Editor’s note: About a month ago, this article about the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit went viral (thank you, Reddit!). Around the same time, my dad sent me a different article about the NYC opening of the exhibit and asked if we had written about it (duh dad, of course we had, didn’t you see it go viral on Reddit?!). Being that Wymsee is based in California, we probably weren’t going to be seeing it in real life, and thus would be relying on second hand images and reports…unless…my dad (who is just a short train ride away from the city) agreed to go and check it out for us. Which he did. I’ll let him explain the rest…
By Chuck Green
Let’s get this out of the way. I am no fashion or costume expert by a very long stretch. And though I have seen all seven of the Star Wars movies, I am far from a fanatic. So why am I writing about the “Star Wars and the Power of Costume” exhibit for design and fashion aficionados? Pride. Full disclosure – my daughter is the Director of Content at Wymsee. I sent her an article about the exhibit opening at the Discovery Times Square Museum in NYC, and told her she should write about it. Like the steadfast leader I raised her to be, she told me I should write about it. What father can turn down a directive from his daughter when said daughter is in charge? So now you know.
Despite my lack of qualifications to actually review a costume exhibit, I was determined to not let her down. I went to see The Force Awakens. I read a recent New York Times review of the last 39 years of Episodes. I even dragged a female work colleague with me to get a woman’s point of view. Like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, we were on a mission – to save my reputation.
I remember how mind blowing the film’s technology seemed in 1977, when the original Star Wars (sans Episodic numerals) hit, introducing us to a galaxy long ago and far, far away. Back then, the idea of words rolling up the screen and into the ether seemed like a big deal. The ensuing four decades saw incredible progress in special effects technology and CGI, and as would be expected, each successive installment broke new ground in visual effects, culminating with The Force Awakens. So what I found surprising about the exhibit was that the costumes didn’t move forward with the technology. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. They couldn’t be CGI and effects and magic, they had to be crafted and tangible and there.
Seeing the actual film costumes displayed on mannequins made me realize just how clearly they, even without actors inside of them, exude their respective character’s nature. I can hear the collective duh coming from regular readers of this website – you already know about clothing’s ability to transform. But for a layman like myself, this was a bit of an aha moment. The special effects of Star Wars push the envelope. The costumes do the opposite. The style and material of the costume signal the character’s inner workings and in some cases demand your reaction. Acting craft teaches two methods: “outside in” starts with the character’s physical presentation to help the actor find their essence; “inside-out” starts with the inner feelings (thank you Dr. Freud) and the clothes are the last thing the actor thinks about. Not to take away from any of the actors, but it would be pretty hard to not feel like a different being when wearing any of these costumes. These costumes demand an “outside in” approach.
Sackcloth monk-like robes of the Jedi say inner substance over style.
Vader’s gigantic black robes and mechanical helmet are absolutely intimidating. (Does the tail flair remind anyone else of Nazi headgear?)
The Darth Maul costume along with his red face is the perfect complimentary execution to the jade-faced Wicked Witch of the West.
The white, blank body armor surface and expressionless helmet of the Storm Troopers screams soullessness.
C3PO’s fussy exposed construction and buffed gold are obviously fastidious—R2D2, the dependable singlemindedness of a fire hydrant.
Chewbacca’s costume reminded me of the Cowardly Lion after he gets his courage.
Ewoks are little more than hairy munchkins.
I seemed to be drawn to associations with The Wizard of Oz costumes so here’s a little tidbit for you: the lyrics for the Ewok’s song were written by Joseph Williams, who later went on to become the lead singer for Toto, coincidence?
For all the four decades of filmmaking progress displayed through the Star Wars epic, the costumes do what costumes do in all good films. They speak for the character along with the actor, and even when the actor is silent. You get the impression that if you were to put the costume on yourself you would begin to act as the character. That must have been the intention of the producers of this nifty little interactive exhibit, reminiscent of Nintendo’s Wii games:
Several full length screens are positioned in a row. If you step in front of one and raise you hand in a fist, you activate the session in which a costumed figure appears as your mirror image, and you get to control its movements. You can toggle between several characters. When I called up the Stormtrooper I immediately, and by instinct, began posing in shooting positions having the figure blast away with a phaser. As a Wookiee, I roared. And when I got a lightsaber in my hand…well you are just going to have to see for yourself what the Power of Costume can make you do. And may the force be with you when you do.