Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume

Did any of you happen to see Episode VII: The Force Awakens over the holiday? Yeah me – twice. I was excited to see some of the original principal actors; Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamil & Harrison Ford as well as the newer additions to the Star Wars cast of characters. Even Warwick Davis [Wicket in Return of the Jedi and Wald in Phantom Menace] makes an appearance as Wollivan.

Three actors I really enjoy are in this one; Gwendolyn Christie [Game of Thrones] as Captain Phasma and Simon Pegg [Shaun of the Dead] as Unkar Plutt. A masked cameo by Daniel Craig as a Stormtrooper. There are Easter eggs all over the film and so much conversation as a result. I thought Daisy Ridley killed it as Rey. I for one cannot wait for the next installment in summer 2017!

Among the list of producers, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy [one who works with Steven & George a lot] and music by John Williams this was an epic adventure and did not disappoint!

A couple months ago [in a Galaxy far far away], B and I went to the EMP museum to view the exhibit Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume presented by The Smithsonian. “The two trilogies of the Star Wars series, took two very different approaches to costume design. The divergent looks emphasize creator George Lucas’s idea that when the evil Empire takes over the galaxy, fashion goes out the window”. I do love that the new film echos the first trilogy in costume style and design.

In fact, George Lucas is quoted as saying Phantom Menace is indeed a costume drama. “Queen Amidala wears many stylized and exotic formal wear, all requiring an incredible amount of design work, refinement, and craft for what was only a few minutes of screen time. The level of detail and number of dresses the queen wears tell about the traditions of Naboo, its culture, and its art, adding a significant layer to the Star Wars universe”.

Costuming is a passion of mine which I studied in college. So I was super excited to get up close and personal with some epicly styled fabric! I found this interesting article about the exhibit and some weird facts behind some of the costuming.

As you enter the exhibit you head up a stairwell that feels like you are either in the bowels of the Millennium Falcon or traveling through hyper space [or maybe traveling through hyper space in the bowels of the Millennium Falcon?].

Light Speed

In any event, when we reached the top of the stairs we were greeted by the Theed Throne Room robe. I found a great detailed tutorial on how to make your own. One of the things that always fascinated me about the costumes for Queen Amidala were the liberal uses of red and the Chinese Imperial Court styles. There are some electric elements near the hem of the robe below that mimic lanterns and the headpiece is very much Asian styled.

Queen Amidala

Many of the costumes were not fully encased in glass to where you could get up close and personal to view a lot of the detail that is missed on the big screen. However, if you got too close an alarm would sound. Thankfully photos were encouraged! With a few exceptions, the main floor of the exhibit was the second trilogy and upstairs featured the first trilogy.

A lot of information was presented about the inspiration for many of the garments designs through videos, information boards and interactive touch screens. Trisha Biggar was the costume designer for the three films in the second trilogy and it’s clear influences were drawn from many eras of world history. John Mollo was the costume designer on Episodes IV & V and Aggie Guerard Rodgers & Nilo Rodis Jamero were the costume designers for Episode VI. Influence for these costume came directly from George Lucas.

After you move around the corner from the Theed glass encased costume you come across the daily wear for Young Anakin and Young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Below you can see a hint of Asian influence in the crisscross and pleating of the tunic top and the influence of a monks robe in the hooded cape they wore over their every day clothing.

Young Anakin

Directly behind Anakin and Obi-Wan, the dark side looms with Emperor Palpatine’s Sith robes. One interesting thing I noted after getting up close, the robe looked like it was made from thermal fabric which does not come across on screen.

The Dark Side

One of my favorite parts of the collection is the royal costuming of Queen Amidala and her court. The robe in the center is her Senate Address gown. You can see Mongolian influence in the headdress, color and styling.

Queen Amidala 2

Many of the headpieces actress Natalie Portman wore were so heavy they had to be supported with cabling which would suggest why she appeared a bit stiff when wearing these costumes.

Here is some detail of the hood of the robe on the right. I love how the fabric under the neck is woven with a piece that looks like a head/neck wrap. Not only a great feature but a great way to keep it fastened. The queen and her court were often clothed in richly colored velvet’s.

