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Classics, from Chewbacca to Han Solo to Boba Fett
Classics, from Chewbacca to Han Solo to Boba Fett

It’s not whether you embrace the light side or the dark side. It’s how you dress the part.

That, in a nutshell, sums up Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, an exhibition that launches its twelve-city international tour this Saturday at Seattle’s EMP Museum.

Featuring 60 costumes from what are coyly described as “the first six blockbuster Star Wars films,” the two-level exhibit is fluidly organized into nine “chapters,” such as Jedi Versus Sith: Form, Function and Design, and After the Throne: Padmé’s Journey. There’s pretty much something to appeal to everyone from die-hard Star Wars fans to casual (“Really? You debate this stuff?”) film viewers.

Two levels, 60 costumes, and nine "chapters" make up the exhibit
Two levels, 60 costumes, and nine “chapters” make up the exhibit

One sequence details, via costume, Palpatine’s progression from senator to chancellor to Sith Lord. Another explores the concept and design for costumes of royalty, such as Princess Leia and Queen Amidala. Even Yoda makes an appearance as his rehearsal puppet greets visitors when they climb the entry stairs.

Darth Vader, of course, gets his own room.

Darth Vader stands alone
Darth Vader stands alone

Tying the cloth and plastic together are descriptive panels, videos and interactive flip books on how costume design visually supports storytelling, and the cultural and historical sources that influenced many of the costumes. Concept art fills in gaps.

The new Star Wars costume exhibit is a three-way collaboration of EMP, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and the Smithsonian Institution. It also marks the third time Lucasfilm and the Smithsonian have worked together (the first two were Star Wars: The Magic of Myth and Star Wars: The Art of the Starfighter).

At the exhibit preview, Lucas Museum Senior Manager of Archives and Exhibits Laela French said the most challenging costumes to move were those with elaborate headdresses, like Queen Amidala’s. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala represented in the exhibit. She gets eleven costumes — more than any other character.

“She’s an integral part of the saga,” French explains, with many roles in the later prequels.

The evolution (or devolution) of Palpatine: Senator, Chancellor, Sith
The evolution (or devolution) of Palpatine: Senator, Chancellor, Sith

The exhibition also marks a geeky first. “It’s the first time we’re touring a classic Stormtrooper,” French says, since Stormtrooper costumes from the early films “are brittle and harder to dress.” As a result, she expects it will be a hit with “the uber-fans” who tend to debate the smallest details of the Star Wars universe.

These ARE the droids you're looking for
These ARE the droids you’re looking for

What costumes do the curators wish they could display, but can’t?

For French, it’s the costumes that Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia wore during the end ceremony in the original Star Wars film, A New Hope.

“In those early films, a lot of those things were rented or borrowed,” French says.

For EMP Museum Senior Curator Jacob McMurray, it’s a Lando Calrissian costume.

Lando’s real world avatar, Billy Dee Williams, is one of the series’ actors featured at an opening party on Friday night.

The many styles of Padmé Amidala

It’s worth noting that no one mentioned Jar Jar Binks. He was CGI so there was no actual, physical costume. (Thankfully.)

While Seattle and EMP Museum is the exhibition’s first stop, no additional cities have been revealed. The exhibit is expected to tour twelve cities, total, through 2020. French says there’s been a lot of interest in Europe and Asia and anticipates announcements will be coming soon.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume will be on view at EMP Museum through October 4, 2015, before it goes … well, probably anywhere but a galaxy far, far away.

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