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Darth Vader looks down on Canberra

A 300-kilogram Darth Vader head floated over Canberra Saturday morning, cheered on by the occasional supporter of the evil Imperial army.

But the Darth Vader balloon, piloted by Belgian owner Benoit Lambert, cannot take paying passengers by order of George Lucas himself.

Any ride-alongs must be free, according to an agreement with Lucas Films.

Mr Lambert, his wife, son and large villainous travelling companion are here for the Balloon Spectacular, a festival which is part of Canberra’s 100th birthday celebrations and features four uniquely-shaped balloons, including a peacock, Simba the lion from the Netherlands, Mr Bup the Turtle, and, of course, Darth Vader.

‘‘Everybody knows Darth Vader -- people who are fans and people who are not fans,’’ said Mr Lambert, aged in his 30s.

‘‘When we’re in the United States, people go crazy (for the balloon). Not so much in Europe.’’
Shaped balloons such as this cost about $100,000, and the festival attracted Mr Lambert and his custom-made balloon by paying for his tickets to get here.


Darth Vader has allowed him to travel the world, with expenses paid, while his job at home is taking people on passenger rides in his other balloons.

He was looking forward to flying over Canberra’s open spaces, which is different to the urban areas he usually flies over in the US. Two dozen balloons lifted off on Saturday morning in front of a couple of thousand spectators.

Companies offering passenger flights during the festival from March 9 to 17 include Balloon Aloft and Dawn Drifters. Further information is available by calling Canberra Connect on 13 22 81.

Balloons launch from 6am, depending on the weather, with entertainment and breakfast available for spectators and fliers alike until about 10am each day on the lawns of Old Parliament House.