Introduction: Han Solo in Carbonite Costume
As a kid who always loved Halloween, I was fortunate enough to grow up with a Maker father who humored my every creative thought. Not only has he always been good at electronics (he worked at Bell Labs), but he is also skilled at carpentry, mechanics, and metal work. I really put my dad’s awesome set of tools to the test in 1978 when I insisted on being R2D2 for Halloween. He fashioned the body out of chicken wire and tin foil, made the arms out of cardboard, and filled it with breath-taking (for 1978) electronic effects like blinking dome lights and an LCD screen that flashed “R2D2.” Sure, it wasn’t an exact replica of R2D2, but I won several Halloween costume contests that year and set the bar high for future costumes.
I have been continuing the tradition of making Halloween costumes with my own son since he was young. This year he turned nine and finally insisted on *gasp* a store bought Boba Fett costume. I know there are some good instructions out there on how to make your own Boba Fett costumer, but I still broke down and spent the $50. My son tried to console me by telling me to make a Han Solo costume and wear that. That is when inspiration hit - to truly compliment a Boba Fett costume, I can be Han Solo in Carbonite.
While researching the costume, I found many people out there that have built spectacular life sized models of Han Solo in Carbonite (HIC as the hobbyists say). A lot of the truly dedicated have built some detailed and faithful replicas. This is not one of them. For instance, I did not track down any Volvo parts to build my control panels; I just ripped apart a bunch of old computer parts and glued them on a painted piece of wood. I took a few other liberties, but I think the costume is still recognizable for what it is, even if my wife thinks only “geeks” will get it.
Step 1: Building the Frame
Here is a list of the materials I used to build Han Solo in Carbonite:
8’ X 4’ piece of 1/8” thick plywood
Two 10-foot long 1” X 2” stud
One 10-foot long 1” X 4” stud
Plaster of Paris
12 gauge copper wire
Rustoleum metallic spray paint (gray)
Random computer parts, VCR/ LCD displays, mint tins
I started off building frame of the costume using a 4’ X 2.5’ piece of plywood. I used 1/8’ thick plywood in order to keep the weight down. It is pretty flimsy wood so you need to be careful not to bang it around too much. To support the frame I nailed two 4 foot long pieces of 1” X 2” studs to the sides and one 2.5 foot long stud to the top and one 2.5 foot piece to the bottom. I used roofing nails with a wide head to give it a riveted look (not authentic, but cool). Since the wood is so thin, I first drilled pilot holes before hammering any of the nails. Next, I nailed a 4’ X 6” piece of plywood to each side and a 2.5’ X 6” piece to the top. I left the bottom open since I’ll be wearing the costume and my feet need to stick out. Once the frame was built, I cut an oval for my head to fit through. The oval is about 10 inches long , 7 inches at its widest, and the top of the oval is about 9 inches from the top of the frame. I sanded the inside of the oval pretty well since I didn’t want to get splinters every time I stuck my head in. Finally, I painted the whole thing with some white primer.
Step 2: Building the Lower Body
Now comes the fun part, building the body. I had flirted with the idea of sculpting the body out of clay or building a frame out of chicken wire. Luckily, I remembered I was no good at sculpting and chicken wire would not be flexible enough. You can apparently buy a plastic Han in Carbonite body, but that would take too long and defeat the purpose of building my own costume. I settled on soaking an old pair of my kid’s jeans in Plaster of Paris. Since only parts of Han’s body sticks out, I cut the legs so they matched the amount of leg that shows. I used the suggested mixture ratio of two parts Plaster to one part water. I think I used three cups of plaster to soak the jeans. You need to get the jeans good and covered, inside and out. I think another type of pants like cotton khakis might soak up the plaster better, but I didn’t have too much trouble. Before laying the pants down on the frame, apply a good layer of caulking so the pants stick to the frame. I forgot to do that, but the plaster acted as a pretty good adhesive. Once the pants were dry, I did caulk the sides to ensure it stuck. Before the plaster dries though, you need to give the pants some dimension. I stuffed them with those plastic packing bubbles Amazon loves to add to their boxes. Once I had the right shape, I rubbed more plaster all over the jeans. I tried to smooth out of the cracks that appeared when I added the bubbles.
