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Star Wars costume designer John Mollo dies at 86

The Oscar-winning designer assembled Darth Vader's look with an ecclesiastical robe, motorcycle suit, and German helmet and gas mask.

It's hard to envision the Star Wars saga without its distinctive look, from Darth Vader's imposing cape and helmet to Obi-Wan Kenobi's hooded cloak. John Mollo, the Academy Award-winning costume designer who helped create those memorable images, died Oct. 25 of vascular dementia at the age of 86, the Times of London reported.

Star Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, called Mollo "brilliant" and a "crucial man in (the) look of 'Star Wars' and 'The Empire Strikes Back.'" He shared a photo from the 1978 Oscars showing Mollo with Darth Vader and actress Natalie Wood, who presented the statuette.

Mollo won his first costume-design Oscar for the original 1977 "Star Wars" and later shared one for 1983's "Gandhi." He also worked on "Alien," "Chaplin," "Event Horizon" and "The Three Musketeers," among other films.

His fascination with military history showed in the Star Wars costuming, and he also wrote numerous books on the subject, including "Uniforms of the American Revolution."

He assembled Darth Vader's costume by hitting up Berman's costume company in London (now part of Angels Costumes) and plucking parts from different areas of the store. "For Darth Vader I had to go to three departments — the ecclesiastical department for a robe, the modern department for a motorcycle suit and the military department for a German helmet and gas mask," he told the Times in 2012. "We cobbled it all together, and there was Darth Vader."

He was always modest about the work that became his legacy.

"As you see, the costumes from 'Star Wars' are really not so much costumes as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering," Mollo said upon accepting his Oscar.

The early crew had no idea what a hit "Star Wars" would be. "We doubted that it would ever be shown," the Times quoted Mollo as saying. "I remember someone asking me what I was doing and I said, 'It's sort of a space western and one of the heroes is a dustbin.' We really didn't know what we were doing, we were feeling our way along.'"