Force of Fashion: Robes of the Jedi

The guardians of peace and justice blended samurai and other style influences to create a look all their own.

“The detailed precision of a design can be as bold a measure of storytelling as words on a page, leading to the truths at the core of a character, situation, or shared history.”George Lucas

Welcome to Force of Fashion, an all-new column focusing on all things wearable in a galaxy far, far away — and right here at home! Join me every other Wednesday for behind-the-scenes studies on some of the most iconic costumes of the saga, and the biggest highlights in Star Wars fashion today. Today’s column dives into one of the most comfortable and surprisingly battle-ready ensembles of all time: The robes of a Jedi.

Attack of the Clones - Obi-Wan and Anakin

The Jedi may not have had a strict dress code (more on that later), but the traditional robes worn by Masters such as Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi were often what many adopted. While there is no current account on what a Jedi normally kept in their closet, one might assume that there wasn’t much of a closet to speak of, especially when it came to the Jedi that chose to stay traditional. The outer cloak of the Jedi, as well as the cut of their sleeves, hung loosely for ease in combat, but stayed fitted and secured to the torso to keep functionality in tact — nobody wants their robes flying off in the middle of a battle, after all.

Qui-Gon with his Jedi Robes

Flash over to the real world, where costume designers have worked for actual decades on Jedi apparel: first, with Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, and most recently with Luke Skywalker’s ensemble in The Force Awakens. Designers such as John Mollo, Aggie Guerard Rodgers, Trisha Biggar (who wrote Dressing a Galaxy, a costume encyclopedia that is still one of the best go-to’s for in-depth cinematic costume research), and Michael Kaplan are just some of the stand-out creative minds that have brought the fashion of our favorite galaxy to life. For the Jedi of the Republic era, costumes made of wool provided form and functionality, but contrary to my perception stated above, the actual dressing rooms of the cast that made up the Jedi Order were full of fabric. Made from silks, linens, and some very special vintage wool from WWII-era British Army Surplus blankets, the robes often called for several replicas due to the fact that when the wool got wet, it shrunk. You can imagine what a headache this may have been during Attack of the Clones, in which actor Ewan McGregor somehow finds himself soaked with water for a good chunk of the film, including a fight with Jango Fett in the pouring rain. Needless to say, the costume departments of the prequels bought those wartime blankets in bulk, and Trisha Biggar created quite a few replicas from a different, lighter type of wool for Obi-Wan’s romp in the rain.

Details on Qui-Gon's Jedi robes

The robes have reminded in-world characters, such as the scoundrel Janus Kasmir from Kanan: The Last Padwan, to compare the Jedi to monks; as fans know, this was entirely intentional. But with Star Wars’ story roots based heavily on some of Akira Kurosawa’s greatest films (most notably, Seven Samurai) I would be remiss not to mention the influence that samurai garb has had on the Jedi. One of the best examples of this would be the robes of Qui-Gon Jinn, worn loosely for the sake of his wide-reaching, flowing style of mastered sword combat. “I sense that my character, this Jedi, is a kind of samurai,” actor Liam Neeson said of the ensemble. “A very special and spiritual breed of people, with great powers, great humility, and great learning.” Qui-Gon wore his silk robes loosely, and not only for the sake of his fight style. Concept artist Sang Jun Lee once said that “costume is not separate from character design,” and when it comes to Episode I’s fallen Jedi Master, that theory is clearly on display. His opposition and defiance of many Council ideas (along with the advanced level of mindfulness that Qui-Gon had achieved — he was, after all, the person who taught Yoda how to appear as a Force ghost after death) reflect in the looseness of his robes, and the ease of their wear. Qui-Gon’s slouching belts may not have passed any kind of uniform check, but in an order where that’s not part of the job, his personality made its own way past traditional form.

Clone Wars - Ahsoka running

Other Jedi took their capabilities and personal style into account when dressing themselves: Quinlan Vos kept his tabards and the Clone Wars-era armor of the Jedi Order, but seemed to prefer a lighter wear and darker colors; with her unique fighting style and dual blades, Ahsoka Tano often went sleeveless and light to keep things simple in battle; even Anakin Skywalker wore his robes in slightly alternative colors by the time of the Clone Wars, though they held the traditional cut of the Jedi. His son, Luke, would later craft his own spins on the look, adapting the traditional tabards over his black tunic in Return of the Jedi, and most recently sporting a gorgeous, fully crafted Jedi ensemble in The Force Awakens.

Despite their unique style, Luke’s current robes are a clear reflection of his Jedi origins. They are unconventional in color, but close in tradition, recalling a time when the numbers of the Jedi were great in number, but lost in power. With that in mind, what truly stands out about Luke’s robes are the pearly white and soft brown shades that layer upon him. Flowing in an almost dream-like representation of the Jedi that came before him, the pearl white and soft brown of his garb perhaps reflect what he has represented from the start, and what so many Star Wars heroes must hold on to in their darkest hour: Hope.

Sources: Dressing a Galaxy, the Smithsonian’s Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit

Catrina Dennis is a writer and Star Wars die-hard. In her spare time, she tells stories, yells very loudly about soccer, and hosts a few very cool podcasts. Catch up with her on Twitter @ohcatrina.

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