The first official exhibition exclusively of Star Wars costumes, "Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume," opens at Seattle's EMP Museum on January 31, 2015. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
The exhibition, organized in part by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, features a stormtroopers costume, which is globally recognized. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
C-3PO and R2-D2 make an appearance in the traveling exhibition, along with costumes and concept art from George Lucas' six Star Wars films. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
In addition to 60 costumes, the exhibition features concept art and other looks inside the design process. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Han Solo's iconic costume from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is one of 60 in the exhibition. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
"Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume" features Princess Leia's slave bikini from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
For the three prequels that came out in 1999, 2002 and 2005, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art "collected pretty much everything we could." Here, Obi Wan Kenobi's Jedi robes. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
An exhibition organizer says that costume concept artists looked to Asian countries for inspiration. Here, Queen Amidala. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Queen Apailana's funeral costume appears in the exhibition. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Here, Mas Amedda's senate robes costume from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, which appears in the exhibition. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
This senate guard costume is one of 60 in the traveling exhibition, which opens in Seattle in January 2015. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
This elaborate Tusken Raider costume is in the exhibition. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Here, Padmé Amidala's dining gown and cape from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
The concept art behind the iconic looks, such as this one for Padmé Amidala's arena costume, will be on view. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Here, early concept art for Chewbacca, a look now recognized around the world. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
The concept art for Queen Amidala's senate gown shows clear Asian influences. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
"Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume" opens in Seattle in January 2015 and will travel to 11 additional cities by 2020. Here, concept art for Bail Organa's senate robes. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Darth Sidious' robes from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith will be on display. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Here, Jedi robes from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. (© & ™ 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Inside the Three-Decade Evolution of “Star Wars” Costumes

A Smithsonian traveling exhibition offers an unprecedented glimpse at costumes from a galaxy far, far away

smithsonian.com

Few costumes are as universally recognizable as the stormtrooper suit from Star Wars. Graffiti artists spray the white helmet and body armor, sometimes a symbol of tyrannical government, on walls around the world. Less politically motivated are the stormtrooper costumes ubiquitous at comic book conventions. “There’s really key pieces that…have entered into our cultural knowledge base,” Laela French of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art says about Star Wars costumes. “They’ve become part of a visual language.”

Fans don't have to wait until Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres this December to get their stormtroopers fix. For the first time ever, an original stormtrooper costume from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi will be on display in a traveling exhibition, along with Jedi robes, Chewbacca’s fur suit, Princess Leia’s slave bikini, and other iconic looks from George Lucas’ six films. “Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” a collaboration between Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), the Lucas Museum, and Lucasfilm, will travel to a dozen cities through 2020. Organizers say it’s the first official exhibition to focus entirely on Star Wars costumes, and it’s been nine years in the making. Currently on view at Discovery Times Square through September 6, 2016, the exhibition features more than 70 costumes, along with concept art and other insights into the design and implementation processes.

“We are really trying to show how this idea becomes reality,” says Saul Sopoci Drake of SITES. The exhibition isn’t like something you’d see at Planet Hollywood; rather, it explores how the costume designers constructed the pieces so that they’d move properly on film and connect with the characters wearing them.

That design process evolved over the course of Lucas’ six movies. “In the earlier films, George Lucas was setting out with a pretty modest budget,” Drake says. “What you see in the later movies is that he really didn’t spare any expense on the creation of these costumes.”

French says the progression also had to do with the narrative. In the earlier films, she says, the characters in the Rebel Alliance were on the run, so “the costuming was ad hoc.” “When you move to the new films” she adds, meaning the prequels from 1999, 2002 and 2005, “it was the height of their culture.” For those designs, concept artists looked to cultures in Japan, Mongolia and China and for inspiration.

Fortunately, French says, Lucas held on to many of the materials from his early films. And when it came to saving artifacts from the three prequels, French says, “We collected pretty much everything we could.” Lucas had final approval over the traveling exhibition, organizers say.

The exhibition marks the third collaboration between SITES and the Lucas Museum, which will open in Chicago in the near future. SITES has yet to announce the show’s 11 destinations following Seattle.

“Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume” will be on view at the Discovery Times Square through September 16, 2016

About Max Kutner
Max Kutner

Max Kutner was the editorial intern for Smithsonian. He is now a staff writer at Newsweek and has contributed to Boston magazine and other publications.

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