Star Wars and The Power of Costume Exhibit

Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit

The Detroit Institute of Arts has excellent exhibits during the year and Star Wars and The Power of Costume exhibit is one of the best. This exhibit currently runs only until Sept. 30.  You need to get there really quick if you don’t want to miss it, especially if you are as big of a Star Wars fan as I am. This exhibit consists of more than 60 hand-crafted costumes from the Star Wars saga. Filled with some of the iconic Star Wars costumes we have all come to love, you could easily spend a couple of hours going through the exhibit. It also shows the detail and time that went into making the costumes, the fittings, and how the actors dealt with their costumes. Let’s step into the Star Wars world and see how the costumes were designed to make the impact they did in the Star Wars and The Power of Costume Exhibit.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit

Jedi vs. Sith

Jedi vs Sith

Which side of this battle between good and evil (light and dark) do you relate? The plain simple robes that represent the Jedi’s purity of life or the sleek, flowing black on the Sith. Both of these were made to allow the vigorous movement needed in the fight scenes. Now how many of you had toy lightsabers (sticks, brooms, whatever was handy) and practiced the fights with your siblings? Or at least until you got yelled at for hitting your younger sister. Accidentally, of course. She just moved too slow. 🙂

For the prequel movies, the designers had the task to create costumes that had to make visual connections to and foreshadowed related characters from the original trilogy. Anakin’s robes changed to darker colors as he got closer and closer to the dark side. No thanks to Emperor Palpatine.

Jedi Robes

Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi Robes (wool cloak and raw silk kimono)

Emperor Palpatine

Emperor Palpatine Sith Robe (Waffle cotton cloak with a silk robe and neck brooch)

Queens and Princesses

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Queen Apailana and Padme costume

Queen Apailana (Funeral Gown), Queen of Naboo, and Padme’s costume on the right

Compared to the men in Star Wars, the ladies were able to wear more colors and more luxurious fabrics showcasing their wealth and status as royalty. Sequins, pearls, and embroidery were stitched into their dresses and robes to make their gowns spectacularly out of this world. That and their hairstyles were constantly changing in every scene. It was exciting to see how creative they would get with them as each new film was released. The cinnamon buns on Leia’s head is a classic!


Star Wars Droids

The biggest hurdle with the droid costumes was making the sketches into functional designs. Did you know that the designers took a plaster cast of Anthony Daniels’ body then added clay details to make him appear more like a robot to get to the final C-3PO costume? The exhibit also had a short behind the scenes film of Anthony Daniels and his feelings about being C-3PO.  Let’s not forget about the one robot who tends to steal the scene now and then, R2-D2 who was created with a hodgepodge of miscellaneous parts. Glass bulbs became photoreceptors, vents became signalers, and metal scraps became data probes. George Lucas even wanted the blue arms on R2-D2 that fold over the front to look like “a knife and fork.”

Costume Shop

Wardrobe Bible Pages

It is here in the costume shop where the sketches and drawings get transformed into textured reality. Over a hundred designers worked on the Phantom Menace to create more than a thousand costumes for the film. They would create Wardrobe Bible Pages. This would be a copy of the final drawing and sourced materials for each costume. Some pages even included how the material would be manipulated by dyeing, pleating, beading, or embroidering.

Outlaws and Outsiders

Bounty Hunters - Jango and Boba Fett, Outlaws - Rey and Finn

Bounty Hunters – Jango and Boba Fett, Outlaws – Rey and Finn

For the outlaws and outsiders, the creative team had to create costumes that fit the personalities of bounty hunters, outlaws, and creatures all interacting together in the Star Wars galaxy. One thing I found interesting is that George Lucas had one stipulation in the costume design of his Star Wars universe. No fasteners (zippers or snaps) would be seen as it would take away from the fantasy,  The costumes had also to fit the environment in which the actors found themselves.

The infamous Princess Leia slave costume was probably Carrie Fisher’s least favorite costume as she called it “the bikini from hell.” This costume was designed with Hollywood in mind with the practice of putting females in revealing outfits for objectification. This one Star Wars costume is one that has continued to make a statement through the years; the bikini has even shown up in TV shows and films such as Friends, Chuck, and Fanboys.

Princess Leia Slave

Princess Leia – Slave (painted resin, leather, and rubber)

When I was younger and Return of the Jedi came out, I loved these little guys. The concept for the Ewoks was to make them as cute as a “teddy bear’s picnic.” with small ears and bonnets. And who wouldn’t want to bang on a Storm Trooper’s helmet with mallets? What I liked about these characters is that despite their cuddly, cuteness they are fierce warriors.