Detail Burgundy Robe

Here is some detail of the saffron colored robe and dress that is on the left in the photo above. Notice the pleated bodice and skirt on the saffron dress. It reminds me of the pleating that Furtony made famous. And a secret he took to his grave.

Detail Yellow Robe

An example of Fortuny pleated dresses.


Notice the detail at the cuff with the red lettering. This is a process called burnout where the fabric undergoes a chemical process to dissolve fibers and create a semi-transparent pattern on more solidly woven fabric. I’m sorry I didn’t get a better photo of this detail.

Saffron Robe

Here’s a little trivia for you, two of the Queen’s handmaidens are now a famous actor and director in their own right, Keira Knightley and Sofia Coppola. The Naboo handmaiden ombre’ “Sunfire” traveling robes below.

Ombre Robe

Here is some more burnout but this is just stamped patterns without using different colored ink. The pattern looks a lot like a Fleur di Lis.

Grey Burnout

This famous duo below ARE the droids you are looking for and of course have been in all of the films to date [including appearances in Force Awakens]. Protocol droid C-3PO and astromech droid R2D2. We first encounter them as bickering sidekicks with a message from Princess Leia and inspired by the film The Hidden Fortress.

Famous Duo

Something often missed [and a question in Trivial Pursuit] is from the right knee down C-3PO’s leg is actually silver. [In Force Awakens C-3PO’s left arm is red. I wonder what the story is behind that?] Of course that was only in the first film and the suit above is a newer version. The 1927 film Metropolis inspired the look of C-3PO. If you have ever seen Indiana Jones and the Raider of the Lost Arc or JJ Abrams two Star Trek films, you can catch a glimpse of these two as Easter eggs in those films.

C-3PO Silver Leg

The wedding gown overskirt for Padme was crafted from an antique Italian lace coverlet. The night before the scene was to be shot, Trisha hand beaded the lace because “it needed something more”.

Padme Wedding

Decidedly Elizabethan influence in the dress below. Then Senator Amidala wore this for packing her bags in preparation to leave for her home planet of Naboo.

Padme Grey

The Darth Vader and Storm Trooper costumes were in an alcove off the main room. John Mollo, inspired by samurai influences, World War I trench armor and Nazi helmets came up with a costume actor David Prowse could wear as Vader.


The Stormtrooper costume was a black leotard worn under white vacuum formed thermoplastic. Ear pieces were formed to hide the bolts on the helmet where they were screwed together. There was no individuality in the storm troopers costuming. Their one purpose was to serve the Empire unquestioningly.

Storm Trooper

The Rebel flight suit took its origins from US Navy flight suits used from 1957 to 1969. Other gear on the suits were a flak vest with life support box,  thermal gloves, stow pockets, emergency transmitters, insulated boots, a comlink and helmet with orange visor with computer projection for targeting. Each pilot personalized their helmet with their squadron insignia and other designs.

All black flight suits of energy shielded fabric, positive gravity pressure boots and a life support chest piece with breather tubes that connected to the helmet distinguished the TIE fighter pilots that served the Empire.

Fighter Suit

The tunic, pants, boots and cap of the Empires leadership takes its design style from German WWII uniforms. They level of status was determined by the items pinned to the front of the tunic but in general emphasis was placed on duty and not status.

Bad Guys

Boushh was a male bounty hunter who came to an untimely demise that was not well known. His costume was donned by Leia in Return of the Jedi when they were on a mission to save Han from being imprisoned in Carbonite at Jabba’s palace. The costume serves to protect not only the wearer’s anonymity but also any sort of weather or gasses someone may come across in such a large galaxy. All of the clothing is heavy duty with padded pants, an over tunic, cape and boots.

Leia In Disguise

The slave Leia costume has a very “harem” quality about it. Brass brassiere, arm piece and waist piece to attach veils made of luxury cloth Lashaa silk with panties underneath. Elfin style heeled boots and a collar with a chain Leia later used to strangle Jabba to death.

