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“Star Wars” may have its own beer, but is it art?

“Star Wars” may have its own beer, but is it art? (photo)

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There really is no end to what true “Star Wars” fanatics are willing to shell out for. Which can be a problem if, say, said product isn’t licensed by George Lucas, as Andrew Ainsworth recently found out the hard way.

In 1976, Ainsworth — then an industrial designer — made 50 Stormtrooper helmets, for which he got £20 each, plus approximately another £30,000 for other character equipment. Ainsworth’s total “Star Wars” earnings: about £31,000. Lucasfilm’s merchandise earnings for “Star Wars”: $10 billion plus and counting.

In 2004, it finally dawned on Ainsworth that this stuff was worth money, and he began selling Stormtrooper helmets from the original mold he’d created. Lucasfilm’s legal fury was swift: in the U.S., they soaked him for $20 million (for just 19 helmets sold, no less). Then they brought their case to the British courts; Wednesday, they lost. And why? Because the judge in the original case said it’s not art. Mr. Justice Mann said the helmets were industrial designs rather than sculptures, hence subject to 15 years of copyright protection rather than 70. The appeals court concurred: the helmet and armor were “utilitarian” rather than art.

I get what they’re saying: the helmets can be mass-manufactured rather than accruing value from their limited quantity and rarity, hence they’re no more art than, say, those plates with paintings of cats the Franklin Mint peddles. On the other hand, it’s hard not to sympathize with Lucasfilm’s British attorney Mark Owen when he says “The film is a piece of art, and all the components are part of that.” Some of us would like to think so, anyway.

But in that case: shouldn’t the designer be the artist and get the benefits? Not in the real world, perhaps — companies claim the rights to the work of their employers all the time, even if it seems morally iffy — but ideally, yes, and from that perspective it’s nice to see the pennypinching Lucasfilm lawyers get shut down definitively. (They plan to appeal the Supreme Court, natch.)

12202009_imperialstout.jpgThen again, hearing the Lucasfilm folks talk about “art” (in connection with the rare merchandising dollar they haven’t snapped up) is like listening to Pat Robertson talk about tolerance. These days they’re pimping the somewhat redundantly titled “Imperial Stout Trooper Stout,” a New England brew hitting select states next Monday or so. I mean, fine: I’ll drink it with my “Godfather” vodka. And if it’s as good as the “Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale” I tried last weekend, then that’s fine. The reviews are good anyway, if you’re the kind of person who reads beer reviews.

[Photos: Stormtrooper helmet, from Shepperton Design Studios; Imperial Stout Trooper label, from New England Brewing Co]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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