On a dusty Baghdad avenue, less than a day before the Gulf War kicked off in 1990, hundreds of Iraqi soldiers marched in sync with Star Wars–themed music — a show of defiance against the American troops who would soon start bombing the country. The Iraqi soldiers passed under the city’s Victory Arch, a giant pair of 141-foot crossed swords resembling Darth Vader’s famous Empire Strikes Back pose with light sabers. The patriotic procession, broadcast live to millions of stunned viewers around the globe, marked an overlooked and surreal detail of military warfare in Iraq: an obsession with a galaxy far, far away.

Saddam Hussein had a penchant for fantasy and owned paintings by American fantasy artist Rowena Morrill, whose friend and fellow sci-fi illustrator Boris Vallejo created the Empire Strikes Back poster. But it was the dictator’s eldest son, Uday, who took the sci-fi fixation to the extreme. Put in charge of the so-called Fedayeen Saddam, “Saddam’s Men of Sacrifice,” Uday — whose unhinged brutality made his father look statesmanlike — formed a sadistic team of regime enforcers and killers. His first order of business? Ordering black shirts, black ski masks and black helmets that sloped in the back to make his troops resemble Darth Vader.

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Image courtesy of starwars.wikia.com