In the summer of 1978, six fiberglass Boba Fett helmets were constructed for the filming and publicity of the Empire Strikes Back. Each helmet was weathered and painted slightly differently and each is identifiable from its brothers. We are going to focus on the Preproduction #2 helmet, dubbed in the Star Wars Chronicles as “the second prototype.”. This Boba Fett helmet is prominently seen in almost all of the pre-Empire Strikes Back publicity photos, 2 life-size standees, the Kenner Boba Fett Action Figure packaging, and 12” Figure packaging. While the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet was used extensively for publicity photos, it never saw screen time in the Empire Strikes Back.
While it is unclear exactly when the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet left Lucasfilm, at some point in the early 80’s Don Post studios obtained the helmet to be cast for a proposed line of replica helmets. After casting, the history becomes blurry. The only thing we know for sure is that the helmet was never returned to Lucasfilm and disappeared.
In 2003, the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet surfaced for the first time in 20+ years. The helmet had not fared well over the years and had taken considerable damage, the most significant being a broken (but still present) range finder stalk and a series of prominent scratches were now present on the helmet, running from the center of the dome down the lower left of the back of the helmet. These scratches will play heavily in our story.
The Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet was reportedly rejected as an auctionable item by Profiles in History due to the dubious nature of its transition from Lucasfilm to private hands. The helmet floated around for a short time and eventually found its way into the hands of a private collector, where it resides to this day.
Aside from being the only original Boba Fett helmet known to be in private hands, the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet is also the "father" of an entire family tree of replica Boba Fett helmets that have been trickling into collector and costumer markets since the mid 80's. This article will focus on two of the earliest replica helmets with direct lineage to the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet; what we consider "first sons."
The Ken Tarallo Ultracal Plug
In February of 2004, the Dented Helmet / Boba Fett community was rocked by a single eBay auction; a solid Ultracal “plug” which was claimed to be cast directly from an original Boba Fett helmet. Due to lens distortion in the photos posted with the auction, the validity of the helmet was hotly contested but ultimately a TDH member purchased the plug. Upon receiving the plug, the member was able to verify that the casting was indeed from an original helmet, specifically the “PreProduction #2” helmet.
The thread where the TDH member announced this plug as a TDH exclusive can still be seen here:
While the plug had taken a bit of damage over the years, it is one of the earliest castings we had ever seen of an original helmet. The seller, fxdude, better known as Ken Tarallo, a long time prop maker explained that upon making this Ultracal plug, the mold it came from was badly damaged and Ken believed it to be rendered unusable.
The Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug has subsequently been cast, and at least two additional plugs created, and a small run of super-sanitized fiberglass copies were made available to less than a dozen TDH members. Sadly, castings of this plug cannot be made available to the public due to an agreement as part of the purchase that the helmet would not be mass-produced. You can even see Ken reference this agreement here:
The Grant McCune Fiberglass Helmet
For over 6 years it has been believed the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug was the only casting to ever come out of the mold of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet. It was also believed that the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug hadn’t been cast prior to its ownership by a TDH member. However, there has always been a wrinkle in these beliefs because there are obvious “tells” pointing back to the Preproduction #2 helmet in a number of other helmets, including the Mystery helmets, the “Lava” helmet, and even the helmets officially produced by Don Post in the mid 90’s. If the mold was ruined, the Ultracal plug pulled from it had never been cast, and the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet went into the hands of a private collector, from where did all of these other helmets originate? Up until recently, there has been a missing link, a broken chain, and an unfinished story.
About 6 months ago, I was approached by a friend to verify and possibly purchase what was believed to be a production casting of the Boba Fett helmet. When photos arrived it was immediately obvious this wasn’t a production piece, but instead, yet another casting of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet. As mentioned, there are literally dozens of castings that can trace their lineage in some way back to the Preproduction #2 helmet, but this one gave pause because unlike all but the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug this helmet still had ALL of the physical scratches and paint impressions matching the original helmet, meaning this had to be a very early casting.
I was able to purchase this helmet for my private collection and once in hand, I was thrilled to see that not only did this appear to be a very early casting, but to my surprise, details (which will be discussed later in this article) on the helmet indicate it is the exact same generation as the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug! Not only does this confirm that the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug was not the only helmet to ever come out of its mold, but it also helps explain the lineage that eventually led to the Don Post helmets and tells us even more about the original casting of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet and its progeny.
So why are we calling this the “Grant McCune” helmet? Its history traces back to a former model maker at Grant McCune Studios. We are told this helmet sat “out back” at Grant McCune Studios for untold years. Sadly, we don’t know how this helmet came into the possession of the Grant McCune Studios employee.
Casting the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett Helmet
How did the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug and the Grant McCune fiberglass helmet come to be?
In the very early 80’s the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet was sent to Don Post Studios to be molded for a proposed line of Don Post replica helmets. While Don Post didn’t actually produce the helmet until the 1990’s (which is another
story in itself) a mold was made of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet by
Steve Patino. It is unclear if this mold was made specifically for Don Post or simply for “personal archiving.”
Ken Tarallo, a friend and coworker of Steve Patino, who was present at the time of the casting of the Ultracal plug, maintains a “rigid mold” had been taken of the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet, but we believe a true rigid mold (made of ultrcal, plaster, or a similar material) is unlikely due to the multiple undercuts inherent in the design of the Boba Fett helmet which would lock the helmet into the mold. It would be virtually impossible to make a rigid mold of this helmet, especially with the ears left intact, as they were for the Steve Patino molding (although the rangefinder and outer ear cap were removed).
