The Star Wars: Power of the Costume exhibit at the Denver Art Museum greeted intergalactic travelers with George Lucas’ famous words: “You can’t do it unless you imagine it.”
Those words symbolize the imagination that everyone behind the scenes of Star Wars exerted to make what reads as effortless on screen. “You’re not coming just to look at costumes,” said project lead, Stefania Van Dyke. “We want you to think about all the creativity that went into it.”
The exhibit began with an elevated display of Jedi Knights battling Sith Lords who represent good and evil respectively. The rough fabric used in the Jedi robes symbolizes purity, while the Sith are adorned in sleek, black ensembles. Following a trip through the art studio, the next room paid homage to the queens. Queen Amidala’s costume from Episode I: The Phantom Menace came to fruition from costume designer Ian McCaig’s mistake. According to Van Dyke, after sketching the initial costume idea, McCaig crumpled the paper and threw the drawing away. When the designers gathered to present their ideas, McCaig took the drawing out of the trash and smoothed it, so he would have more drawings. He traced the wrinkles in black ink, and from the wrinkles, a textured fabric was born and used for the costume.
In the Outlaws & Outsiders room, guests viewed the sketches of famous creatures like Jabba the Hutt, who didn’t always look like the stumpy, round galaxy gangster the world recognizes today. Much like Jabba the Hutt, another beloved character didn’t originate as the world now knows him: Chewbacca. Lucas wanted the Wookiee to take after his dog, so the first drawings depicted him as a lemur-like creature, Van Dyke said. However, since Chewbacca transformed into a hairy beast, his costume followed suit, consisting of 15 pounds of yak hair that constituted a cooling suit in some of the films. The military costumes brought up yet another hidden gem: Greeblies. Costume designers found and reimagined everyday objects onto the costumes to make them look more complex and futuristic.
For instance, the food capsules on Luke Skywalker’s belt are actually pen caps. The next room was home to C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8. Despite looking robotic on screen, C-3PO was actually a costume worn by an actor. R2-D2 had two models: A robotic model that glided on wheels and a human-inhabited model that scuffles. He was originally imagined to roll, but technology at the time was not advanced enough to see that dream to maturity.
Instead, BB-8, the droid from the 2015 film “The Force Awakens,” rolled as filmmakers would have liked for R2-D2. As viewers passed through the Galactic Senate, they viewed costumes from the galaxies’ governing bodies. Each costume was meant to represent the state of a particular galaxy. Thus, the representative of the water planet had tentacles.
Next was Padmé’s Journey, which showcased eloquent and complex costumes worn by Natalie Portman’s character, Padmé Amidala. Van Dyke explained that one costume designer quit the profession after spending eight months on a costume that aired for roughly 30 seconds. Darth Vader overlooked the final room. Lucas wanted the dark character to resemble a Japanese samurai warrior. The movies used two different helmets: one for most scenes and one for stunt scenes. The stunt helmet had a translucent bottom to allow the stunt actor a better range of sight. After Vader and before the exhibit’s end sat Yoda, the Jedi Master. Yoda was supposed to be played by a monkey, but instead was cast to a puppeteer. Despite his small stature, his 900 years of wisdom were etched in his worn robe and wrinkled forehead. With over 70 costumes from all but the most recent Star Wars film, the Denver Art Museum shared the power of creativity with all of its visitors, and the force with just a few of the chosen ones.