Dude Vader and Steamy Leia at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, 2015
Note: This piece is the first of a two-part series. This month features the history of the Steampunk genre, my personal experiences, and includes an interview with Dude Vader (Christopher Canole).
This word evokes any number of definitions, attitudes, ideas, and opinions, but what IS it, and how has it become a part of the Star Wars community?
Depending on who you ask, or what source you reference, “Steampunk” can be defined in any number of ways. Author K.W. Jeter first coined the phrase “Steampunk” in 1987. He was trying to describe his type of Victorian fantasy writing while discussing his novel Infernal Devices.
Some call it “Victorian Futurism.” Others call it a sub-culture of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Truth is, Steampunk has always been around, we just never really had a way to define it. Think about it: if Jules Verne (among others) was writing his novels today, they would be called “Steampunk.”
I became aware of Steampunk about two years ago, and honestly did not care for what I saw. I just brushed it off as yet another quirky fad that would soon reach its demise. However, as I became more exposed to the genre, I started to develop a sense of awe and wonder; I began to explore its whimsical, romantic yet edgy; historical, yet futuristic feel. What I found was it embraces a broad spectrum of ideas, molding itself into whatever the user wants it to be. It’s anarchy-meets-functionality. It’s a historical period that never was, but should have been.
Isn’t that kind of what Star Wars is, too?
I love Steampunk.
Going back into my mental files, I realized I’ve always loved it. Here’s an abbreviated chronicle of things I’ve loved, all have elements of Steampunk coursing through their veins:
Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang (gadgets and fashion)
Edward Scissorhands (well, anything by Tim Burton, really…)
The Mummy Returns (remember the dirigible?)
Artimus Gordon’s lab in the TV show “The Wild, Wild West”
Back to The Future III (ummm…a steam-powered time machine train? Doc’s sons are named Jules and Verne…!)
Disney’s Treasure Planet
Alice in Wonderland
Yep. I’ve always loved it. I just never knew it or had a name for it!
Fast-forward to this year’s Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. I knew from past cons that mashup/crossover costumes are popular, so I decided to stretch my creative wings and design a costume that was a Steampunk/Star Wars crossover. I came up with a feminine Steampunk C-3PO. I didn’t want to go all-out Victorian, industrial or Old West, just incorporate some Steampunk elements into a fun cosplay I could actually create in the spare time I had, which was about two months. Here is the original sketch of my ideas:
After searching online and in my locale for different accessories I wanted to use, I set a course for the construction of the actual outfit and hat. It was my first, VERY humble attempt at any kind of cosplay at a con, let alone in the Steampunk genre.
My costume was very well-received by those in the Steampunk/Star Wars community! I got stopped by a lot of people wanting my picture with them, and in turn, I asked a few people for photo ops as well. It was a very rewarding experience! My favorite thing about this particular cosplay was that I didn’t feel the pressure to be so “exact” with my representation of a Star Wars character. It could be anything I wanted it to be, and people loved it. I loved it. THAT’S Steampunk…!
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Star Wars Steampunk Universe Panel at Celebration. 750 other fans, did, however, pack the room! Proof in point that Star Wars and Steampunk are officially joined at the hip!
I was recently able to interview one of the panel’s hosts and creators: Christopher Canole, a.k.a. Dude Vader. In addition to being an artist, script writer, actor, and set photographer who incorporates his various careers into Steampunk activities, Christoper’s elaborate and impressive resume includes:
• New York City’s first artist-in-residence
• While creating sets for the first Superman, he was known as Obi-Wan Canole at Pinewood Studios in England.
• Now, his art is primarily drawing portraits for the Smithsonian Museums, the International Olympic Museum and Barack Obama for the White House, as well as Pope Francis for the Vatican.
Aside from all of this impressive stuff, I have found Christopher to be one of the most humble, down-to-earth fanboys with which I’ve ever had the pleasure to be in contact! I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have:
Jay Krebs: What is your personal definition of Steampunk?
Dude Vader: Victorian Scientific Utopia
JK: How was Dude Vader “born”?
DV: I decided to create a backstory for Dude Vader before designing the costume. What if Vader survived the battle with Darth Sidious? He retires on the beach in La Jolla California, wears Hawaiian shirts, catches some waves with the Silver Surfer and pursues the “bright” side of the Force. Like many retired elders, he reverts to his youthful activities when he was Anakin Skywalker in the junk yard: rummaging through discarded old Star Wars toys at swap meets to redesign his arm and leg mechanisms.
Between every convention and charity appearance (I) tinker with his 30-year-old parts to give kids something new to discover on his outfit, which includes characters from the first six movies.
JK: What is your favorite thing about being Dude Vader?
DV: My favorite thing about the outfit, beyond the design, is seeing kids’ first wide-eyed reaction to my humorous version of Vader. Kids love finding characters scattered all around the outfit.
JK: What has been the most difficult aspect(s) or challenge(s)?
DV: The most difficult aspect of the costume was the helmet. At first, I could hardly see where I was going with only one eye viewing. Then, I remembered Anakin’s podrace goggles, and redesigned flip-up Steampunk goggles to enhance my ability to negotiate tight convention crowds.
JK: You were part of the group that engineered and conducted the Steampunk Universe Panel at Celebration. How did you approach the event planners, and how did the panel become a reality?
DV: I responded to Mary Franklin’s requests for panels on the SWCA website. She immediately contacted me, intrigued in our variation of the Star Wars universe. I invited famous Steampunk Star Wars cosplayers to join me on our adventure. Many people at Lucasfilm: Mary Franklin, Pete Vilmur and Matt Martin helped us promote the panel months in advance of SWCA.
DV: First off was looking out my helmet to see 750 fans. What a rush. Anastasia Hunter led off with a wonderful Star Wars Steampunk Universe presentation. Alex Vargas explained how to design an affordable Dapper Fett outfit. Hot Nerd Girl gave advice on turning your Steampunk character into a media phenomenon, Nathan Seekerman recounted his evolution from a Steampunk into a Star Wars character. I discussed the value of back story to guide designing. We answered many insightful questions. The hour ended with a Steampunk R2 robot and was followed by a photo shoot at the convention center fountain with many more Star Wars Steampunk Universe costumed friends and fans.
JK: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved with making their own steampunk costumes or clothing?
DV: Start with one thought…there is no wrong way to Steampunk. Go online and enjoy researching the worldwide variety of costumes. Read novels about Steampunk worlds. Watch movies like “Hellboy” and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Attend conventions like Gaslight and Steamathon. Shop at second-hand stores and swap meets. Tinker with everything as if you lived in Victorian times.
Most of all…HAVE FUN.
JK: What do you envision as the future for the Steampunk/Star Wars community?
DV: Worldwide Steampunk is growing in every country. I find the future is growing with more Steampunk lovers over those who do not understand the joy of creating your own world. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
You can check out the rest of Christopher’s bio online at www.canole.com.
Christopher will be featured in Star Wars Insider #159 in the Bantha Tracks section. He will also appear in a group photo in the next issue of the British magazine Total Film.
Check out the rest of the Celebration Anaheim photos on Robert Torres’ Flickr page: Robert T Photography.
Next month: I continue the Steampunk-a-thon with Steampunk Boba Fett (John Strangeway) and a few other surprises! Until then —
–May the steam be with you, and Remember…
This is the Podcast You’re Looking For!
Reference: Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism, Kathleen Gleason