Film discussion

Star Wars Style: Analysing the Costume Design

Let’s focus on the most important thing about Star Wars: who looks best. No, not the actors, that’d be boring (Oscar Isaac is an obvious #1 choice), but the costume. It’s an epic-space-fantasy-opera! It should be a feast for the eyes. While some characters bring the #fashion and the #drama, others just fall flat (sorry Luke). Take a look at some of the best costumes worn throughout the Star Wars film universe.


Darth Vader

Is there a more iconic costume than Darth Vader? It’s instantly recognisable, although if you hear costume designer John Mollo describe it in The Making of Star Wars, it seems so simple.

“For Darth Vader, we put on a black motorcycle suit, a Nazi helmet, a gas mask, and a monk’s cloak we found in the Middle Ages department… We did very little drawing; it was more of a practical make-do amend, because there was already an established style.”

Black motorcycle suit, Nazi helmet and a monk’s robe? Next year’s Halloween costume is sorted.

Mollo had a lot to work off of Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie had a specific vision for Vader’s look, working out the details of a helmet/breathing apparatus with George Lucas in the early days. It’s true to the spirit of early Star Wars: a lot of people working together to create something, having no idea it’s about to become a cultural icon for decades.

Honourable mention: Anakin’s black leather Jedi robes in the prequels, for that “turning to the darkside” look.


Captain Phasma

Captain Phasma is literally the best looking, most stylish character in the new trilogy. It’s no contest! The Force Awakens designer Michael Kaplan was inspired by armour at The Wallace Collection and came with an idea for a dramatic, silver suit of armour. The concept was originally floated as a possibility for Kylo Ren, which JJ Abrams ultimately rejected. The sketch was kept and Kathleen Kennedy saw it and loved it. Abrams created a whole new character just to match the outfit — that’s how you know you made a good design.

Phasma’s attire is a modified Stormtrooper ensemble, all silver plated to make it stand out. Actress Gwendoline Christie brings a lot to the design as well – her impressive height makes Captain Phasma seem taller and more regal than those around her.

As if that’s not enough, they threw an asymmetrical cape on her. Just, perfection.


Princess Leia

There’s a lot of iconic looks across the whole Star Wars franchise, but the most recognisable all comes from Leia: the white dress with two signature buns. Granted it’s more of a hairstyle than a costume, but it all serves her character. She spends most of the movie in disguise, on the run or in battle, so the clothing has to be functional. But she’s still royalty, and that shows through her intricate hairstyles (the two buns of course, and later, braided hoops).

George Lucas said he intentionally kept her costumes simple, but of course, that doesn’t apply when talking about the “Slave Leia” costume. Yes, the gold bikini. It appears only briefly in the film, but it somehow became a phenomenon unto its own. The bikini was created by Aggie Guerard Rodgers and inspired by fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, who often drew scantily clad women in metal, armour-like bikinis.

Carrie Fisher famously didn’t love the ensemble, to put it lightly — the phrase “stupid outfit” had been used — but I’m sure she had nothing but praise for General Leia’s regal, refined looks in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.


Rey

Rey’s attire is more function than fashion, but that doesn’t make it any less of a stellar costume. She’s in an all neutral palette that works for desert camouflage on Jakku, with gauzy wraps that can shield her from the heat and sand.

The best part of Rey’s costume has to be her goggles. When we first meet Rey, she’s almost completely hidden thanks to her face wraps and goggles, briefly obfuscating her character and the fact that she’s a girl, for any viewer who missed all the marketing. But if you look closely at the goggles, it becomes evident that they’re the eyes of a Stormtrooper. Kaplan, speaking to Tyranny of Style, explains his reasoning:

“If noticed, this touch gives information about the character’s ingenuity; if not, they still look good.”

So it’s a character detail (Rey is a scavenger and survivor with crafty instincts) and a cool looking accessory all at once.


Kylo Ren

The First Order is all fairly uniform – there’s the sameness whites of the Stormtroopers, the impeccably tailored black suits on the officers like General Hux, and then there’s Kylo Ren with a little flair for the dramatic.