When the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet surfaced a number of years ago, one of the surprises was a strong series of cut marks which start at the top of the dome and travel down the back of the helmet. We believe these cuts were sustained as Steve Patino cut a flexible glove mold from the helmet. Typically, when making a glove mold, after the mold sets, it is simply rolled off the item being molded. This is possible because glove molds are generally made of flexible materials like silicone, urethane, or even latex. However, a glove mold may become “locked” to the item being molded and a seam must be cut to release the item from the mold. For reasons which aren’t entirely clear, it appears Steve Patino was forced to cut the helmet from the mold, leaving a badly damaged glove mold and damaging the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet as well.
If the mold was an inflexible “rigid mold”, cutting the mold partially in the way Steve did would not release the helmet from the mold.
A Second Generation
Historically it has been believed the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug was pulled from the damaged glove mold taken directly from the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet. When looking at the dome and back of both the Ken Tarrlo Ultracal plug and the Grant McCune fiberglass helmet the damaged seam from the original glove mold can be clearly seen. However, the seam from the cut mold has been repaired, puttied in and sanded. This repair is CAST in to both the Ultracal plug and the fiberglass casting meaning either the mold itself was repaired or there was a 1st generation casting made and repaired and the Ken Tarrlo Ultracal plug and the Grant McCune fiberglass helmets are from a 2nd generation mold. There are two facts which lead us to believe the latter is the case. First, we believe the glove mold was made of a flexible material and couldn’t be puttied and sanded as we see. Second, even if the original mold was a “rigid mold” instead of a flexible mold, the corrected seam that is cast into the Ultracal plug and fiberglass casting would be inversed with the overall seam and sanding marks being raised and the puttied areas being somewhat sunk in to the casting. Instead, we believe a 1st generation casting was taken from the damaged mold that came off the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet and that 1st generation casting had the seam line puttied and sanded. That 1st generation casting was then molded (with the corrected seam line still very visible.) and the Ultracal plug and fiberglass casting came from that 2nd generation mold, with the corrected seam line being cast into both as we see them today.
It is interesting to note that this damaged area was cleaned up on subsequent castings and the seam itself was all but erased. However, some remnant of the flat and misshapen area caused by the seam cleanup, can be seen in virtually every generation of helmet with lineage back to the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet, including the official Don Post helmets.
Repeating Mistakes – Second Mold Damage
Unfortunately, as with the molding of the original Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet, when the Ultracal plug was cast, it became locked in the mold (what we believe to be the 2nd generation mold) and couldn’t be easily removed. To get the plug out of the mold, Ken had to force a pry bar into the mold, cutting through the silicone, deeply gouging the Ultracal plug, and badly damaging the mother mold. When looking at the back of the Ultracal plug one can see the first seam (from the original mold) which has been corrected, on the far left, and a second, uncorrected gouge just to the right of the first seam. This second gouge is the physical evidence of Ken forcing the plug out of the mold.
The removal of the Ultracal plug from the 2nd generation mold once again left a damaged mold, what Ken believed was an unsalvageable mold. However, the Grant McCune fiberglass casting is evidence to the contrary, and not just the helmet itself, but the details found in the area that was damaged during the extraction of the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug.
When looking at the back of the Grant McCune fibgerglass casting, as with the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug, one can see the repaired original seam on the far left. However, where one sees the gouge in the Ken Tarallo Ultracal plug when it was forcibly extracted from the mold, on the Grant McCune fibgerglass helmet an inset casting of a piece of tape is seen with flashing above the top of the tape and even a small pinched dimple at the very top. These three details indicate 1) the mold was flexible and pliable (due to the tear dropped dimple at the top where the mold was pinched back together 2) there was a cut in the mold where some gelcoat seeped out (where the flashing is seen) which we believe was sustained when the Ultracal plug was removed and 3) the Grant McCune fiberglass casting is not a recast of the Ultracal plug as might be the first assessment but is instead is of the same generation as the tape is inset, meaning the tape was adhered to the inside of the damaged mold.
Next week I will take a much closer look at the Grant McCune fiberglass helmet, showing you both the good and the bad, but in the meantime, here is a summary of what we believe to be the history of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet's "first sons."
Overview of the casting of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett Helmet:
- Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet arrives at Don Post Studios
- Steve Patino molds Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet using a flexible glove mold
- Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet becomes locked in glove mold
- Steve Patino cuts the glove mold from dome to bottom of helmet, unlocking the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet, and unfortunately leaving jagged score marks in the original helmet.
- Damaged glove mold is repaired and becomes a “waste” mold to create a first generation casting of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet.
- First generation casting of the Preproduction #2 Boba Fett helmet has seam puttied and sanded and is remolded, creating a 2nd generation glove mold with a “hard” mother mold.
- The 2nd generation mold is filled with Ultracal to create the Ken Tarallo plug.
- The Ken Tarallo plug becomes locked in the 2nd generation mold.
- Ken Tarallo forces the plug out of the mold, scoring the plug, cutting the glove mold, and heavily damaging the “hard” mother mold.
- Damaged 2nd generation glove mold is taped from the inside, improperly seated back into the damaged mother mold.
- At least one fiberglass casting, the Grant McCune Fiberglass Boba Fett Helmet, is taken from this restored mold.