‘Star Wars’ and the Power of Costume at Seattle’s EMP

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'Star Wars' and the Power of Costume main exhibit hall. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
‘Star Wars’ and the Power of Costume main exhibit hall. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

When we decided to take the kids on the trip to the Pacific Northwest, there was never any question that we’d visit the EMP Museum in Seattle. When we found out that our timing coincidentally matched up with the museum’s special exhibit on the costumes from Star Wars, I knew it was going to be one of the very first things we’d do on our trip.

‘Star Wars’ and the Power of Costume, which requires an additional admission above the regular cost of the museum, focuses not on the ships and weapons and other props, but instead is, as its name says, all about the costumes from the movies. It includes several dozen iconic costumes that will be recognizable to even the most casual fan, along with others that only the more hardcore fans will remember.

The first section of the exhibit discusses the ceremonial robes worn by various senators in the prequel trilogy. Next to that is a section that shows the progression of costumes worn by Palpatine as he progressed from seemingly noble senator from Naboo to the evil Chancellor. I had never picked up on the fact that his costumes were used to help illustrate that change in his character, from the lush, colorful outfit he wears in Episode I to the mottled grey as he starts to give in more to the Dark Side and begins to lose his posture.

Costumes showing Palpatine's descent to evil. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
Costumes showing Palpatine’s descent to evil. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

The next section, which was perhaps the most well-developed and interesting, talked about some of the many dozens of gowns worn by Amidala at various times in the movies, particularly in Episode II. I was honestly too distracted trying not to notice how awful the movie was in general to appreciate the beauty of her gowns, so seeing them here, detached from Lucas’ bad writing, was refreshing. The section also had a short video interviewing Lucas, costume designer Trisha Biggar, and Natalie Portman in which they all also talked about how great the clothes were while ignoring how bad the movie was.

The dress worn by Amidala for the arrival at the island in 'Episode II'. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
The dress worn by Amidala for the arrival at the island in ‘Episode II’. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
One of Amidala's more recognizable outfits, which she worn during the Battle of Geonosis. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
One of Amidala’s more recognizable outfits, which she worn during the Battle of Geonosis. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Of course, no exhibit on Star Wars would be complete without a mention of R2 and 3P0, and this one didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t a lot of information presented here that I didn’t already know, but it’s always nice to see them anyway.

C-3P0 and R2-D2. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
C-3P0 and R2-D2. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

They return briefly to the queen and princess, contrasting Leia’s simple gown in A New Hope with another of Amidala’s. They made the case here that that was meant to show how dark times had gotten in the original trilogy–there’s a quote from Lucas about how everyone was wearing black, white and grey because fashion had also died–but I suspect it really had more to do with the difference in the budgets between the original movie and the prequels.

There’s a nice section on the Jedi, including a cool display with the Mace Windu, Luminara and the Emperor, complete with buttons that can activate Mace and Luminara’s lightsabers.

The Jedi battle the Emperor. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
The Jedi battle the Emperor. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Above the main exhibit hall is a small walkway with many of the more famous costumes on display. They start again with Leia, this time showing the bounty hunter disguise she used to infiltrate Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, and of course next to that is her most famous, or rather infamous, costume: the slave bikini. The exhibit quotes Carrie Fisher: “It was like the bikini from hell. Like steel, not steel but hard plastic, but if you stood behind me you could see straight to Florida. You’ll have to ask Boba Fett about that.” One thing I didn’t know before was that there were actually multiple versions of the outfit, including a hard metal one for when Fisher was laying down and staying still, and a rubber one that she and her stunt double could actually move around in.

Leia's bounty hunter disguise, and of course the slave bikini. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
Leia’s bounty hunter disguise, and of course the slave bikini. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Next, we get a few more famous outfits, including the Sand People, Han and Chewie, and the Nazi-inspired Imperial Officer’s uniform. There were some interesting tidbits about the Rebel pilot uniform, including its inspiration from the uniforms worn by early test pilots. But one of the more fascinating facts was that the TIE pilot helmet is actually an X-Wing pilot’s helmet with a face mask attached, rather than being modeled on Stormtrooper helmets. It seems that the original plan was to have them only be seen from the back, so it wasn’t important that they match. Oops.

Luke's X-Wing pilot uniform and a TIE pilot. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
Luke’s X-Wing pilot uniform and a TIE pilot. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

The final room of the exhibit displays two of the other most famous costumes in film: Vader and the Stormtrooper. Again, there wasn’t anything new in this exhibit, but I’m certainly not one to pass up a chance to see either up close.

An Imperial Stormtrooper. Photo by Rob Huddleston.
An Imperial Stormtrooper. Photo by Rob Huddleston.

Outside of the exhibit itself, there are a few more Star Wars costumes scattered about, including Boba and Jango Fett, and Obi-Wan & Qui-Gon battling Darth Maul.

One of the nicest parts of the exhibit was how it managed to interest even my wife and daughter, both of whom steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any interest in anything Star Wars. My daughter made it clear going in that she was only doing it because we really didn’t give her a choice, but when we left she said that she really had enjoyed it and found it interesting. So extra points there.

The exhibit runs at the EMPgeek through October, and I’d highly recommend that you try and make it up to Seattle to see the exhibit if you can. Be sure to wander around the rest of the museum as well, since it’s all cool, from the Jimi Hendrix and Seattle rock scene stuff to the Chuck Jones exhibit to the sci-fi, horror and fantasy rooms. You can also see the Seattle Seahawk’s Vince Lombardi trophy if you’re so inclined. The EMP is located in the Seattle Center, basically at the foot of the Space Needle.

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