It’s All in the Dress: Star Wars Costumes at the EMP

During our family trip to Seattle in September, we visited the Experience Music Project while they were hosting the Smithsonian’s Star Wars: The Power of Costume exhibition. I am a huge Star Wars nerd, of course, although my obsession pales in comparison to a few folks I know. Having so many Star Wars friends, though, means that I regularly get to discuss things like the philosophy of the Jedi, the world building of the six films, comparisons of characterizations in novels and novelizations, and many other very exciting tidbits. Feel free to ask Star Wars questions to get us started on a discussion.

Sleeve Detail, Yellow Handmaiden gownSleeve detail, Packing dressThe exhibit features a LOT of costumes for Padme Amidala, of course. The prequels were full of her costumes, and those of her handmaidens. Interestingly, there were also a lot of photographs and notes about the influences for those costumes. Mongolia and Japan are two very obvious influences that are discussed in the exhibit, but tons of other images and concept art are included, too. I became very interested in the Royal and handmaid costumes, especially the sleeves. They are very elaborate, with multiple layers, and often extravagant embroidery.


Jedi Knight in combatAt a certain point in the exhibition, you’ve seen a dozen or so standard humanoid male Jedi outfits, and you wonder how in the heck anybody fights in those draperies. Such sleeves, such robes! Seriously, learning how to fight with a lightsaber must involve a lot of Force-manipulation of fabric, or every Jedi would end up slicing his outer robes to ribbons in a duel. The outer robes often come off, in the films, to reveal the Jedi battle clothes, which are many soft layers of tight-fitting linen-type fabrics. They’re very nubby textured in person, and the layers fit over and under each other in a very elaborate manner. Even Darth Maul’s Sith robes are rich with tiny pleats to make the “skirts” of his robe flare when he does his spinning stuff.   Battling Jedi and Sith  

The Evolution of PalpatineOne of the interesting set-ups at this exhibit was the progression of Palpatine from Senator to Chancellor to Emperor. The mannequins change their posture, even, to reflect his increasing Evil. His clothes become more tent-like and stiff as he progresses through the prequels, layers and layers of brocades, but by the time of A New Hope, many things have been streamlined and simplified, including his plain black robes. They are very reminiscent of Jedi robes, in a way that his Prequel costumes were not, perhaps a reflection of his conviction that the Sith ways of the Force were now reigning supreme? It’s hard to consider the films’ influence on each other going backwards, but there is definitely a feeling expressed in the exhibition text that the starkness and uniformity of fashion and uniform in the Empire is a deliberate contrast to the almost ridiculous variety and richness and intricacy of Late Republican fashions. The details in some of the other costumes are great, too – from bounty hunters to sand people, every inch of costume had somebody thinking about it. I highly recommend this exhibit if anybody is going anywhere near it. And I’d love to go see it again, maybe in a larger venue where they will show more of the available costumes.   Untitled


There are two cool books out (that I covet, of course, but the Library is a beautiful tool) about Star Wars costumes:
(Yes, those are affiliate links.)

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