Kylo is inspired by Darth Vader, and it’s apparent through his costume. He’s wearing the black cloak and the mask, but it still is its own design. Every kid on the planet has worn Darth Vader cosplay since the 70s, and Kylo has to look different (and better) while still maintaining his roots. It’s the first rule of fashion: pay homage, but don’t copy.

Abrams reportedly wanted Kylo’s mask to be “memorable for a child,” which means it has to look interesting and imposing, yet still simple. Kaplan’s design has wavy “spaghetti” lines that reflect the light, sometimes giving the illusion of an emotional reaction. Once Kylo takes off the mask and we’re left with Adam Driver, the costume does become a bit more basic. Really, it’s just one hell of a mask.


Padmé Amidala

This could have been a whole article just ranking all of Padmé’s looks, but that’s been done. Her outfits are some of the most recognisable looks of the whole series, and certainly the best-received aspect of the prequels. The costumes even got their own Vogue magazine spread!

Costume designer Trisha Biggar used inspiration from cultures across the globe to weave into Queen Amidala’s wardrobe: the headdresses of traditional Mongolian brides, the red and gold colour palettes of Chinese wedding dresses, the white painted face with red makeup of Korea’s Yeonji Gonji, the crown inspired by a Russian kokoshnik.

Carrie Fisher once commented on Padme’s many regal looks, saying “Harrison Ford wears the same outfit for three flicks, and I was complaining that I wear, like, six outfits. And my mother – Natalie Portman – she wears three million. She walks through a doorway and there’s another outfit. It’s like the Liberace of sci-fi changing of clothes.”

Yes, Queen Amidala literally is in a different costume in every scene. But when the costumes are this good, why not?


Whoever Laura Dern is playing

THAT PURPLE. THAT DRESS. YES.


Zam Wesell

Who is Zam? I’m not sure, exactly. She appeared in Attack of the Clones, which I definitely saw once, but I don’t remember her at all. But that’s not important, what’s important is that she looks fierce.

She wears purple body armour (again with the purple!) with heavy Samurai influences, once again drawing on Star Wars’ East Asian aesthetic. The helmet and tubes add an almost steampunk-esque quality to the look. It’s a memorable ensemble for a forgettable character.


Lando Calrissian

Star Wars may have been a long, long time ago in a galaxy far far away, but Lando could not be more 70s. The man is wearing bellbottoms, jumpsuits and capes while traversing the galaxy. These items don’t seem to make the most sense for a bounty hunter — wouldn’t you want to blend in? The cape can easily get caught — so the ensemble was clearly chosen for the fashion of it all. Fortunately, Lando’s a character with charisma and swagger, so he can pull off wearing baby blue bell bottoms in space. It’s a feat.

Now, let’s talk about the helmet. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Lando appears wearing a helmet that looks like a combination of Shredder and Bane. Designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero told Star Wars Insider that the original concept came from putting a baseball glove on someone’s head, which is usually not a good starting point.

“I remember every Friday afternoon, we used to run off to the ranch and we would play baseball. I remember jokingly putting a baseball glove on engineer Wade Childress’s head, and that was the birth of Lando Calrissian’s disguise.”

The bellbottoms and capes are one thing, but a glove on the head is unforgivable. I bet Donald Glover won’t be caught dead in anything like the sort in Solo.


Han Solo

Have you ever seen that meme about how all young women dress like Han Solo? Tall boots, long-sleeved shirts, vests? 40 years later and people are still jacking his style!

If you can really call it HIS style. Although we instantly recognise the vested look as Han Solo-esque, the outfit was deeply inspired by classic Westerns, complete with low-hanging belt and gun holster. The look worked so perfectly, they brought it back throughout the trilogy — despite the original notes calling for a different look. In Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, production notes from Return of Jedi say Han will be wearing dark green, military-style clothes. What he actually wore? Dark pants, light shirt, signature vest. Even The Force Awakens only slightly tweaked the look, changing the vest to a brown leather jacket. It’s a signature look, like Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks or Gwen Stefani’s red lip. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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