John Mollo, the costume designer who brought to life Ralph McQuarrie and George Lucas’ conceptual vision for Star Wars, has died. He was 86.
His death was reported in The Times of London.
A military history expert, Mollo had never seen a science-fiction film before agreeing to meet with Lucas, who was planning his third feature after his Oscar-nominated American Graffiti (1973).
“We discussed a few concepts when I joined the team, and George had a clear vision of what he was looking for. He liked the idea of the baddies having a fascist look about them, with the heroes reflecting the look of heroes of the American Wild West,” Mollo told starwarshelmets.com.
With McQuarrie’s sketches and a meager budget of $1,173 for one costume, the London-born Mollo began shaping and fine-tuning Darth Vader’s image through his knowledge of World War 1 trench armor and Nazi helmets, ultimately creating the look of one cinema’s most memorable villains. His military influence is also visible in the regalia worn by the crew of the Death Star.
Star Wars went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1977 and received 10 Oscar nominations (and a Special Achievement award). Mollo won for best costume design.
“As you see, the costumes from Star Wars are really not so much costumes as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering,” he said upon receiving his Oscar, flanked by his creations of Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Stormtroopers.
Mollo won a second Academy Award in 1983 for his work on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (he shared the award with Bhanu Athaiya, the first Indian to win).
His military knowledge first came in handy as an adviser on Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975) — both films collected Oscars for costume design.
After the success of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, Mollo’s next pic was another sci-fi blockbuster: Alien (1979). Director Ridley Scott has credited Star Wars as a seminal influence for his own space franchise. Mollo’s focus was to create used and well-worn clothing for the crew of the Nostromo on their long return trip to Earth as well as designing the patches and emblems emblazoned across their suits.
He returned to the Star Wars franchise in 1980 for The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner.
Mollo also worked on Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984), Lord of the Apes (1984), Cry Freedom (1987), White Hunter Black Heart (1990), Air America (1990), Chaplin (1992) and Event Horizon (1997).
His brother Andrew is also an expert on military uniforms and has been a consultant and production designer across film and television.