Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

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Have you ever stopped to think about the fantastical imagery of Star Wars?  I know I hadn’t until I went to see a Smithsonian Institution Traveling exhibit in New York City entitled, Star Wars:  The Power of Costume.  The exhibit is currently at Discovery Times Square, a building that served as the previous home of The New York Times.

A look at the multi-cultural references in the Star Wars Costumes as shown in an Smithsonian Institution Exhibit

Like every perfectionist, George Lucas imbued meaning in all of his Star Wars imagery including the costumes.  The costumes have cultural references around the world, from the American Wild West, to pre-Raphaelite Europe, Mongolian Queens and Japanese samurai.  The outfits were meant to humanise the characters so that they look vaguely familiar and less alien.  On the other hand, a futuristic film could not attribute its characters to a specific human culture.

The costumes in the exhibit are the actual outfits worn by the actors in the 7 movies to date.  There are more than 70 costumes on display.

 Trivia:  Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can’t go to an exhibit and not walk away with a treasury of trivia. For example,

  • Obi-Wan’s robes are reminiscent of both the rough ascetic of monk’s robes and the elegant silk of Japanese kimonos.  Lucas wanted Obi-Wan to be part monk and part warrior.
  • The throne room royal outfit of Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace was influenced by the Chinese Imperial court.  The bottom of the gown was made from perspex so that it would support the weight of the fabric and yet still glide across the room. A car battery powered the lights so that the perspex would glow.
  • The Jedi costumes were plain and muted to convey purity, asceticism and integrity.  The Sith robes, alternatively, were sleek flowing black.
  • The design fro C3P0 was heavily influenced by the robot Maria from the 1926 film Metropolis.
  • Queen Amidala and her court’s outfits were influenced by clothes from Chinese imperial outfits, Japanese kimonos, Mongolian crowns and European medieval fabrics.  The whole menage is intended to convey the impression of royalty without actually referencing any one specify culture or country.
  • The stormtroopers appear efficient and totalitarian with a complete lack of independent thought.   A type of futuristic Nazi in their shiny plastic outfits, they are identical and interchangeable.
  • The rebel forces, on the other hand, evoke the American west or U.S. Marines. (Of course, the Americans are the good guys – this is Hollywood!).
  • The entire budget for the 1977 Star Wars film was $220,000 and $93,000 went to the stormtroopers outfits.  Hence, poor Princess Leia spent a lot of time in one white outfit.
  • Han Solo is meant to evoke a cowboy hero from a Western movie.  He wears boots, vest and a gun belt like any other gunslinger.  The outfit is simple and the materials natural reminiscent of a U.S. cavalry uniform. Although starting off as an outlaw, he proves that when times get tough, he is ready to fight for justice.
  • Chewie’s outfit is made from yak hair and mohair.  He’s a combination of a monkey, a dog and a cat.  They must’ve done something right because my kids adore Chewie.
  • Princess Padme had 18 outfits which took months of work to create.  She had dresses, gowns, corsets, uniforms and, of course, the wedding gown.  Padme’s wedding gown was made from pieces of a vintage Italian lace bedspread.
  • In the Force Awakens, the costumes easily separate the goodies from the baddies.  The First Order is in sleek outfits and cold colours – blacks, greys, blues and metallics.  The Resistance is dressed in natural fabrics in warm colours – khakis, olives and oranges.

Photo Gallery:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Star Wars Costume Exhibit
Once you are told, it’s easy to see the Japanese samurai influences.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
R2D2 at times actually had a human actor inside him.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
You can see the blend of cultural references in this outfit.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
The Senators needed to look both alien and yet familiar at the same time.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
Propaganda poster for the stormtroopers.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
Darth Vader propoganda poster.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
Carrie Fisher famously called this outfit ‘the bikini from hell.”
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
A frozen Han Solo determined to break free.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
The seductive side of Padme.


Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
You can easily see the specialist artisanal work needed for Padme’s outfits.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
The wedding gown for an illicit marriage.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
An intentional reference to pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, Ophelia by John Everett Millais
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
All black because he is pure evil.
Star Wars Costumes Exhibit
The new set of good guys wears natural fabrics and earth tones.

Video:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Visiting the Star Wars Costume Exhibit

The exhibit will be travelling through the United States (and hopefully around the world) through 2019.  The Discovery Times Square centre will show the exhibit until September 2016.  From November 2016, the exhibit will be at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.  Tickets in New York are $27.50 for adults with discounts for the under-12s and seniors.

You can keep track of which city the exhibit will appear through their twitter feed or through the website.  The exhibit is very child-friendly (obviously – to hook in another generation of children into the Star Wars folklore).  My children LOVED it so I’d say the attempt was very successful.  Not only are there certain interactive elements for kids, you can also download activity sheets to take with you to the exhibit.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Travel Inspiration.

Weekend Travel Inspiration

23 thoughts on “Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit”

  1. This is fun! My grown up son and my husband were so excited about your post (sorry, I’m not into Star Wars at all). I wonder if they will bring this exhibition in Los Angeles too.

    1. I’m sure it will tour the big cities This thing is a money spinner especially with two more Star Wars movies coming out in the next few years.

  2. I’m so excited to see someone else visited and loved this exhibit! I went in Seattle and have always been a huge “Star Wars” fan! Loved your attention to details and insights behind all of the designs. Feel free to check out my post about my experience too: “A Galaxy Far Far Away.”

  3. I have to admit: I saw your post in the linky and said, “What? Star Wars?!?” CLICK! 🙂 I had no idea this exhibit existed. Not sure I can wait for them to come to me now. I just may have to use the Force and convince the family that we need to go to New York. (Should not be hard!) #wkendtravelinspiration

  4. I like the retro style posters in the exhibit. I’m guessing that this will be quite a popular traveling exhibit — perhaps it will give people ideas on expanding the usual selection of Star Wars influence Halloween costumes. I’ve noticed no one ever shows up at Padme even though she has such gorgeous clothes. Perhaps too hard to recreate cheaply or simply not iconic enough because of all the different influences at play. I still haven’t seen the new movie. My hubby is holding firm to his “no PG-13 movies until they’re 13” rule. My younger boy will be 13 in 3 more weeks, and I’m waiting to see it with him for the first time.

    1. You’re right! No one dresses up as Padme. She had beautiful clothes but I thought they filmed her character pretty creepily. Almost a child predator because Anakin was so much younger when they met. In the books she was only a few years older but it didn’t look it with the actors they chose.

  5. Incredible! Star Wars cost 200K and nearly half the budget was spent on costumes. Wonder how much of the 200M they spent on costumes on the current Star Wars.
    I’ve not seen any of the Star Wars movies but this looks like a fun exhibit.

  6. Shobha, I went to the movie only because I was dragged, but I have to admit, it’s really cool finding out how things are done and why. I love your list of trivia! Such fun!

    Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!

    1. My daughter was meh on Star Wars before this last movie. Then she decided Rey was very cool. Glad they’ve got a strong female lead to follow on Princess Leia again. Padme was a bit wet.

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