Luminous beings are we... Yoda

I visited the Denver Art Museum yesterday. The Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit is only here for a few more weeks and though I am not a complete science fiction geek, I do love me some Star Wars. I had to go.

The costumes were stunning. I really enjoyed seeing the concept art which was presented as drawings and then how the work moved through storyboards and eventually costume fabric files were created and the costumes made and fitted. A lot of the exhibit was about the three prequel movies that had many elaborately dressed characters. The work that went into making those queen costumes is just phenomenal. There was woven lace, lots of devore burnout technique, elaborate stitching, hand-smocked velvet (!), beading, ombre dyeing, and every form of headress you could imagine.

Storyboard for one of the Prequel movies.

The original Chewbacca costume for the first three movies (IV, V, and VI if you're not familiar with the sequence of the Star wars films) was wool with yak and mohair. The costume was apparently incredibly hot. For the Prequel movies (Episodes I, II, and III which were made after the original three), they used a cooling system inside the suit which I believe was also used in the Darth Vadar costume. In the 1970s and 80s films, actor Peter Mayhew had to suffer through the heat!

1977 Chewbacca costume. Episode IV: A New Hope. "Knitted wool base, surface hand knotted with 15 pounds of multi-colored yak hair and mohair."

Ewok doll display.

There was an area in the exhibit called the Costume Shop. The exhibit overall was extremely well designed to accommodate the sold-out crowds that it has seen for its entire run. But this one part of the exhibit was a bottle-neck and I was unable to get through the crowd to see the exhibit properly. I was able to get a look at the design folders and some of the fabrics.

The costume design starts with a drawing something like you see in the photo at left below. The Prequel movies had a vast number of costumes, "well over a thousand for The Phantom Menace alone". My one complaint about the exhibit was that I didn't see enough evidence of the costumers and sewists who made these costumes. I suspect if I had been able to get into the Costume Shop exhibit a little deeper I might have seen a bit more details of their work.

Trisha Biggar created a wardrobe facility with nearly a hundred couture-level specialists. They researched and tested materials, drew up paper patterns, mocked up costumes and accessories, and created detailed embellishments. They worked closely with concept artists and visual effects supervisors to ensure the costumes would exist harmoniously with digital sets and computer-generated aliens.
— from Costume Shop display board

"Wardrobe Bible" pages from the Prequel movies.

Embellishment from Wardrobe Bible on the left used in the Lake Retreat Nightgown and Robe (2002), Episode II: Attack of the Clones, worn by Padme Amidala. This garment had 20 yards of hand-smocked velvet. Think about that for a minute.

As you can tell, the dress costumes were by far the most interesting to me. There were examples of Jedi robes, the white costume (and the slave bikini) of Princess Leia, and a bit more interesting, the Chewbacca costumes. I didn't quite understand how they pulled off the Ewok costuming though it seems clear that there was some camera angle work helping make them look tiny in the movie.

The costume below was incredibly detailed, had a hand-quilted and hidden petticoat, a tasseled cape, and a tightly pleated under dress that shifted color as the actress moved. Ultimately the scene in which this dress was worn was deleted from the movie. It was supposed to be worn by Senator Amidala in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

A few more costumes...

Below left is Handmaiden, Ombre Travel Gown from Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Ombre-dyed silk and velvet. The fabric was dipped in layers of dye to achieve the gradation.

Ombre travel gown.

Recreation of a Princess Leia costume from the original movies.

The creative team came up with all kinds of marks for the cultures in the movies. The gown in the two photos below is an example.

I like to go to the DAM on Wednesdays because they have some time open to the public to see what the textile conservators are working on. I'll show you what I saw in the next blog post (spoiler: Tibetan Thangka and another huge tapestry).

It seems that Wednesday is also the day hundreds of preschoolers visit the museum with their matching t-shirts, large numbers of chaperones, and buckets full of individually wrapped sandwiches. Hallway-clogging though the throngs of 3 and 4-year-olds might have been, it was great to see them looking at art. 

And even if you don't like your grammatical subjects and objects flipped around, Yoda was a wise character. May the Force be with you.

Named must be your fear before banish it you can.
— Yoda

The theme music is still running through my head... doesn't the logo for this franchise make you start singing it? That is the genius of Lucas right there.