Iconic Star Wars villain Darth Vader has been reborn – as a life-size gorilla.
He is rumoured to be plotting world domination from an empty shop unit in Exeter, Devon.
London-based artist Mandii Pope has created the extraordinary figure as part of Paignton Zoo’s Great Gorillas Project. The project, celebrating Paignton Zoo’s 90th birthday, is putting a host of life-size model gorillas, sponsored by businesses and painted by specially-commissioned artists, on the streets of Exeter and the English Riviera this summer.
Mandii Pope: “It was a labour of love, making him at lunch times, working for 3 hours each day after work and at weekends.” She was supported by Landmark Plc in London (two directors of the company live in Devon): “They let me create Darth Vader Gorilla at Royal Mint Court - without Landmark Plc I could not have done this, as he is too big to fit anywhere else!”
Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “Darth Vader Gorilla is striking, imaginative and very, very imposing!”
In addition, she has been awarded a grant by the New Zealand Society - a group of ex-pats who support kiwis overseas – to help cover her costs and to enable her to visit Devon in support of the project.
Mandii has exhibited in London, Dubai, Bucharest and Auckland and sold work in the South Pacific, America, Asia, Europe and South America.
Her inspiration came from comedian Eddie Izzard’s sketch about Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen. “I studied the build of Darth Vader and the Great Gorilla - they are similar in shape and so it was an obvious choice.”
Darth is made of some surprising items. His boots and gloves are camping foam, his mask features knee pads for the eyebrows and mouth and a plant pot forms the top of his helmet. You might also spot a plastic cup, a length of garden hose and an old pair of oversized 1970s fancy dress glasses. His chest box makes breathing sounds and speaks, and he wields a working light sabre.
With Eddie Izzard on a world tour and plans for Star Wars Episode 7 to be filmed in the UK, it seems a perfect time for Darth Vader Gorilla to make his mark. The figure will be auctioned in November to raise money for charity. Phil Knowling: “We just need George Lucas to come along and bid for him!”
The sculpture is being displayed at Harlequins Shopping Centre in Exeter. “Despite being an evil commander of the Galactic Empire, he's a little delicate, so he’s staying indoors. We hope to open the shop during the weekends so fans can get in to see him close up. We plan to remove his mask at some point during the summer – people will have to watch out for that.”
The full size gorilla model, standing on all fours, is 140cms tall, 120cms long and 60cms wide. He comes complete with helmet, cape and a talking chest-plate. The design was chosen and sponsored by Cavanna Homes, the region’s largest independent house builder, who also mark their 90th birthday this year. The company has sponsored two Great Gorillas – Darth Vader Gorilla and Hippocampus Guttulatus Gorilla, which features the seahorses of Tor Bay – the species found in Cavanna’s logo.
Let’s hope the real gorillas of Paignton Zoo - Pertinax, Kiondo, Kivu, N’Dowe and Matadi - don’t join Darth, as they could be a pretty imposing force…