March 08, 2014

Halloween 2013 - Homemade Lego Darth Vader and Leia costume

Darth and Leia Thanks to Lego Star Wars, Angry Birds Star Wars, and friends at school with older siblings, Darren and Ally pretty much knew the entire plot of Star Wars without ever having seen the movie.

I was bit saddened by this, as it made the actual viewing of the movie a bit anticlimactic ("Wow, this is just like the Angry Birds game!"). But on the plus side, Darren's request for a Halloween costume this year was Darth Vader. LEGO Darth Vader, to be precise. And Ally chose Princess Leia. So I got to make some cool costumes.

There are purchasable, reasonably-priced Darth Vader costumes out there. But I don't like them for a few reasons:

1. Most use masks and don't include any other kind of helmet. I'm anti-mask. I don't think they're particularly safe or comfortable, and I like to see my kid's face.
2. The nicer ones start to get pricey, and are mostly made for adults
3. There are no Lego Darth Vader costumes
4. I like making this stuff myself.

The major components of the Darth costume that I needed to make: the helmet/headgear, the lightsaber, the chestpiece, a cloak, and the lego hands. Leia was simpler, with the hair buns, the chestpiece, and the hands.

The Vader Helmet

The helmet design is completely stolen from this awesome homemade Darth Vader costume: That costume is super well done, and the writeup is fantastic. I took the lazy way out and skipped on the paper mache and mod podge for the helmet, and it's held up okay. I used a glue gun to attach the foam to the inside of the helmet, which proved strong enough.

The Lego Hands

Lego guys have pretty distinctive hands, so I wanted these to come out well, to make it obvious that they are LEGO Darth Vader and Leia, not just regular Darth Vader and Leia.

I had been itching to use my new 3D-printer, and this seemed like the perfect task.

I used 123d Design to make the model, and was really happy with it.

But then I broke my printer, so on to plan B. Amazingly, Amy found black beer cozies at the craft store. We cut the bottom off, slit all the way down one side, and made a wrist hole on the other side. Some spray paint, and viola! Lego hand.


This was all too easy, as I had a lightsaber toy I bought in college. I was really popular in college.

It's green, not red, which bugged me, but I got over it. It lit up, extended, and made sounds. Anything I could DIY couldn't compete.

For Ally, I gave her my Lazer Tag gun that still somehow worked after years and years. It had a light, and made sounds, so they had fun with that as well.

The Lego Body

The body is a fairly simple trapazoid shape, but I wanted to get the dimensions just right, so it would be snug, but not too tight. If it flopped around or got stretched, it would likely break easily or be uncomfortable, and they would want out.

First I measured the kids all over, and traced their outline on a big piece of paper on the wall. The most important dimension to get right is from armpit to armpit. Too small, and the box wouldn't fit. Too big, and they wouldn't be able to rest their arms down.

I went through a few cardboard revisions, since cardboard is cheap. Once I got it right, it was time to transfer to foamcore board. I taped the edges together on the inside and outside with packing tape, my favorite costume adhesive. On the inside, I added some triangles of foamcore in the corners to keep the sides from swinging around.

I attached the back piece with a strap of adhesive velcro -- my second-favorite costume adhesive -- to use as a way to get in and out. Darren's school doesn't allow costumes on Halloween, so I didn't think I needed to make it possible for him to get in and out without grown-up help.

Amy made a sweet cloak (NOT a cape) from some black fabric, and we attached it to the box with adhesive velcro.

I spraypainted everything black, then applied some decals I made in photoshop, and attached with spray adhesive (3rd favorite)

Leia's was essentially the same, but without the spraypaint. Amy freehanded the decals from some colored paper, using an actual Lego Leia for reference.

Leia Hair

Amy used some brown yarn to make some buns. She used a glue gun to attach them to round fabric scraps, and then more glue to attach them to a hair band.


I thought it would be cool to add a voice changer to the costume, to make Darren sound like Darth Vader. I wasn't even sure it would be possible, but it turns out one of my favorite companies, adafruit, sells a voice changer kit for this exact purpose. In fact, I already had some of the pieces in the kit from the Octoalert I built for Ally. All I really needed was a microphone and an amplifier circuit.

I ordered the microphone from adafruit, and built the amplifier circuit using this instructables (I happened to have all the components in my various piles of electronics bits).

Assembling the voice changing circuit was pretty straightforward, since Adafruit has a great tutorial. For simplicity, I boiled down their keypad of buttons down to one light-up button I had left over from Darren's robot costume last year. I modified the Arduino code to just play a different Vader sound each time the button was pressed. I also added two red leds, for visual effect.

I crammed the whole mess into a box I made of foamcore.

2013-12-17 20.56.42

and attached it to the main costume body with velcro (so I could remove it when necessary) and a few tabs/slots I had cut. The box didn't want to stay all the way in, but it never fell off, so I was happy.

I put the microphone inside an empty dental floss container, to protect it, and to make it easier to hold.

The good news is that the kids had a lot of fun playing with the voice changer in the days leading up to Halloween. The bad news is that on Halloween itself, one of my wires must have come loose, as the voice effect stopped working. The lights stayed lit, though, so it wasn't a total loss.


The costumes turned out great! Sure, my voice changer quit just when I needed it most, but that's what I get for cramming the circuit in so tightly. Lesson (hopefully) learned.

Posted by Kevin at March 8, 2014 09:23 AM
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