15 things we learned from the Star Wars: The Power of Costume exhibition at the Denver Art Museum

15 things we learned from the Star Wars: The Power of Costume exhibition at the Denver Art Museum
Posted at 9:18 PM, Feb 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-18 11:55:56-05

1. The Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition contains more than 70 handcrafted costumes from episodes I through VII.

2. In the original trilogy, George Lucas wanted costumes to be “simple but timeless” – so a lot of what you see from episodes IV thru VI are very plain, unadorned clothes – earth colored tones, worn out garments that showed a time where the galaxy was under the grip of the Empire.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's robe

3. In the prequels, Lucas wanted the Star Wars universe to show a wide range of civilizations pre-Empire, so the costumes had to really show a time where people and creatures across the galaxy bathed in opulence and high culture.

Some of the flashy attire from the prequels

“Well over a thousand” costumes were used in the prequel trilogy alone, according to information from the exhibition.

4. Darth Maul, the main villain in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, went through different iterations before he became a horned, tattooed-faced demon.

Artistic director Ian McCaig was asked by Lucas to draw his worst nightmare and bring it to life. At first, that nightmare turned out to be an androgynous, longhaired blue monster. Then, Lucas asked him to draw his second worst nightmare.

First concept art drawing of Darth Maul

Between witches and clowns, McCaig eventually came up with the final concept for the Sith Lord.

Darth Maul, as seen in The Phantom Menace

5. In the art studio, costume designers as well as illustrators would work on Lucas’s vision for what he imaged the creatures, the people, their wardrobe and their planets to look like in the Star Wars Universe. Once approved, he would stamp the illustrations with the words “Fabulouso.” The designs would then get sent to the costume shop for the next step – creation.

Some concept drawings for Queen/Senator Amidala

6. Despite what the title card tells you, most of the clothes and hairstyles used in the Star Wars universe don’t come from a galaxy far, far away. In fact, their inspiration comes from many cultures and time periods from planet Earth. A “look gets elaborated [from a different culture/time period] and is then combined into something new,” information from the exhibition states.

Take for example the headdress Queen Amidala wore when she went to Coruscant to plead an end to a blockade on her home planet of Naboo to the Galactic Senate in The Phantom Menace.

Queen Amidala's headdress

“The headdress is clearly Mongolian,” but the materials used to create it, as well as the patterns and the coloration of the garments do not belong to the time period where Mongolian princesses would wear them.

7. Costumes were also created not only show a certain culture or a certain time period within the Star Wars Universe, but also a character’s personality.

There’s a vast difference between what is worn by the Jedi, Sith Lords and Leia Organa. Her white wardrobe signified her pure, humble personality as the Princess of Alderaan, while the simple, earth-tone colors of the Jedi robes signified restraint and the simplicity of their life style. The all-black, kimono robes of the Sith meant darkness, evil, destruction.

Princess Leia's simple but memorable clothes

8. When it comes to creating a fantastic fantasy from out of this world, some things have to be taken into consideration. One request from Lucas for the costume designers was no buttons or zips in any of the clothes – he did not want to destroy the universe he created with simple things that would make the experience relatable to fashions of this world.

A female and male Tusken Raider

9. Many costumes were built from ides that were discarded or never used in the end. An example of this would be Boba Fett’s costume.

At first, this costume was originally going to be worn by Darth Vader. Then it became an idea for an all-white super Stormtrooper. Eventually, designers decided this was the perfect costume for the galactic bounty hunter.

Boba Fett

10. Lucas’ Alaska malamute, Indiana, was the inspiration behind the beloved Chewbacca. A combination of a monkey, a dog and a cat, costume designers used 15 pounds of Yak hair to build the costume – which was extremely hot, according to those who wore it.


11. Imperial officers were meant to look “fascist” in the original trilogy, per a request from Lucas. Hence the reason costume designers created outfits from tunics, jodhpur pants, and boots from the 19th Century German forces.

Imperial officer

12. Lucas coined the term “greeblies” for costume pieces that could not be identified. Costume designers transformed bits of cars, airplanes, or simple wooden dowels into convincingly functional galactic canisters, transmitters, ammunitions and food sources.


13. From Naboo royalty to young senator, to the spark of the Rebellion and as secret bride and pregnant wife, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) had the costumes that were most complex, time consuming and diverse – and some of these even appeared for a couple of seconds.

14. Senator Amidala’s hair buns (also worn later by Leia Organa) were inspired by women’s hairstyle from both the Mexican revolution and from Hopi maidens.

Senator Amidala's hair buns

15. The look costume designers created for Darth Vader – the terrifying half-man, half-robot from the original trilogy – evolved from that of a Japanese samurai and involved using, among other things, a German steel helmet, a motorcycle jacket, a monk’s cape and a gas mask.

Darth Vader

In order to make certain areas of Vader’s costume stand out (e.g. the electronic box on his chest), designers had to redo the whole costume during filming, as an all-black costume did not show key details on film. Look closely and you’ll notice certain areas are of a dark gray-ish color while others are completely black.

We’ve only revealed 15 things you will discover at the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition, but there’s still so much more to discover.

The exhibit also has more than 300 pieces and sketches of the concept art as well as audio guides that explain much of the ideas behind the costumes and the creative process of the costume designers.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume runs though April 2, 2017, in the Hamilton building of the Denver Art Museum. You can find more information here.


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