On the day before Star Wars Celebration Chicago opened its doors, Lucky McQueede arrived at a hotel parking lot with a pile of scrap materials, five gallons of yellow paint, and just 12 hours to pull together a towering loader droid cosplay.

As it turns out, the garbage would do.

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

McQueede, who makes a living as a stuntman, puppeteer, and creature effects artist in Los Angeles, cobbled together a massive cosplay for the official Cosplay Competition and walked away on stilted legs with the Best in Show title.

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

Based on HURID-327, the massive red loader droid glimpsed at Maz Kanata’s castle in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, McQueede’s MC-219, nicknamed MAC the Loth-CAT, was actually his back-up for the contest. He intended to bring his Darth Maul cyborg cosplay, another behemoth on special digileg stilts, that he built seven years ago. But the costume needed some repairs and his makeup artist, who completes the upper half of the cosplay, got sick. So he went to plan B.

“I found all the parts for this on and off in the garbage for the last three weeks,” McQueede said, perched on a trash can and resting inside the venue shortly after winning the contest April 13. McQueede used discarded Nerf gun parts, stilts he already owned, and other pieces of mesh and metallic debris for the build. “When it comes down to it, it’s about shapes.”

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

McQueede couldn’t get started on the work of putting it together until he got to the convention. As part of a cargo transport for 501st members from California, Utah, and Colorado, on April 6 he hit the road, driving from Los Angeles to Chicago over several days and making stops to pick up astromechs from friends in the R2 Builders Club. During a stop in Colorado, McQueede’s father gave him the bucket of safety paint, the same hue used to mark off parking spots, and he pulled into the Windy City on the evening of April 10.

The next day, while the convention kicked off, McQueede was sitting in the parking lot of a Hilton Garden Inn waiting for cosplayers to pick up their gear and constructing his loader droid. “I had to babysit the truck so I built a robot,” he joked. He still had paint encrusting his fingernails when he won Saturday afternoon.

When he was done, MAC stood 10 feet tall, although he has a two-and-a-half foot reach with the pair of monstrous and agile arms on either side of the droid’s body. As the convention was winding down Monday, he could still be seen strutting the exhibition hall floor giving high fives. His training in Hollywood over the last 20 years certainly helped him accomplish the task in the strict 12-hour timeframe, he says, and he had some help from Katy Coleman, the creature performer who was inside the original droid suit on the set of Episode VII. That helped him figure out how to slip the body of the droid onto a backpack for support and ease of movement. “That was the key.”

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

The royal treatment for Princess Leia

Although McQueede took home the top prize, he was just one of many impressive cosplayers on stage during the Star Wars Celebration Cosplay Contest and among fans wandering the exhibition floor all week.

Autumn Ziegler put almost 300 hours into her Elizabethan Leia ensemble, which clinched Best Mash-Up at the contest, and took a half hour just to put on. Ziegler had the idea when she was attending a previous Celebration, but didn’t get started sewing until January. To get the intricate costume done in time, Ziegler said she put in “a lot of weekends, a lot of late nights,” starting this January.

It was her first time crafting an Elizabethan gown, so she had to do hours of research and joined some period costuming groups on Facebook for tips. “It was a lot of bum rolls and farthingales,” she said. “There’s actually a lot under here just to give it the right shape.”

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
Detail from an Elizabethan Leia costume in the Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
Detail from an Elizabethan Leia costume in the Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
Detail from an Elizabethan Leia costume in the Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

She added in subtle nods to Star Wars in the details. The sleeves are inspired by Leia’s ceremonial gown, with ties that are printed with tiny silver X-wings. The rebel starbird is woven throughout. “I’ve always loved the Tudor time period and Princess Leia is my favorite character so I wanted to give her the royal treatment. Had she visited the court of Queen Elizabeth a long time ago…what would the dress consist of?”

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

Jango Fett, Samurai warrior

Frank Wehrkamp, who won for Best Armor, styled his Jango Fett cosplay off the Samurai-inspired Bandai collectible figure. When he was deployed in Afghanistan last year, he used his downtime to begin programming the build and then 3-D printed 60 percent of the cosplay this fall, “as soon as I got home,” he said.

He had previously crafted a stormtrooper in the same style, but Jango Fett has always been his favorite character, he said. The costume creation required “a lot of resin, a lot of paint, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.” But when it was done, his helmet didn’t fit into any of his luggage.

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

“Funny story,” he said. On the plane ride to Chicago, “I carried it in my lap.” But for takeoff and landing, he couldn’t keep it there “and I couldn’t stick it under the seat, so I had to wear it in flight all the way here from Las Vegas.” That’s dedication.

“Just to pull off a win was amazing,” he added. The night before the competition, he and his family had to run out and buy sandpaper to mend some parts that broke in transit. “I mean, I brought an emergency kit, but no sandpaper,” he said. “Next time.”

And not only did he get the judges’ vote, several fans at the Bandai booth were smitten with his life-size interpretation of the collectible, he said. “The attention we got was just insane.”

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

Stitching fit for a queen (or a senator)

Jennifer Catania got her start in theatrical and period costuming, so the historical influences of the prequel trilogy came through in her interpretation of Padmé Amidala’s dinner gown from the lake retreat. The painstakingly detailed creation won for Best Stitching.

Catania had already been on an elegant dress kick when she discovered the lace for the skirt in a shop, which inspired her to the begin the project. “The rule with Star Wars costuming is that if you see fabric that is anywhere close to screen accurate, you have to buy twice as much as you think you’ll need,” she said.

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

The gown — with a skirt sewn specifically so she can wear flats underneath to keep her comfortable and get her closer to Natalie Portman’s actual height in the scene — could almost be worn to a black-tie gala in this galaxy.

Catania put almost 120 hours of stitching into the look, with about half of that dedicated to hand beading the black velvet choker and the long beaded fringe at the front. Some of the beads were actually leftover plastic bits from a stormtrooper costume she had built, she noted.

For the cape, she used 13 yards of feather trim laid out in 10 distinct rows. The black pleather corset beneath was modified from a late 1800s corset pattern she custom drafted a few years prior.

“I think the best part of the contest was getting to hang out with all those amazing costumers,” she said afterward. Catania, a teacher by day, loves to cite sources and problem solve her different cosplay creations and share them with the community of builders and crafters. “That’s the reason I entered in the first place,” she said. And she was not disappointed, getting the chance to talk shop with cosplayers she follows on Instagram or had previously interacted with online.

Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.
Champions of Cosplay from Star Wars Celebration Chicago.

And these were just a few of the most impressive cosplay creations spotted at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. If we didn’t get a chance to feature yours here, it wasn’t that we weren’t impressed. There simply wasn’t enough time to catch up with all the amazing cosplayers on the show floor and parading through panels!

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them.

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