Monday, February 26, 2024

Star Wars - Denizens!

I'm excited to share this project with you today: the denizens of the Star Wars universe! 

From start to finish, this took about 7 weeks during the longest and draggyest part of the post-Christmas winter, so it actually was quite a welcome distraction. I have always, always wanted to paint Star Wars peg dolls for my girls, but they didn't get into Star Wars till late elementary/middle school and well past the age when it would've made sense to sink the amount of time needed to make them. So I shelved the idea - for good, I'd thought sadly - and let myself believe that our peg doll phase, while it lasted, was only ever meant to be Disney princesses (like this and this) and maybe the odd book character from my own childhood. 

Then four years ago, my nephew was born, much younger than the other cousins in his generation, and we got to relive the magic of childhood through his eyes. We never knew what new thing he'd be into next -  sometimes it'd be something we'd never even heard of, because it hadn't been around 14 years ago when my kids were his age. This past Christmas, it was Star Wars. I was absolutely delighted and for his birthday in January, schemed to paint him Star Wars peg dolls. Not just the ones I would've painted for my own girls back in the day, but also the new generation of characters introduced in the decade or so since then. 

Just before the new year, I drew up the list of shortlisted characters. There was an important consideration: as my nephew hadn't yet seen the movies, I had to avoid spoilers. So for example, Darth Vader could only ever be the one-dimensional adult Sith lord with the scuba voice, coal-scuttle helmet and no poignant backstory, least of all one connected to, say, any of the other characters.

Then I took stock of the materials I already had on hand and what needed to be procured. And now as I'm documenting this project, I thought I'd include links to where I went shopping, in case those help any of you wanting to take this project on yourselves (yes, it's never too late!). 

I have a stash of wooden blanks, including bulk quantities of peg dolls, which I'd bought online here years ago. I just checked and while their inventory has shrunk a little since, they still have lots to choose from. 

So, let's talk sizes first. For the majority of the Star Wars people, I used these 2-3/8" peg dolls. You can also buy those in smaller quantities at craft stores. 

Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Kylo Ren were especially tall and imposing, so for them I used these 3" dolls at Michaels

The Ewok was smaller, so I used this boy-sized doll

Yoda was even tinier, so I used a baby-sized doll.

Next, the non-humanoid droids. To make R2D2, I used the mushroom from this set of wooden shapes

sawed off the stem and wood-glued the cap to two flat wheels I already had in my wooden blanks collection. I can't be sure because I didn't measure them at the time, but they're probably these.

I also had actual wooden hemispheres which I'd used in the past to make another R2D2, but their size was such that the finished droid would've been disproportionately large next to the other characters. The finished size of this mushroom-wheel ensemble, however, was perfect. I filled the hollows with wood filler, then sanded and painted.

To make BB8, I used a wooden clothespin doll head bead for his body, which, because of the hole, has a stable end to stand on. Again, I had leftovers from when I'd bought them in bulk online, but I just checked and Craftparts no longer sells them. Here is a similar listing at a different store instead.  For the droid's head, I used some white polymer clay, baked it in the oven and then glued it on when dry and set. Here is BB8 painted,

and varnished

I tried as far as possible to render the traits of the characters with paint rather than a 3D add-on that could break off, mostly to make them as safe as possible for my nephew. However, there were some features that I chose to compromise on, so they could be extra-recognizable: Darth Vader's and the Stormtrooper's helmets, Kylo Ren's mouthpiece and Amidala's headdress. These were formed over the heads of the dolls, baked (some on the dolls themselves; others separately and then glued on when cool) and painted. Leia's side buns and Rey's topknot were beads which were hot-glued on. I hammered a tiny nail through Rey's to additionally secure it to the doll's head just because it was a single bead and tempting for small fingers to pick the entire doll up with. Yoda's ears were tiny pieces of felt hot-glued to his head.

In the next two photos, you can see all these embellishments on their respective dolls in various stages of assembly and coloring.

Over the next two or three weeks, I painted the dolls as I had the time not just to add layers but to allow those layers to dry before the next ones went on. I used the internet for inspiration and at any time, there were almost twenty tabs open on my phone referencing a particular character's outfit. I think if I'd been working on a deadline, I might have been slightly stressed. But I wasn't, and enjoyed the process, dragging out in order to include as much detail as was needed. I took copious photos of all the dolls from different angles just in case I wanted to someday replicate them - here's a series of Luke Skywalker shots, before the varnish went on - I thought it might be easier to capture the details in focus without the added reflection.

Some random shots of  other characters, with varnish. It was indeed trickier with the reflection!

Darth Vader, with clay helmet and mouthpiece.

Yoda, with felt ears. 


Leia with bead buns

C3PO - I didn't realize till painting him that one of his legs was silver below the knee!

Amidala - her headdress isn't totally accurate, but I only realized this after the clay was baked hard. The curvy things flanking her cheeks needed to extend below and frame her chin, but whatever. As long as she - and the others - are recognizable, I'm good, was my philosophy. And they apparently passed the nephew test: I wasn't there when he saw these dolls for the first time, but have it on good authority that he was apparently able to name every one of them. Success!

Some random group shots next. Here is the original trio:

Another awesome trio:

The ones whose morals were suspect, with some more ambiguously so than others:

Boba Fett must be my absolute favorite of the entire bunch to paint- he had so many fun details in so many colors.

Best ever supporting actors:

Spoiler alert: a couple of awkward family photos next, taken late at night with my phone.

And some pairs of BFFs:

You might notice that Jar-Jar Binks is conspicuously absent. You're welcome. 

I also left out Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Senator Palpatine, Darth Maul, and a whole host of others. In fact, the second trilogy is very underrepresented here. Apart from Amidala, everyone was either a time-travel or Jekyll-Hyde version of their first-trilogy selves, or both. Which felt like major spoilers to me, so, no. I was so extremely tempted to do Darth Maul, though - he would've been so cool to paint - but I had to stop somewhere.

because the characters were only Part I of this project,

and Part II, which wasn't even my original idea, but came from my brilliant friend Lindsey and her husband Paul 14 years ago, was even more fun to build. I can't wait to tell you in the next post about her crazy-wonderful inspiration and how, more than a decade later, I got to revisit it and finally, finally, bring it to life.

Linds: if you're reading this, thank you. I feel like I can - at last - exhale.


  1. So much wonderful detail! What a fabulous gift!!

  2. I love these so much!

  3. I LOVE THESE!!! I was an original Star Wars kid, and these are fantastic! Han's swagger is incredible. I think Leia is my fave, or r2d2. ❤️Beautiful work.

  4. Aww so cute I can only imagine the fun your nephew is having with these


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