Star Wars and the Power of Costume

The Smithsonian’s traveling Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit dives deep into the epic costumes of the Star Wars movies. Catch it next in St. Petersburg or Detroit.

When it was released in 1977, Star Wars:  Episode IV A New Hope was a groundbreaking film, not only for how it revolutionized special effects but also for resurrecting the science-fiction film genre that was previously considered frivolous and unprofitable. 

The Smithsonian’s traveling Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen:  Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit dives deep into another aspect of the film, its costumes.  

Beginning in Seattle in early January 2015, the exhibit has now stopped in New York City, Denver, and Cincinnati where it wrapped up on Sunday. Next on the US tour is St. Petersburg, Florida where the exhibit opens on November 11, 2017. When the Power of Costume was still in Denver, I had about an hour to dash down to the Denver Art Museum and see it briefly between my last meeting and my flight home. I was so fascinated by the experience that I started making plans to take my daughters to see it at the next stop, the Cincinnati Museum Center. While the experience was a bit different at each venue, it was consistently fantastic.

Darth Vader from Star Wars

Here are nine Star Wars quotes (and as many fun facts) that bring the costumes to life:

1. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

~ Princess Leia’s plea for help via a small blue and white droid named R2-D2

Star Wars' Princess Leia White Gown

Fun Fact:  Forty years after its debut, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope remains the third highest grossing film in Hollywood history after adjusting for inflation. In case you’re curious Gone with the Wind is at the top of the list followed by Avatar.


2.  “You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you nearsighted scrap pile”

~ C-3PO in response to R2-D2 telling him about the mission to find Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope

Star Wars droid R2-D2

Fun Fact:  R2D2 and C3PO are the only characters who were played by the same actor through the first six movies.


3. “Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?”

~ Princess Leia as she pushes aside Han Solo’s wingman, a 7′ 6″ Wookiee named Chewbacca

Star Wars' Han Solo and Chewbacca

Fun Fact:  During the filming of Return of the Jedi, Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew was told not to wander around in the California redwoods where they were filming due to concern that he would be mistaken as Bigfoot and injured.

4. “Take care of yourself, Han. I guess that’s what you’re best at, isn’t it?

~ Luke Skywalker as Han backs out of the good fight against the battle station to save the day

Star Wars' Luke Skywalker costme

Fun Fact:  The WWII-era British Army Surplus blankets used to make the Jedi robes shrunk when it got wet requiring costume designers to buy them in bulk and sew several versions of each cloak.


5. “In order to create a future, we looked into the past and drew inspiration from history and nature in order to give our fictional creations a realistic foundation.”

~ Doug Chiang, Design Director, Episode I, II

Fun Fact:  After touring the 70 costumes, from simple cloaks to elaborate royal gowns, I was shocked to learn that only the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, won an Oscar for Best Costume Design


6. “No, I am your father.”

~ Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back in a shocking plot twist

(If you haven’t seen the movie from 1980, um, spoiler alert!)

Darth Vader costume from Star Wars

Fun Fact:  The black, shiny headgear that Nazi’s wore during WWII inspired Darth Vader’s mask. It was paired with a gas mask, a motorcycle suit, black leather boots, and a cloak to complete the look.


7. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

~ Princess Leia to her would-be rescuer, Luke

Stormtroopers from Star Wars

Fun Fact:  Darth Vader’s mask isn’t the only costume inspired by Germans in WWII.  Star Wars’ stormtroopers are named after German “Stoßtruppe“ (shock troopers) from WWI and WWII.


8. “If I told you half the things I’ve heard about this Jabba the Hutt, you’d probably short circuit”

~ C-3PO to R2-D2 in Return of the Jedi

Princess Leia slave costume

Fun Fact:  Carrie Fisher complained that her costumes in the first two Star Wars movies were long and baggy and covered up her curves. Her complaints led to the Jabba slave costume in Return of the Jedi.


9. “Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.”

~ The sage, 900-year-old Yoda to Luke

(Although, according to my son’s favorite t-shirt the dark side does have cookies…)

Yoda from Star Wars

Fun Fact:  Yoda was originally going to be played by a monkey, but someone on the production team pointed out that a monkey would just pull the mask off over and over again. And so Yoda was a puppet voiced and operated by the amazingly talented Frank Oz.


While I’m not a fan of the prequel movies (Episodes 1-3), the costumes from those movies are beyond exquisite. Nearly all of the costumes are displayed in a way that provides a 360 view, something that is especially important for viewing Padmé Amidala’s elaborate gowns.

What about you?  Have you had a chance to experience Star Wars and the Power of Costume? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Don’t just take my word for it!  Here is what other bloggers have said about their experience at Star Wars and the Power of Costume in various cities across the country:

  • Denny Gibson’s perspective is helpful for those who haven’t seen most of the Star Wars movies.  (He’s only seen the first one, A New Hope.)
  • Just Go Places saw the exhibit in New York and has a great list of trivia questions and many fantastic photos of the costumes from Episodes 1-3 (the ones I seem to have overlooked with my own camera)
  • And last, but not least, I love the perspective that personal stylist, Lindsey, at Have Clothes, Will Travel, has to share about a costume exhibit (Plus also, is that an amazing name for a blog, or what???)

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