Star Wars and the Power of Costume: The Exhibition

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

One of the truly wonderful things about living in the New York City area is access. When Springsteen announces a tour, I know he’ll stop in NYC and the same goes for any members of the Grateful Dead. We’ve got Billy Joel once a month at Madison Square Garden. The lights and shows on Broadway are just a train ride away. The Met. MOMA. The list goes on and on. One Manhattan attraction that my family has really enjoyed over the years is Discovery Times Square. Sometimes it’s a museum, other times it’s an exhibition center, still other times it’s more of an interactive learning center. The bottom line really is that it’s a fun convenient attraction that we’ve taken advantage of several times since it’s opening.

I’ll be the first to admit that we haven’t seen any of their more historical/educational exhibitions like King Tut or The Dead Sea Scrolls. Being the pop culture fans that we are we’ve favored the entertainment based exhibitions, especially as a daytrip for the kids. My favorite so far was Harry Potter: The Exhibition although The Hunger Games: The Exhibition and Marvel AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N. were both enjoyable and well done. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to hear that there was going to be a Star Wars exhibition opening. I’ve been waiting patiently for the right opportunity to head into the city and check it out, and the February break from school this week allowed just that.

This particular exhibition, as suggested by its title, is focused on the important role costuming has played in the Star Wars saga. While there’s a very good chance the typical audience member won’t even notice the costumes, there is also the same amount of chance that the costume is doing its job and the audience member doesn’t even realize it. Han Solo has a look, and an attitude and his clothing defines the type of character that he is. The same can be said for the simple robes and clothing worn by the Jedi throughout the series or the opulent clothing worn by Queen Amidala in Episode I. The costumes are an integral part of the storytelling and what you learn from this exhibition is how much work and detail went into the costume design, and just how involved creator George Lucas was in the whole process.

The exhibition itself contains over 60 costumes, a multitude of prop weapons, and detailed descriptions and quotes from the cast and creators of the Star Wars films to help drive home the significance that these items have on the overall Star Wars experience. Here are some of my favorite moments from the show.

It was hard to resist pushing the button to light up Mace Windu's lightsaber. Photo by Chris Barry.

The bookends of the original trilogies, Luke Skywalker and young Anakin Skywalker. Photo by Chris Barry.

Han and Chewbacca, my two biggest Star Wars heroes. Photo by Chris Barry.

Chewbacca's crossbow was my favorite prop of the whole show. Photo by Chris Barry.

Seeing these three together right in front of me was a big thrill. Photo by Chris Barry.

The best movie prop of all time has to be Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Photo by Chris Barry.

It's hard to do the Stormtrooper room justice in a photo. There was just one costume, with many helmets and many mirrors to give a rather unsettling illusion that you were, in fact, surrounded by stormtroopers. Photo by Chris Barry.

No Star Wars costume exhibition could possibly exist without "the bikini." Photo by Chris Barry.

I especially loved Carrie Fisher's quote regarding the infamous slave bikini. Photo by Chris Barry.

Mr. and Mrs. Sand People doing their very best American Gothic impersonation were a big favorite of mine and the kids as well. Photo by Chris Barry.

The costumes of Jango and Boba Fett stand side by side and reveal many more intricate details than you may have noticed on film. Photo by Chris Barry.

The many, many looks of Padme Amidala. Photo by Chris Barry.

Here is an example of some concept art shown on the monitors throughout the exhibition. Photo by Chris Barry.

It's fun to see where the designers took their inspiration from. This Mongolian woman's outfit looks strikingly similar to something worn by Queen Amidala in Episode I. Photo by Chris Barry.

The inspiration brought to fuition. Queen Amidala's Throne Room Gown was most impressive to see up close. Photo by Chris Barry.

Anakin and Padme's wedding costumes made for one of the best showpieces of the exhibition. Photo by Chris Barry.

Perhaps the most impressive room was this one containing Padme's coffin. Photo by Chris Barry.

A closer look at Padme's burial gown. Photo by Chris Barry.

Darth Vader got a very intense room backed by the flames of Mustafar where he was, in essence, created. Photo by Chris Barry.

The most recent installment, "The Force Awakens," was represented by these three costumes. Photo by Chris Barry.

The show ended with an interactive exhibit. Here my three kids act as "digital puppeteers" for either Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper or C-3PO. Photo by Chris Barry.

The show actually ended by following that tried and true adage, "Always send them out through the gift shop." Photo by Chris Barry.

You walk away from an exhibition like this with a greater appreciation of the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail that is given to all of the costumes in the Star Wars universe. You learn where the artists found their inspirations both culturally and historically. Every piece of fabric is thought about in regards to the character that will be wearing it and what George Lucas was trying to say about that character.

They say, "The clothes make the man." You can really get an understanding of just how much the filmmakers and artisans involved here believed in that ethos. A quote included in the exhibition from Samuel L. Jackson who portrayed Jedi Master Mace Windu in Episodes I, II, and III, really drives home just how important the costume is to the performance.

Samuel L. Jackson's quote appears in front of his Jedi robes in the exhibit. Photo by Chris Barry.

As Star Wars fans, my kids and I were thrilled to be walking around this exhibit and seeing the actual costumes and props we’ve seen so many times on film. My daughter, who has become quite the little fashion aficionado over the years, was even more impressed with the fashion and costume design itself.  I think we all learned something in the end and that’s what an exhibit like this is supposed to do for you. It allowed us to look at some of our favorite movies and characters in a different way.

The exhibit was a homerun and I would highly recommend seeing it if you’re in or near New York City before it leaves in April. After that it’s on to Denver and other cities yet to be announced. A stop in either Orlando or Anaheim or both would certainly make sense, but there’s been no announcement as such. Keep your eyes and ears open for this fantastic Star Wars exhibit. It’s scheduled to be on the road through 2020. Here’s a link to the exhibition’s website for more information, schedules and even more photographs of the costumes featured.

 If you’re a Star Wars fanatic or costume design and fashion fanatic, you’ll definitely be glad you checked it out.