Reactor: Star Wars and the Power of Costume


We watch films and become immersed into other worlds, dimensions, space.  We fall in love with the characters and often they become a part of us.  We buy collector items, dress up as the characters for Halloween or to cosplay at cons.  We don’t usually get to take a tour of how those characters were created.  Star Wars and the Power of Costume gives us the rare opportunity to do just that.  I was able to attend one of the sessions of this exhibit as it is being displayed at the Denver Art Museum from November 13th, 2016 through April 2nd, 2017.

sw-picture-1When you first walk into the exhibit,  you see an outfit from the first trilogy and one from the second trilogy.  The audio explains the difference in ideology for the costumes.  The first one is the original Obi Wan Kenobi’s Jedi robes. The robe is frayed, showing the simplicity of a time that has forgotten luxuries. The second one is a Queen Amidala dress that depicts an era where luxury was still around. It really gives you idea of how they worked to show that the two trilogies are from different eras.

The next room you walk into gives you chills down your spine, as on circular platform there is a fight scene of Darth Maul and four Jedis.  You get to see up close the difference in the Jedi robes and Darth Maul’s outfit.  While the lightsabers the manikins are holding are replicas that light up (you can press buttons to make them light up) the actual ones are encased in front of the outfits.   It was intriguing to look at them; when I cosplay I work sw-picture-2-fight-scenehard to get every detail as clean as possible, however, these props are not the picture perfect replicas you can buy.  They are are worn down from being used on set, and not every paint job is pristine.  It really gives you a feel for the items actually being used. The walls were filled with drawings of different ideas for Darth Maul and drawings of fight scenes for Episode I.  I found it interesting that while filming they had a problem with Ewan McGregor’s robe shrinking every time it got wet; it went as far as up to his knees.  They had to make a new robe for every take.20161201_123123

The next room was fantastic; it had an entire wall of art depicting different scenes from the second trilogy.  It explained the sketches and storyboards they made and why.  Different art pieces they had hung on the walls were used to inspire them for their designs.  One theme that is strongly expressed throughout the entire exhibit is how they used different eras and cultures to inspire the costumes.  Not one costume was to represent a certain culture or era. but was instead to represent a presence.  For example, the head pieces that Queen Amidala wore were not to show a certain culture, they were to represent that she was royalty.  There is a video that is shown in the exhibit where Natalie Portman explains that when wearing the crowns she couldn’t slouch like a teenager and had to walk straight like a queen so it wouldn’t fall off.  You can really begin to visualize how the costume helps the actor create the character.

20161201_124643After walking past several dresses made for Padme Amidala, all of which are breathtaking, you come to what any old school fan has been waiting for: costumes for Tusken Sand Raiders, Boba Fett, Princess Leia’s bikini, Chewbacca, and Han Solo.  The kid in me was trying to make my adult body jump up and down.  These are the actual costumes that brought me into a fantasy world I never wanted to leave.  I was intrigued to learn that the Princess Leia bikini has two versions.  One that was hard plastic and one that was foam for action scenes.  The foam one had two sets made: one for Carrie Fisher and one for her stunt double.  They were called the “Doublemint Twins” because they looked so much alike (this is based off the Doublemint commercials that ran in the 1980’s).

20161201_130541_liIt’s intriguing to look at the differences between the Boba Fett and Jango Fett costumes when they are side by side.  Boba Fett’s just looks better, even though it looks beat up and shows that he has been through a lot of fights.  It’s amazing how much the paint job makes a difference and adds so much more story to the character.  

sw-picture-5-chew-and-hanI think I stood staring at Chewbacca and Han Solo for a good five minutes.  The actual costumes looked amazing.  They had a sample of Chewbacca’s fur that you could touch and a button so you could hear him talk.  We won’t discuss how many times I pressed that button.  Close by are Rey’s and Finn’s costumes.  They are another great duo that comes to us from Episode VII.  You can really see how these costumes were created to follow the old trilogy style of costuming and that Rey’s costume is very similar to the Jedi costumes while being very different at the same time.  I find it fitting that they were placed next to Han Solo and Chewbacca.

sw-picture-6-flight-suitesNo display would be complete without rebel and Imperial uniforms.  We see costumes from Luke’s rebel outfits to that of an Imperial Starfighter.  You learn how the orange jumpers resemble U.S. Navy flight suits, while the Imperial uniforms resemble Nazi German uniforms.  This was done on purpose to help illustrate good versus evil.   It was really interesting to see the different Storm Trooper uniforms.  The 1977 Storm Trooper costume was very beat up and dirty with lots of nicks, while the 2005 clone trooper was pristine white.  There’s definitely a difference in how the costumes have been preserved over the years.

sw-picture-4-wedding20161201_135544It’s truly amazing how many costumes can be made for just one film.  Natalie Portman had a different outfit for almost every scene she was in and the exhibit is full of outfits for Padme Amidala to reflect when she was a queen, a senator, or just a girl falling in love. The costume designers searched the world for the right materials, they used antique dresses, and even an antique bedspread for Padme’s wedding dress.  Another interesting fact was that it took two hours to get Princess Leia’s buns ready to be filmed and Padme Amidala’s could be put on in minutes.

sw-picture-8-driodsThe droid room was of course one of my favorite and after watching a short film on the C3PO’s costume it may be the winner for the worst costume to wear.  You can’t even sit in the costume to take breaks. It was intriguing to learn that the idea for BB-8 actually came from early drawings of R2D2.  They were unable to to make R2D2 move the way they wanted with the technology available in the 1970’s. The life they have given to these droids is truly amazing as is the love we have found for them in our hearts.

The exhibit ends with our two most notable characters: Darth Vader and Yoda.  I have to admit, I was bummed that they only had the Darth Vader costume from the new trilogy, as I would have loved to have seen the old and new costumes side by side.  While we often think of Darth Vader as being pure black, it is clear when looking at it that the costume has shading to make it appear better on film; it actually has some greyish and silverish coloring.  They also have a step-by-step guide on how to dress in the suit, which was needed because the costume is so complicated to put on.

You couldn’t end things better than with Yoda, as he is the embodiment of Star Wars.  However learning that they wanted him to be a monkey in the costume at first was a bit of a shock.  They abandoned that idea when they realized that the monkey wouldn’t be able to make the costume talk.  The puppet is amazing in real life.  The detail warms your heart and you stand there for a moment in awe.  This exhibit was truly amazing.  20161201_142127_001

The only thing I was left wonder was, where are the Ewoks? Maybe it’s better that I don’t know.

If you will be near the Denver, Colorado area before the exhibit ends on  April 2nd, 2017, I highly recommend taking advantage of the chance to see this amazing display!