This Halloween, you will doubtlessly open your door to a kid in a Stormtrooper costume pointing a blaster rifle at your head. Legions of Imperial and First Order Stormtroopers will certainly appear, demanding candy from behind very iconic and recognizable helmets. And while it’s nice to think these kids are costumed as the heroic Finn or even Luke and Han disguised as Stormtroopers, the reality is most kids who are Stormtroopers for Halloween are just dressing up as Stormtroopers. This fact is a little bit scary mostly because, collectively, it’s like the culture doesn’t want to think about this fact. But we should. Having kids dressing up as Star Wars Stormtroopers for Halloween is icky, mostly because Stormtroopers have horrific counterparts both in history and in everyday headlines.
Historically, the word “Stormtrooper” originated during WWI and applied to a specific kind of German soldiers. By WWII, the term “Sturmabteilung” which translates to “Storm Detachment” was an early Nazi Germany paramilitary group. Naturally, no parent in their right mind would select Halloween costumes for their kids reminiscent of either WWI Stormtroopers or proto-Nazis. And yet, arguably, this is kind of what we’re doing every time we put a kid in a Stormtrooper costume. George Lucas specifically modeled much of the aesthetic of the OG Star Wars on WWII, and even contemporarily, shots of the First Order troops in The Force Awakens are meant to invoke images of Nazi Germany.
So, why are we all okay with this? In 2016, the Death Trooper costume from Rogue One was gleefully sold by the Disney Store, which is fine in theory, because Death Troopers and Stormtroopers are make-believe. But the popularity of these costumes relative to other Star Wars costumes is a little unsettling. I mean, basically, these guys look like they’re wearing space-age riot gear.
As a child, I remember the appeal of wanting to get into some kind of uniform for Halloween. Whether it was the Ghostbusters uniforms or a Starfleet uniform from Star Trek, the idea of conformity is very powerful for children, specifically when it comes to fantasy. This is at the core of why kids love the fantasy of donning a Stormtrooper helmet or Kylo Ren mask: they can escape into another world. Again, when you boil this down to just “playing pretend” a kid dressing up as a Stormtrooper might be no more or less damaging than a kid dressing up as a fairy princess.
Except, there is a fundamental difference. In the narrative of Star Wars, Stormtroopers (with very rare exceptions) are people who blindly follow orders, and their orders are always about mass-execution. They represent a police state, and in that world, following orders is the only way to live. Stormtroopers kill people with (laser) guns who challenge the status quo. That is their narrative function and that is the message that they send when you see them.
Other than Han and Luke stealing Stormtrooper uniforms to fool the bad guys, it actually took the Star Wars franchise 38 years to give us a Stormtrooper with a conscience. In 2015’s The Force Awakens, when Finn decides he won’t kill for the First Order, he takes off his Stormtrooper helmet and becomes a real person. Does this very important lesson resonate when we stick children in Stormtrooper costumes for Halloween? Probably not.
I mean, it could be argued that dressing your kid as Kylo Ren isn’t much better: that guy killed his father for basically no reason. But, at the very least Kylo Ren and Darth Vader are individuals. Like Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster, Darth Vader and Kylo Ren (or Boba Fett) are scary characters. Hell, Rey even calls Kylo Ren a “monster” in The Force Awakens.
Having kids dress-up as monsters on Halloween is kind of what Halloween is all about. But, having kids dress-up as thinly veiled police-state executioners is something else. The fantasy element to Stormtroopers isn’t really all that fun. If anything, their presence in Star Wars is the scariest thing about the entire franchise. I happen to believe that, for the most part, Star Wars is a fairly anti-gun series of films, despite the fact that several gun-like weapons are brandished all the time. Overall, the message of these movies is against gun violence, instead of glorifying it.
And yet, what would a Stormtrooper on Halloween be without a blaster? The answer? Much less scary.
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