Star Wars is a universe of extremes. There are perfect, beautiful, wonderful things. And then there’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The Star Wars wardrobe is no exception to this truth. Costume choices in the Star Wars films run the gamut. We have a number of incredible costume choices, expressing the character’s nature and amplifying the emotion of the scene. We have the incredibly bad-ass, like the Elite Praetorian Guard. Then we have goofy and improbable, like Snoke’s Hugh-Hefner-inspired gold lamé dressing gown.
Leia’s Hoth Jumpsuit
Who would think that, in a series where she wears a metal bikini, Carrie Fisher would look the hottest when costumed for an ice planet? Here, she’s strong, unwavering, confident and practical. Everything from her attractive but effective braids to her puffy vest speaks of utility, of a general who’s more concerned with leading her troops than impressing fly-boys. It’s a great moment of costuming for her character. In the first film, her costume choices were one note: big white nightgown for basically the whole picture. In the first scenes of Empire, we see a powerful, confident Leia. It telegraphs the most important parts of her character in an effective way. And there isn’t anything more attractive than a powerful woman that don’t need no man.
It was a long time before I realized something important about Star Wars: I don’t actually like the movies that much. What I actually like is Harrison Ford. In my opinion, his turn as Han Solo is the best thing about the original trilogy. He’s an intoxicating scoundrel that’s barely keeping it together but keeps pulling off incredible maneuvers at the last minute. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he still kills it. That’s every twenty-something man’s fantasy, and Solo is out there living it. And everything about Han’s perpetual vest backs that up. It’s worn, organic, and practical, bedecked with pockets as it is. It probably smells like space-whiskey and cedar chips.
Padme’s Red Dress
I have complained loudly and publicly about Padme’s inexplicable hairstyles. But as poor as her fashion choices might be above the neck, she’s got some great things going on under the neck. Witness her red dress, famously worn with a more conservative hairstyle. More conservative, that is, if you can call a hairdo involving saucer of hair eclipsing a dinner plate topped by a golden helmet with ear-wings large enough to have aerodynamic properties. The rich red cloth of her dress recalls both window treatments and the lush robes of medieval kings, with the gold embroidery further embellishing the notion. It’s regal and impressive. It’s also one of the few things in Padme’s closet that don’t look like something you’d wear to a rave.
Elite Praetorian Guard
The sequels might not be the best-loved Star Wars films, but they do have some of the best visual and cinematic choices in the series. Take the Elite Praetorian Guard, with their menacing armor in a bright red, simultaneously catching the eye and recalling blood and fury. Their battle scene, though brief, is an expressive use of the dramatic and memorable wardrobe choice.
Captain Phasma’s Aluminum Armor
Each trilogy has its criminally-underused bad-ass villain. In the prequels, it was Darth Maul, who ended up being a mini-boss that unlocked Obi’s Tragic Back Story™. In the sequels, it’s Captain Phasma. Her aluminum armor would look ridiculous on any other trooper, but Brienne of Tarth carries it off with devastating power. Her armor feels vicious and powerful from her first scene, with an electric energy that oozes threat. It’s a shame that she’s basically unused in The Force Awakens, but this mistake is rectified in The Last Jedi. Stormtroopers are already the best-costumed villain in cinematic history, but Phasma’s unique armor only increases the power of the wardrobe. It’s the best expression of costumed menace we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe, and I hope for much, much more.
I might be showing my personal bias towards Billy Dee Williams here, but Lando’s cape has a special place in my heart. It borders on the ridiculous, and perhaps even goes all in on the absurd. But remember that, while a cape might seem quaint to us, the space cape is as common as a coat in the galaxy far, far away. Recall the sartorial styling of Count Dooku, General Grievous, Bail Organa, Orson Krennic, and verified badasses like Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and Captain Phasma. So we can’t discount the cape simply for looking like something Lord Byron might stumble around in. But even if you can’t ditch your preconceived cape notions, Lando’s cape is still brilliant. He’s a huckster that thinks he’s glamorous, a card shark that hit the big time, a con man that can’t be trusted, and an opportunist who’s always out for himself. He’sHan but gaudy and without the firm moral center. His cape, satin lining and all, expresses that to perfection. And you know what, man? He nails it. Williams struts in that cape like he was born in it. He’s smooth as silk and saucy to boot. That’s the power of a good cape, you pleebs. Learn at the feet of the master.
A Word On Leia’s Metal Bikini
This costume deserves a mention, but not for its perfection. As the bikini that made millions of young boys wonder why their pants felt tight, the costume has a cultural footprint a mile wide. It has its own Facebook page, it was featured in an episode of Friends, and it remains a pivotal element of many feminist interpretations of the films. But let’s get one thing straight: it’s not completely irredeemable as a costume. Of course, it’s far from the best. But its design has a narrative purpose, even as it’s kind of gross and male-gazey in a sorta rapey way. It’s hyper-sexualized, yes, but there’s a reason for that.
Leia is a slave, an object to be admired. Her feelings of modesty or shame are irrelevant. A metal bikini allows the wearer no dignity or presence. Sure, you might draw eyes, but no one will respect your words. Add the chain, and it’s clear the costume is intended to humiliate Leia. And based on her reaction to having her chain yanked by Jabba, it seems to work pretty well.
Now, there are plenty of other problems with this scene. Like, why is Leia the only scantily-clad creature in Jabba’s palace? Does Jabba understand human social norms about clothing? Is that monstrous slug aroused by humans? Does Jabba the Hutt have a sexual identity? Was the metal bikini forged specially for Leia, or is that an off-the-shelf Tatooine specialty?
These are all valid questions. Even so, the scene was transparently included for some Carrie Fischer sexy time. But consider a contemporary sci-fi female’s wardrobe. Ellen Ripley’s laughably tiny underwear in Alien is patently absurd, only existing to show off the female figure. At least Leia’s metal bikini does serve a narrative purpose, rather than simply exhibiting the lead actress’ assets.
Did we miss your favorite Star Wars wardrobe? Do you hate the mental bikini with a fiery passion? Illustrate our failings in the comments!
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