Review by C.J. Bunce
Sci-fi movie trivia question: Which Star Wars actor played Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and was a main character in Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness? More on that later.
We have taken a close look at some of the best behind the scenes books on costumes and props from major movie franchises here at borg.com. The best have included the latest in Weta’s tour inside the making of the Middle-earth in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, reviewed here, and the dense examination of the Star Wars prequel costumes documented in the landmark work Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, reviewed here. After nearly 40 years we finally have a behind the scenes look at the making of the costumes from the original three Star Wars films with Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, just released from Chronicle Books. This is also the first time many of these costumes have been displayed and photographed, since the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum featured dozens of costumes in its Star Wars: The Magic of Myth exhibit in 1997.
Author Brandon Alinger, my friend and fellow costume and prop aficionado, is chief operating officer of The Prop Store (formerly The Prop Store of London) and an expert who has handled original Star Wars pieces over the years. Alinger interviewed costume designers and production staff from the original series to pull together this first ever analysis of the stories and people who earned Star Wars an Academy Award for Best Costuming, the only science fiction film to receive such an honor. Original costumes from the Skywalker Ranch Archives were displayed on mannequins and photographed for the book by Joseph MacDonald of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco–many for the first time since production.
The most striking revelation in the book is the rarity of each costume and the fact that some of these film artifacts may not survive many more years. “Some of the costumes or costume components in the Archives are quite fragile and for this reason they could not be dressed onto mannequins to shoot,” Alinger recently said in an online discussion. “The costumes are treated as artifacts and conservation concerns are top priority for the Archives team.” Admiral Ackbar’s mask from Return of the Jedi is just one of these items.
Contributing to the book with Alinger are Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back costume designer John Mollo and Return of the Jedi costume designers Aggie Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero. The book also includes invaluable detail from past interviews with Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Stuart Freeborn, along with contributions from dozens of other costume and art department staff from the films.
Movie production staff and movie costume collectors are well aware that the typical movie shoot requires multiple copies of each cast member’s costume. For example, it was common for the Star Trek and Lord of the Rings productions to create seven or more of each main cast member’s uniform, allowing for problems on set and dry cleaning. The point is you never want to stop a multi-million dollar shoot so someone can re-stitch the only costume you have created for your film. Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy reveals that was not the case for many of the Star Wars costumes. This means the Skywalker Ranch Archives possesses the one and only costume made for the trilogy for many items. This also explains why the private collecting community has only seen a handful of authentic original trilogy costumes hit the market over the years, like the odd distressed Stormtrooper helmet, Ewok fur, C-3PO hand and foot, and damaged cantina alien mask.