As a child in Britain, Mollo saw the 1935 movie Clive of India, about a British military officer who subjugated India in favor of Britain’s East India Company. Mollo was fascinated by the military uniforms, and became a self-taught expert on the subject. That led to him being brought in as an advisor for another film: Charge of the Light Brigade in 1966. And that, in turn, led to him to be brought in as the costume designer for yet another film: 1977’s Star Wars. “Luckily, my total ignorance of science fiction wasn’t a problem,” Mollo said later: creator George Lucas wanted an “authentic” look, not the “spacey” costumes of earlier science fiction movies. Mollo created the iconic costumes of all the main characters: Darth Vader, the Stormtroopers, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kenobi, and more.
Not that he thought the “Star Wars” thing would go anywhere. “Most of the crew thought that the film was a bit odd while we were making it,” he said in a 2012 interview. “We doubted that it would ever be shown. And 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.’” The film was obviously a hit, spawning a massive franchise, and Mollo won an Academy Award for his costume designs. When he won that Oscar, he was surrounded by models wearing his creations. “As you’ve seen, the costumes in ‘Star Wars’ are really not so much costumes,” he told the audience, “as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering.” Mollo continued his work in the movies, winning his second Oscar for Gandhi (1982). He even carried forward into other science fiction films, such as 1979’s Alien and 1997’s Event Horizon. Mollo also wrote richly illustrated books, including Military Fashion: Comparative History of the Uniforms of the Great Armies from the 17th Century to the First World War (1972) and Uniforms of the American Revolution (1975). He died October 25 in a care facility in England, from vascular dementia, at 86.