PEORIA — It all started in summer 1977. Enthralled by a movie that was in the process of captivating thousands — and one day, millions — A. Tom Rehn had seen "Star Wars: A New Hope" enough times to assemble an all-white outfit with a black belt to emulate the iconic hero of the movie, Luke Skywalker. He even sported the feathered mop haircut.
Rehn now has a more wizened face with parted hair and a beard with tints of gray. The look has a purpose. As the latest edition of "Star Wars" is a little more than a week away from its nationwide debut, audiences are about to be re-introduced to Luke Skywalker, portrayed by actor Mark Hamill, decades since the character was last featured prominent on the silver screen.
Back then, Rehn was just a kid with some free time, a passion for the galaxy far, far away and enough of both to design a costume based on his favorite character. In 2017, it's essentially Rehn's full-time occupation.
"I played Luke when I was 15, and now I'm playing him 40 years later," Rehn said. "Damn you, Hamill!"
Rehn is the owner of Civilized Galactic Gear, a mercantile shop he runs out of his Peoria home that specializes in movie prop reproductions of Jedi belts, pouches and accessories — "for those that want to be Jedis," Rehn explained. He also creates and designs Jedi costumes for himself that he enters into contests at Comic-Cons and the annual Star Wars Celebration events, which attract more than 70,000 people.
That sounds a little niche, but a quick Google search confirms that Rehn commands global notoriety for his creations and that his own costumes carry an award-winning pedigree. He has sold accessories to people across the world, including such far-flung places as Shanghai. Just this week, a friend who was attending a Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia told a shocked Rehn that some people in attendance knew his work.
He was also awarded second place in the Jedi category at the 2015 Star Wars Celebration, then first in that category at the 2016 event and then first again in a group performance in last April's Celebration in Orlando.
"You can't really tell in a photo," explained Chad Taylor, Rehn's friend and a fellow "Star Wars" fan. "When you see the leather work in person, you're like, 'Wow, that's damn impressive.'"
The intricacy and precision of the design often stops people in their tracks at Comic-Cons and other events as they fawn over the details of the costume. Even Warwick Davis, the actor famous for his portrayal of an ewok in "Return of the Jedi," leaned over at the 2016 Celebration event and smelled Rehn's costume because he didn't believe it was actual leather.
"I make beyond movie accurate clothing, as if you were actually going to be living in it," Rehn said.
His latest creation, which coincides with the festivities surrounding opening weekend of "The Last Jedi" next week, will reflect the older Luke Skywalker. Rehn has inspected every available image and footage from the promotional material of the new movie to birth a fully articulated replica of Luke's outfit. He uses a compass instrument to measure computer images and scale them to his own specifications. He has even tracked down the material of Luke's stick — oak — and the origin of his cape, a World War II military sweater.
For Rehn, there's a joy in returning to the character he dressed up as four decades ago, and a sense of relief. Up until a few weeks ago, he was in a body brace after a surgical procedure to his hip and wasn't certain he'd be able to attend. Rehn will be one of many costumed characters at AMC Grand Prairie 18 movie theater on Dec. 14 for opening night as well as the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Dec. 15.
Taylor said the presence of the authentic recreations of "Star Wars" characters at the movie opening brings a level of excitement that no other film property or franchise can match. Rehn echoed that sentiment and equated it to taking the first step into Disney World as a Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck and Goofy all stand feet away.
"As an adult, I know it's not real. But for that moment, it's the realest thing ever," Rehn said.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.