Nowadays there are entire cosplay communities devoted to dressing up as Star Wars characters, but folks in the late 1970s and early 1980s didn't have the internet for immediate pointers.
No, they had to rely on magazine photos, half-remembered scenes from the Original Trilogy, and pure craft-store grit. And the Flickr group "Growing Up Star Wars" catalogues many of these rad homemade outfits made between 1977 and 1985.
Here's but a small sampling of the many hilarious and wonderful photos from "Growing Up Stars Wars." Perhaps my favorite shot is above. Explains Walter Keegan of this photo:
Back in the late 70's everyone wanted to get in on the Star Wars money train. Places like Great Adventure in NJ found away around licensing with these "Star Battles" pictures with Derth Nadar and C3Copeia. Here's how it's done:
1. Grab 2 mannequins
2. Buy a Darth Vader helmet and stitch some shiny edging onto black material to hang on one
3. Spray paint one gold and glue on a bunch of electronic parts and bungee cords
4. Find a kid who lives and breathes Star Wars, give him a non-laser gun (who makes sure to point at the robot, not Darth. Darth was cool.)
5. Charge the kid's parents $5 for the photo
And on a similar note, see a newspaper profile of Darth Vader before anyone knew who he was.
Via Dan Hendricks
Via Gina Norman
Via Neato Coolville
Via James Woods
Via Sarah Biggart
A scene from a "1977 Halloween party and dance at the University of Washington, Seattle" by Andrew Siguenza. More of these charmingly no-budget shots can be found here.
Via Two Tone Twumbo
Las Vegas Lass' conventions photos from the late 1970s and early 1980s. ("I was soundly excommunicated from fandom when I discovered punk rock around 1980.")
(Behold the power of Disco Greedo.)
Photograph by Phil Dillon — these are helmets made of "cereal boxes and loo roll tubes" from before New Hope was even released.
Via Michael Murray. Spotted on The Retroist.
UPDATE: Reader submissions! io9 commenter Richnalea wore this boss Vader outfit back in the day:
I made a homemade Darth Vader costume out of cardboard, a plastic army helmet, raisin boxes, clay, pegs from a light bright, lots of tape (layered) and the lightsaber was cardboard and a sawed off orange broom (with a pissed mom).
And BadBob001 also remembers that Great Adventure bootleg scene!