Star Wars Costumes The Original Trilogy cover

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 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.

Boba Fett helmets

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.

Chewbacca costume

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.

The book reveals that only two of Luke’s famous Tatooine farmboy outfits were created (for a budget of only $750!).  Only two Chewbacca suits were made for Star Wars, twenty-four Stormtroopers were made for Star Wars and refurbished for The Empire Strikes Back, and only one Princess Leia as bounty hunter Boushh costume was created.  The helmets from the AT-AT Drivers in The Empire Strikes Back not only looked like the two black-armored TIE-Fighter pilots in Star Wars, they were the very same helmets–but repainted.  They no longer exist in the AT-AT Driver form as they were later repainted back to black for Return of the Jedi.  

The whereabouts of many of the costumes or their accessories unfortunately are not known as they were rented for production and then returned to Bermans & Nathans costumiers in London or they went out on publicity tours over the years and are no longer in the Skywalker Ranch Archives.

Leia slave costume

Pull-out sections in Star Wars Costumes highlight the costumes of Darth Vader and Boba Fett, as well as Princess Leia’s slave dancer outfit from Return of the Jedi.  Great comparison shots highlight the differences between the costumes and helmets of Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, and Boba Fett across the three films.  Want to know the evolution of Oscar Isaac’s X-wing pilot uniform in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  This book trailer will give you a glimpse of the visuals you will see in the book:

And back to our trivia question.  Four-foot, four-inch Kenyan actor Deep Roy donned a Yoda costume in The Empire Strikes Back for Yoda’s only walking scene–a scene where Frank Oz’s muppet wouldn’t do and a live actor was needed.  Roy later would play Keenser–Scotty’s alien sidekick–in several scenes in Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness.  Roy also appeared in the Doctor Who franchise, the only actor to appear in all three franchises until Simon Pegg appeared in Clone Wars.

Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy is a must-have for Star Wars fans.  It’s available now here from Amazon.com.  If you want to dig even further into Star Wars costumes, check out Star Wars: The Magic of Myth here and Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars here.

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