever appeared in live action: what was that experience like?

Well Obi Wan Kenobi had its own entire series of surprises and honors that left me in disbelief. Day one was May 4th for me. How much more Star Wars can you get than that?

Well, a lot more: I got to have speaking lines with Ewan on the show and I just couldn’t believe it. Then every other day as regular stormtroopers. To be the first 501st Clone Troopers in live action, with Hayden, executing Order 66? Holy cow. Just unreal. They played music throughout the entire large scale shoots, so you are just pumped up on a Star Wars energy rush that is unparalleled.

What has it felt like for you to not only be a member of the 501st, but come around full circle to portray one in an official part of the franchise?

Well that was quite a bit of conversation on the show. Everyone knew I was a 501st member, and kept coming to me for a lot, which was one hell of an honor. Deborah [Chow] kept saying to all the other troopers: "these are not normal troopers, these are the 501st, so follow Ardeshir’s lead because I want this to be strong."

What were some of the things that they were asking you about, or following your lead on?

Proper presentation and weapons handling, assembly, proper fit in armor, and movement.

How did your experience in the 501st help (or not help!) your experience on set as a stormtrooper and clone trooper?

Immensely. As a clone or as a stormtrooper, by training with some top-tier operators you become the backbone, but you have to know a lot more than that. That’s where 501st knowledge and experience just gives you that much more help. My own past experience and knowledge of Star Wars and stormtroopers and clone troopers helped me polish it off, to the point that I have felt even the 501st Legion has swayed at times off guide and began to try and being that back in to focus.

What's an example of that?

For example: I’ve noticed at times some members get to caught up in a parade wanting to disperse and shake hands with the crowd. The crowds are there to see an imperial march, stormtroopers following Darth Vader as an army, not so see macro characters dispersed in mayhem all over the place. I know it’s fun to do, but save that for the meet and greet troops! Parades should be disciplined by all troopers to behave like Star Wars not their own personal interpretation.

This is the first time we’ve seen that clone armor actually created in live action form: up until now, they've all been CGI. How do the suits that are used for the production differ from the ones that we make ourselves?

The production suits are considerably different: they are extremely thick, flexible, and damage-proof. I hit the ground over 60 times in one day and all we did is just use water to wash off the scuffs. Other days, we broke a few thermal detonator or taped a few things.

For the clones, there are no suits out there that compare, yet. They were very comfortable to wear and built with urethane as well, so they were exceptionally durable. On set, I couldn’t wait to see them: [the crew] all said "hahaha, come here, Ardeshir," and they were watching me like it was the unveiling of the Titanic or something.

Is there anything that you’ve learned from your time on set that you’ll now bring to your own cosplay building techniques?

Oh yeah: seeing and wearing these armors first-hand helps making the new era armors [clones and First Order] a lot easier. I'll still build the classic armor exactly the same, as that is sacred ground.

What are some examples of changes that you might make to your own armor based on what you wore in the show?

My own personal armor far exceeds anything I imagined I would build and sometimes intimidated me when I look back on it.  But for example building my own rogue one armor or upgrading my first order kits to more screen measures such as zippers make it much more workable.

As an actor, what advice to you have for other troopers who’re interacting with the general public while in armor?

Great question. I always tell everyone I troop with when I’m armor: remember they came to see Star Wars, not me, not you, not us. They came to see Star Wars.  So represent Star Wars and you're doing everyone best you can. No one cares about Ardeshir in the armor, they care about the fantasy of a stormtrooper becoming real and that’s what matters.

What do we have to look forward from you next?

Well I’m very much looking forward to the Avatar sequels and that’s all I can say: hahahaha!

Image: Ardeshir Radpour

What’s next on your build list?

Working on a few new first order troopers and a screen accurate clone. I built one already but only the helmet and the shoulders and chest and back. It’s identical to what I wore even down to the identical stains and scratches.

This is the first of what I'm hoping will be a bit of an ongoing series of posts that tie in to Cosplay: A History. While writing the book, there were a whole bunch of topics that I didn't quite get around to tackling, but which I wanted to explore or expand upon. I'd hoped to get to it this summer, but that sort of slipped away, didn't it?