Since the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977, this series set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” has captured the imagination of generation after generation of viewers.
The cultural impact is phenomenal, since the films have managed to find a fan base across a wide spectrum of people.
Phrases like “May the Force be with you” and “Do or do not, there is no try” are universally known and even people who aren’t familiar with the movies can recognize iconic characters like Darth Vader, R2D2, Chewbacca, and Yoda.
Star Wars costumes are an important element of the Star Wars fandom.
There are groups of people across the globe who spend countless hours perfecting their shiny white stormtrooper armor to participate in cosplay conventions.
Characters like Boba Fett and Darth Maul; both mysterious, minor antagonists from the first and second Star Wars Trilogies respectively have remained popular Halloween costumes for decades.
With so much new Star Wars material on the horizon, it’s clear that the cultural impact of Star Wars can only grow larger.
The “Star Wars and the Power of Costume” exhibit explores the unique challenges and triumphs of dressing a mythical universe.
The exhibit features real costumes from the Original Trilogy as well as the Prequel Trilogy and is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
The exhibit explores the inspiration behind the movie characters as well as the practical aspects of bringing them to life.
“In order to create a future, we looked into the past and drew inspiration from history and nature in order to give our fictional creations and realistic foundation.” – Doug Chiang, Design Director, Episode I, II.
“We didn’t look at any films specifically, but had a lot of books, all of the books there were on science fiction and science-fiction films, books on World War II, on Vietnam, and on Japanese armor.” – John Mollo, Costume Designer, Episode IV, V.
Darth Vader is considered to be one of the greatest movie villains in cinema history and also the central character of the movies; described as “More machine than man” his inspiration came from the armor worn by Japanese warlords as well as uniforms from recent armed conflicts.
Vader was once a skilled Jedi Knight who was tempted to the Dark Side of the Force by Emperor Palpatine.
Emperor Palpatine is introduced as an evil ruler and Darth Vader’s master in the original Star Wars trilogy.
In the prequel trilogy his appearance is much different! A Galactic Senator from the planet Naboo, he secretly and slowly engineers a Galaxy wide conflict that destroys the peaceful Republic and creates a Totalitarian Empire in its place.
Ornament, color, and texture reflect the transformation of Palpatine from benevolent senator to evil Emperor. His robes become darker and the intricate details hint at his narcissism.
Ralph McQuarrie designed many of the film’s characters, including Darth Vader and Chewbacca. He also sketched many concepts for the film’s sets and is almost as important to the franchise as George Lucas.
An early sketch of C3PO and R2-D2 by McQuarrie; The protocol droid C3PO, and the astromech droid R2-D2 are the only two characters to appear in all seven Star Wars films.
George Lucas told John Mollo that he wanted the bad guys to look “fascist.” The Imperial Officer on the left is inspired by a 19th century German ulans, division of mountain lancers, and elite Alpine Troops of Nazi Germany.
The X-Wing pilot costume worn by Luke Skywalker during the attack on the Death Star in the first movie is inspired by pilots during the early days of aviation as well as the orange flying suits used by the United States Navy from 1957-1969.
These costumes tap into distinct modern perceptions of heroes and villians. Even someone unfamiliar with the movies can immediately know the motivations of these characters.
The colorful robes of Padme Amidala and her entourage from Episode 1:The Phantom Menace were inspired by the art of the “Pre-Raphaelites”; 19th century English painters with particular visions of heroines and female beauty.
The Senate Gown worn by Amidala in Episode 1 is made of velvet fabric decorated with bronze metallic organza and enhanced with seed pearls on the collar and cuff facings.
The Mongolian-inspired headdress was crafted with copper and then plated in gold.
Visiting this exhibit allows one to fully appreciate the task of finding inspiration and turning it into reality. Even someone who’s not a Star Wars fan can find appreciation in the work that goes into bringing this world to life.