Step 3: The Torso
Building the torso was a little trickier since part of it needed to be open so I can stick my head through. I used an old collared shirt to start. First, I cut the sleeves off and stapled the holes shut. Next, I cut off all of the buttons and stapled the shirt closed about half way. After soaking the shirt in the Plaster of Paris mix, I remembered to add the caulk to the frame before laying the shirt down. I positioned the collar just above the top of the oval and covered the hole with the rest of the shirt. Again, I stuffed the shirt with packing bubbles to give it shape. I cut a foot long piece of 12 gauge copper wire and inserted it into the collar to help hold its form. After I tucked the shirt into the pant and had a decent shape, I applied a whole lot of Plaster of Paris to the shirt and pants. Once it all dried (I let it go over night), I cut out the part of the shirt that was covering the hole. This was the moment of truth – I stuck my head through and…it did not fit. I had to get out a saw and cut back part of the shirt around the chest. Luckily, I had laid Plaster of Paris on pretty thick so the body held as I shaved off enough to get my head through. To repair the damage I had done, I soaked a few strips of cloth in Plaster of Paris and smoothed out the shirt. After more drying, I put my head through and it fit!
Step 4: The Hands
The hands were a little less tricky. I found a cheap pair of knit gloves (they cost $1!) and stuffed them with pillow stuffing I bought at a craft store. I had thought of pillow stuffing for the pants and torso, but was afraid the plaster would soak through and collapse. Now, I think stuffing would have worked, but I have no complaint about the packing bubbles. For the right hand that curls, I cut five pieces of 12 gauge wire and poked them through the stuffing through each finger. It was a simple matter of bending the wire to get the proper fist clenching effect. Another soaking in Plaster of Paris, caulking to the frame, and the hands were complete. Well, I did add more caulking to the sides of the hands once the plaster dried. I wanted it to look like the hands were coming out of the Carbonite, not just lying on top. Also, the extra caulking help secure the hands down.
Step 5: The Feet
The feet were the last body part I attempted and the first compromise to the integrity of the original. First, I was going to cut the tips off of an old pair of shoes, but then I realized I could just model it using air dry clay. So as not to waste more clay then I needed, I nailed two small pieces of wood to the frame. I then shaped the tip of Han’s shoes out of clay over the wood. Since my model is not to scale, it seemed a little odd having the feet so close to the legs. It really threw the whole effect off so I removed the feet and opted for a footless version.
Step 6: Adding Texture
The final step before painting was to add texture to the frame around the body. Instead of using Plaster of Paris, I decided to use tile mastic because it smoothes out easier. Since the original has a sort of flat outline, I used blue painter’s tape to frame the frame before applying the tile mastic. As soon I was done applying the mastic with a metal float, I pulled up the tape and had a nice contrast between the flat frame and the textured portion.
Step 7: Painting
After another day of drying, I was ready to spray painted the whole thing. This was another point where I needed to make some tough decisions about how faithful to the original I was going to be. I was disappointed to discover that Lowe’s does not carry Carbonite colored paint. Subsequently, I opted for Rustoleum’s Hammered brown. It had a nice bronze look with a metallic finish. I used almost two cans to fully cover the whole frame and body with two coats. In some parts of the body, it seemed that the bronze wore off and a silver shone through. I couldn’t figure out why that keep happening in the same spot so I left it. At this point, I allowed a few people to view the nearly finished work and received my first critique. A buddy pointed out I got the color wrong. He insisted it was more a gunmetal. After staring at more pictures of Han Solo in Carbonite, I relented and bought some Rustoleum metallic gray. I only needed one can to cover the whole thing this time. I’m not sure if it was the metallic gray or the combination of the two colors, but I think it came out pretty nice.
Step 8: Control Panels
The final step was adding the control panels. As I mentioned above, I didn’t even try to be faithful to the original. I only included three on each side instead of four. My first step was to cut six 7” long pieces of a 1” X 4” and spray paint them. After they dried, I glued all of my random computer parts and defunct LCD displays onto the boards. For two of the panels, I screwed on some funky looking dresser handles that I got on sale for $0.25. I spent a little extra effort on what I’m calling the “hero panel.” I found an old dual seven-segment display and glued it into a round mint tin. I was able to program it to randomly scroll through “alien” digits using an old Basic Stamp 1. By turning different segments on and off, I was able to make a count down type effect. I know Arduinos are the in microcontroller, but I only needed seven pins to do some simple on and off switching. Once all of the panels were glued and dried, I used wood screws to attach the panels to the side. For the hero panel, I drilled a 3/4 inch hole in the side of the frame to string the wires to the Basic Stamp that I attached to the inside frame. I then glued the hero panel over the hole and the costume was done.
Step 9: The Final Product!
I must admit, the panels added a considerable amount of weight to the costume. I think it nearly doubled the weight, but it still is comfortable enough to wear trick or treating. When I do get tired of wearing it, I have a simple Han Solo costume underneath and transform into the live version of everyone’s favorite space smuggler. With a nine year old Boba Fett by my side, I just need to convince my wife to wear the Slave Leia costume and we’ll have the perfect Star Wars Halloween.