When walking on Twickenham Green, I would often pass this shop:
As you can see, in most respects, it’s a fairly normal shopfront. It looks like the sort of thing that would be used by a small firm of solicitors or accountants. The one minor detail that caused me to scratch my head in puzzlement was the freakin’ Star Wars armour in the window.
Twickenham Green is a more villagey part of Twickenham than the town centre, lying between that and Fulwell, a place that probably wouldn’t even exist were it not for the railway station. It’s a place of respectable middle-class housing, restaurants and small shops. It is not, in short, the sort of place where you could in the normal course of things expect to see Imperial Stormtroopers.
The shop offered little by way of clues as to what the hell it was. It didn’t look like a sci-fi memorabilia shop – as I say, it looked like a regular high-street office aside from the symbols of semi-theocratic fascistic oppression in the window. It might have been a company that made costumes, but why Star Wars armour and nothing else? And it can’t have been an Imperial recruiting post, because as we all know, the Empire collapsed following the Battle of Endor in 4ABY.
It wasn’t until I saw this week’s copy of the Richmond and Twickenham Times that the mystery was finally solved. It turns out that this shop is actually the headquarters of Andrew Ainsworth, an industrial designer whose main claim to fame is that he actually designed the original stormtrooper armour.
Back in 1976, Star Wars was just this low-budget sci-fi film that nobody particularly expected to go anywhere. Nick Pemberton was commissioned to come up with this armour for the stormtroopers, and approached Ainsworth to actually make the damn things. In 2004, Ainsworth started producing replica armour for sale to the hardcore fans. Lucasfilm subsequently noticed he was doing this and told him, in legal terms, to cut that shit out. In 2006, the courts in the USA ruled against him, and so Ainsworth decided to go to war – this time involving the High Court in Britain.
The case has been a curious one. The argument on the defendant’s side rests on two factors. Firstly, that Ainsworth was not technically under contract to Lucasfilm when he designed the helmets, and therefore his moulds are not covered by copyright. Secondly, and somewhat more bizarrely, Ainsworth’s lawyers are arguing that the Stormtrooper armour can’t fall under copyright restrictions because it is a practical set of protective clothing, much like a hard hat or riot gear.
Having seen the original trilogy, it didn’t seem all that practical to me. I mean, seriously, one shot and those guys were down. Indeed, Ainsworth actually admitted during the court case that it was impossible to see while wearing one of those helmets, which goes a long way to explaining this.
While I feel like I should be rooting for the little guy, I don’t know enough about copyright law to say whether I think Ainsworth or Lucasfilm are in the right. Ainsworth’s argument strikes me as one of those irritating technicalities, but on the other hand I think it’s a bit rich on Lucasfilm’s part given that the first Star Wars film swiped heavily from Flash Gordon, Dune, 633 Squadron, Dambusters and The Hidden Fortress. At this point someone will usually mutter something about how George Lucas raped their childhood, and I will be forced to slap them until their nose comes off or until they are able to satisfactorily explain how “making lacklustre additions to franchises that weren’t exactly Citizen Kane to begin with” equates to “childhood sexual abuse.”
In order to distract you from my fence-sitting, here is a video of an unemployed Stormtrooper.
According to the Richmond and Twickenham Times, Ainsworth is “hoping for a triumphant end to mirror the finale of the original Star Wars trilogy.” Presumably this means that Lucasfilm will return twenty years later with a much more spectacular and expensive set of lawsuits that is unpopular with fans but makes a Lucas a huge amount of money anyway.
All about Stormtrooper armour. If you were curious.
Went to the Acton Depot open weekend today. Very strongly recommended if you’re a transport nut or a London enthusiast or just bored in West London. More on this later.