8 Things We Learned from ‘Star Wars and the Power of Costume’

The incredible exhibit reveals behind-the-scenes secrets on everything from Queen Amidala's gowns to the Emperor's (really gross) fingernails.

To dress a character is to contribute to the story. Costumes are never just clothes. Costume designers, concept artists, and the team behind any on-screen endeavor make deliberate choices about every aspect of a character’s ensembles from the texture of the fabric, to accessories, to whether a button is fastened. All of this detail is on display in the “Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume” traveling exhibit, currently at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The thoughtful displays put the costumes of the Star Wars galaxy in their best light. The outfits are displayed artfully and accompanied by information about their design and fabrication with quotes from the likes of John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. Outfits from all the eras of cinematic Star Wars are represented, with a special section devoted to Padmé Amidala’s stunning and ever-shifting wardrobe.

While browsing the exhibit, certain notes in particular jumped out. Here are eight facts we learned from Star Wars and the Power of Costume.

1. Disguise and color go hand in hand.

Padmé stayed hidden among her handmaidens in an ombre travel gown with a deep hood. Though the silk and velvet are brightly hued, the hood allowed Padmé to remain in disguise and unnoticed by her foes. Designed by prequel trilogy costume designer Trisha Biggar, the gown was inspired by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the nineteenth century — the costume was specifically affected by the rich colors found in those paintings.

2. There are emblematic Easter eggs.

The Naboo royal crest appears overtly and subtly in more garments than you might have noticed on screen. You can spot it hidden in plain sight as a repeating burnout pattern in the fabric or tucked away more subtly on the queen and handmaiden gown designs. Keep your eyes glued to their costumes the  next time you watch the prequel trilogy, especially The Phantom Menace.

A Tusken Raider poses with his weapon.

3. Metal spikes have a purpose.

Nothing about the appearance of the Tusken Raider evokes feelings of comfort and warmth. To live on Tatooine means they’re tough as nails, and their costumes reflect it. Ralph McQuarrie came up with the look for the Tusken Raiders’ masks, including the metal spikes on their heads. He said of the metal spikes, “Maybe… their brains were in need of work.”

Chewbacca is escorted by Princess Leia in disguise as Boushh in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

4. Collar accents appeal to bounty hunters.

Speaking of metal spikes: Leia’s Boushh guise has a connection to canines. The metal studs on the back of the gloves were taken from a dog collar.

Boba Fett.

5. Shake it like…

Camera pieces found their way into at least a couple of props and costumes in Star Wars. Something about photography accessories equates space. A Graflex flashgun was used in Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, and a Polaroid camera viewfinder was worked into the rangefinder on Boba Fett’s helmet.

Wookies in battle gear cheer.

6. Wookiees need to stay cool.

By the time several Wookiee costumes had to be crafted for Revenge of the Sith, the costume department learned a trick or two about making them more comfortable. No longer would Peter Mayhew have to swelter under pounds of yak fur without relief.

To ensure the actors wearing the heavy fur-covered suits on set kept their cool and maintained tolerable temperatures, costuming devised a cooling suit to go under the fur. The system featured tubing attached to a mesh shirt, so cold water could be circulated through to combat heat.

Palpatine leads the Galactic Senate.

7. Tassel time with no hassle.

Sly Moore’s tassel-covered cloak flowed like the surface of water anytime she moved. It’s the kind of costume you stop and notice, even more so when you learn each and every tassel was individually hand-knotted and attached to the garment.

Emperor Palpatine cackles.

8. Palps needs a manicure.

Senator Palpatine probably had nice, relatively normal fingernails. He lost those when he transformed in Revenge of the Sith, instead gaining nails that appeared to be fungus-ridden and rotten. Those fingernails are part of the Power of Costume exhibit and not to be missed. They’re made from resin and paint and applied to Ian McDiarmid’s nails , but the commonplace materials don’t make them look any less sinister.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume” will be at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, until October 1, 2017. Then, it will open at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 11, 2017.

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.

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