Book Review—Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars Limited Edition

Long before I became a Star Trek fan and a Lord of the Rings fan, I was a diehard Star Wars fan.  From the first time I saw the words “Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and Luke and R2 and 3PO skimming the Tatooine desert in the landspeeder I had to know everything and anything about the movies, the actors, you name it.  And Lucas obliged over the next 35 years, producing every toy, album, video, breakfast cereal, and anything else one could think of tied to the franchise, including books about every detail of the making of the movies and the further adventures of our heroes first through comic books then through paperback novels, up to the then unheard-of, full release of prequel films.

What you could never get is a piece of the real thing—actual costumes or props from the films.  From time to time pieces surface here or there, but for the most part the franchise has kept its collection together and private.  Just think of the warehouses of Imperial uniforms alone that must reside on Skywalker Ranch and elsewhere.  I know one person who has managed to collect a few blasters—a rare privilege and a lucky guy.  And–for the wealthy–you can get a stunt lightsaber but you’ll pay $25,000 and more and who can do that except Paul Allen?  Even when other franchises opened up their warehouses and sold off their wardrobes and prop house supplies, such as what occurred for Star Trek over the past five years, as well as Warner Brothers and other production company sales and auctions, Lucas is keeping everything.  And that’s awesome.  Lord of the Rings has done the same thing.  You just can’t find real LOTR props and costumes in the marketplace.

That said, there are incredible costume replicas for cosplay put out for Harry Potter by Warner Bros. and Museum Replicas, for LOTR by Museum Replicas, for Star Wars via Museum Replicas and Windlass Studios, and Star Trek via Anovos.  And for those who like to make their own, there are sewing patterns like those made by Simplicity available at sewing and craft stores.

There is nothing like the tactile experience of handling something that your favorite fictional hero handled.  One route to get there is through companies like Rittenhouse, who prints and sells licensed trading cards.  Special cards include original signed sketches or autographs, or if you’re very lucky, actual costume material either worn by an actor in the movie or swatches of fabric from the same bolts used by the production to make the costumes.  Rittenhouse’s Star Trek line of cards actually involved the destruction of dozens of screen-used costumes, cut into less-than-one-inch squares and glued to a card—and in a later article I will show how most of those cards can be traced to actual auctions where Rittenhouse purchased these artifacts of Hollywood.  For preservers of Hollywood history, Topps had a better idea with its LOTR line—they stuck to using the same fabrics from the production without destroying the beautiful uniforms and dresses from the actual film.  Many card owners think they are handling the real thing because they don’t read the fine print on the card’s reverse, but the disclaimer is there stating its “use in production.”  The Rittenhouse Star Trek costumes did not fare as well.  Artbox has a vast line of costume cards for the Harry Potter series, and that company seems to have a mix of both costume material it claims was “worn by” various actors as well as “material used to create” costumes for different films.  But as to Star Wars, no one has been able to secure a license to sell swatches of actual costumes or production fabrics.  But one deluxe book finally has made it possible for the public to get closer than ever to the costumes of the Star Wars galaxy.

Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars Limited Edition by Star Wars prequel costumer Trisha Biggar is probably the finest examination of costumes for a movie series ever published.  The book is available by itself, or for the full effect, in a deluxe Limited Edition boxed set with so many extras you will revisit the set again and again.  The book was offered in a limited quantity of 2,500 copies and is still available via here.  And the extras are superb.  *Editor’s Update: A book-only version is available for less at here.

The Limited Edition features a hardcover, detailed book, encased in a cloth-wrapped, clamshell box wrapped in Japanese silk, and:
– 1,000 copies are autographed by Biggar
– 500 full-color illustrations
– Fabric swatches from the Lucasfilm Archives
– Special Insert: “Behind the Seams” depicting costume evolution inside Trisha Biggar’s workshop
– Special Edition Lucasfilm DVD with backstage actor commentaries
– Features eight bound-in booklets: Headdresses, Classic Star Wars characters, CG costume, Footwear, “Dressing Bail Organa”
– Costume breakdowns with transparent overlays, Jewelry, Darth Vader
– Six Additional Gatefolds: Jedi Council, Fabric details, Military, Senators, Rogue’s Gallery, Padme outfit
– Wookiee belt-buckle replica
Trisha Biggar was Costume Designer for the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Whether or not you loved or hated the prequels, you cannot deny the stunning designs and craftsmanship that went into the costuming for the films.  The book focuses on the prequels but includes some references to the original series via photos as well.  The Limited Edition also includes a small booklet on details of the virtual costumes worn by the cast of computer-generated characters, like Yoda and Jar Jar Binks.

Dressing a Galaxy does what no other book to-date has done for any franchise:  it offers not only staged costume photos, but it also includes photos of the costumes modeled by the actors who wore them and features close-up details of the fabrics, cuts, and designs to give you an unprecedented look at how a costume designer creates the look of different cultures, planets, and alien races spanning a fictional time and place.  No other book on movie costumes and no other Star Wars  book offers fans such a close-up and hands on experience.  And it includes interviews with actors and production members.

My favorite highlights from the Limited Edition (the book available by itself has none of the extra features listed above or below and none of the swatches were from the actual costumes worn):

— A large piece of material used for Darth Vader’s cape

–Seven swatches of fabric used for various dresses worn by Natalie Portman’s Padme/Queen/Senator Amidala

–A large swatch of fabric used for Ewan MacGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi tan robes

–All four different fabric and leather swatches used for Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi robes from Revenge of the Sith

Three swatches of different fabrics used for Senator Palpatine’s senate robes

— Four swatches of fabric used for Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa emerald senate robes

Make no mistake, the Limited Edition is pricey–the book by itself is about $200 and the Limited Edition about $300.  But if you add up the cost of just half a dozen costume cards from LOTR, Harry Potter, or Star Trek you will easily get to these prices just for the swatches of fabric.

My only negative comment:  But for an included inset booklet showcasing original trilogy costumes from the Smithsonian Institution’s “Magic of Myth” Star Wars exhibit there is not a lot of attention on the equally incredible original costumes.  A companion volume should be created focusing on the original Star Wars trilogy, and for that matter, LOTR, Harry Potter and Star Trek deserve a similarly designed book on their costumes.

A companion website was created when the original costumes featured in the book were on display there in 2005 and is worth checking out.

C.J. Bunce

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