Leia as a Slave

Tusken Raider’s or Sand People were a nomadic group who believed all water was theirs and would often raid and attack moisture farms. Their desert environment of Tatooine required clothing that allowed them to not only blend in to their surroundings but protect them from the harsh sands of their planet. Garments of rough fabric of tattered rags wrapped around the wearer were common. Female Tuskens were distinguished by their elaborate jeweled masks with eye slits and reminiscent of burkas worn by Muslim women. The gaderfii stick was the male Tusken weapon of choice and created by each indivudual.

Sand People

Zam Wesell is an assassin who’s natural form was reptilian but as a shape shifter could take on many forms. Her appearance in Attack of the Clones is human female. A neoprene jumpsuit covered by a leather vest and woven leather skirt is Samuri inspired. She hides her face behind a chamois suede veil lined in red silk. Her accessories were held in place by magnets.

Shape Shifter

Han Solo’s costume reflects a very American western gunslinger aesthetic. The shirt and striped pants were inspired by the American US Calvary uniform. The black leather jacket and boots with a leg holster gave him a no nonsense look that served him well.

Han Solo

The outfit on the left below was what Padme wore on Geonosis. This outfit was one of the most practical. Featuring a light tan colored jumpsuit with a long woolen shawl and tan boots sporting shin armor. The silver armband signified her political service. The hair design was intricate but with the twisted loops but kept out of her way fastened in a bun at the back of her head.

Padme was disguised as a pilot when on her way from Coruscant. The costume was relatively simple with leggings, boots, leather vest, helmet, turtleneck style top, wrist cuffs accessorized by a belt with buckle that housed a pistol.

Queen Outfit 3rd Film

Meadow picnic dress for Padme Amidala showed a softer look. Flowing silk with small flowers embroidered on the bodice. Lots of ribbon and even thought the bodice has a corset look to it this is a lot more freer style dress.

Meadow Dress

The Villa retreat dress was a watercolor of silk held at the neck by a metal necklace that mimicked shells. The voluminous fabric had no structure to it. The inspiration seems very Greek in the draping of the fabric and off shoulder style.

Queen Dress

The 1930’s were the inspiration for this leather corseted gown that George Lucas himself helped design. The shawl was removable and covered in Peacock feathers. This design is very intimidating and powerful and shows Padme coming in to her own as a woman.

Queen Dress Fur Color

Below you can see the evolution of Emperor Palpatine from upright Senator as his frame slowly bends, his hands become more curved with arthritis. Soon his transformation will be complete to the dark side.

Evolution of Emperor Palpatine

On the left is Padme as a senator. This style is reminiscent of medieval formal wear. While not as strict and confining as her queen attire this is still very formal. A dress with an overdress that allows the fabric from the bodice of the under dress to come through. Her hair is done up and almost resembles a crown in the metal headpiece holding in her hair. The necklace was given to her by the Naboo council.

On the right is Mas Amedaa the vice chancellor of the Galactic Republic representing the watery world of Champala. The fabric of his undergarment and cloak look fairly light weight. The cloak has an intricate design in the construction of the fabric. From far away it appears gold in color but is actually yellow and purple. The cummerbund at the waist is red velvet and the shoulder pieces are leather.

Senate Gowns

Senator Bail Organa from Alderaan who is the adopted father of Princess Leia on the left. His velvet robes hand from a metal breastplate and sit over a tunic pants  and boots.

On the right Mon Mothma Senator from the plant Chandrila with her flowing lace robes that resemble a priests garment.

Senate Gowns 2

Sly Moore was a female assistance to Chancellor Palpatine and had the ability to manipulate peoples minds. The robe she wears is a series of rows of fringe similar to a flapper dress that covers her to the ankles.

Senate Gown 3

Boba Fett was featured in another part of the museum in a glass enclosed space. Here is B posing with him below. Originally he was supposed to be in all white as a super storm trooper but later his character developed as a bounty hunter.

B and Boba Fett

It took me a while to get this post up and I hope you enjoyed your costume tour of the Galactic universe. For more information you can visit Wookiepedia.


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