Wicket the Ewok

Wicket the Ewok (shape-altering foam undersuit covered by artificial fur)

Now for the biggest outlaws, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Did you know that Han Solo’s costume was designed to be a gunslinger from the wild west? Most of Han’s costume is taken from cues of the old films of the wild west like the guns strapped to the thighs, wearing vests, and tall boots. Chewbacca was actually inspired by George Lucas’ dog, an Alaskan Malamute. Chewy is a combination of a monkey, dog, and cat but, designed to fit Peter Mayhew’s 7’3″ frame. They even had to design a Wookie cooling suit for him that had very cold water running through tubing on a mesh shirt. But that didn’t happen until the second trilogy. He had to suffer through the heat of the costume for the first three films. That is dedication!

Han Solo and Chewbacca

Han Solo and Chewbacca

One of my favorite items that I found in this exhibit is a detailed concept sketch of all the characters in the Cantina. George liked for his creatures to have a distinct nose, eyes, and mouth. How awesome is this!Cantina Characters

Galactic Senate

Galactic SenateThe Galactic Senate character challenge was for the costume designers to use materials, props, masks, and makeup to differentiate their unique environments. Senator Amidala’s outfit inspired by the Elizabethan era has vivid colors and a rich texture. One of her best lines is ” This is how Democracy dies, with thunderous applause”.  Not to get political but, some of the bits from the Star Wars films can relate really well to current situations. Sly Moore’s costume had to be designed to the planet Umbara, where the suns rays never reach the surface of this dark world. Her robe looks like ice crystals have formed on it.

Looking at Senator Palpatine’s costumes you can see how they portrayed the deterioration of his moral fiber by changing the colors, textures, and materials. It is amazing how much a costume can tell you everything about a character.  Are they good? Are they bad? Or are they conflicted?

Senator Palpatine

Senator Palpatine f(transformation from Naboo’s benevolent senator to the evil Sith Lord, Darth Sidious)

Empire vs. Rebels

Darth Vader

Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire costumes were created to have an efficient, totalitarian look. Plus, it is no mistake that you might see fascist cues within the films. Darth Vader’s helmet was actually designed from a Nazi helmet.  Whereas the Rebels were designed to look like they came out of a Western or were from the U.S. Marines.

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Padmé Amidala


Padmé has the most unique costumes out of all the actors throughout the films. From a Naboo royalty, a young senator, a rebellion fighter, a secret bride, and a pregnant wife the costumes she wears defines each of those roles. In each scene, she is wearing a different outfit with an even more elaborate hairstyle. Her costumes are the most complex, time-consuming, and most diverse to make due to her character development through the films.

The costumes for Anakin’s and Padmé’s secret wedding showcase a mixture of joy and foreboding. Padmé’s wedding gown is made from an antique Italian lace bedspread and was enhanced with more than 300 yeards of handmade, French-knit braid. While Anakin’s dark ensemble and prosthetic arm allude to his certainty of becoming Darth Vader. The tiny details that the Costume Designer Trisha Biggar added to these outfits are amazing. I don’t think we appreciate how much is in these outfits when watching them on the big screen. Seeing them in person makes you appreciate all the hard work that went into making our favorite movies memorable.

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Last but, not least, the most important character that shares his 900-year-old wisdom with all the new Jedis, Yoda. Yoda was designed to be wearing a tattered, miniature version of Obi-wan Kenobi’s humble Jedi robes. The designers tore the material and rubbed dirt and mud on it to help show his age. Did you know that they originally tried to put the costume on a money to play Yoda? Can you imagine how that would have turned out?  Yoda and I have a lot in common, we are both smart beyond our years and are vertically challenged. “Judge me by my size, do you?”

I also enjoy imparting my wisdom on others especially, places that I have been and hopefully, you can enjoy them as well. If you can’t make it to the final stop of the Star Wars And The Power of Costume Exhibit, I hope you enjoy this post. If anything, it might inspire you to re-watch the Star War saga for the hundredth time and you might notice all the details that the costume designers put in their outfits to add to the scenes.Star Wars Characters


Force Be With You

Star Wars fans can pin the Star Wars And The Power of Costume Exhibit for later, so can all of you that haven’t seen the movies yet (which I would be surprised if there were a lot of you out there). Either way, May the Force Be With You!

Star Wars And The Power of Costume Exhibit pin


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