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Star Wars Costume Show: From Bikini Slaves to Stormtroopers

There's a Star Wars costume extravaganza waiting in Times Square. For the first time ever, visitors in New York have the chance to see 70 authentic costumes from the series right up close in a new exhibition at Discovery Times Square. It's all here: Darth Vader, Princess Leia’s barely-there brass bikini slave getup, Padme Amidala’s ornate gowns, vintage and new Stormtroopers, C-3PO, and Emperor Palpatine. As a bonus for those attending Star Wars and the Power of the Costume: The Exhibition, also on display are seven never-before-seen pieces from the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

These are the droids you're looking for: C-3P0, portrayed by Anthony Daniels, new BB 8 from upcoming film, and R2D2, portrayed by Kenny Baker.

Everyone remembers the first time they saw ominous figure Darth Vader from 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope stride onto the screen. “Darth Vader became such an icon in the first film, Episode IV, that that icon of evil sort of took over everything,” says writer George Lucas. It’s no surprise the film won the 1978 Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Anakin Skywalker

“These costumes tell you who they are, without saying a word,” says Saul Sopoci Drake, Exhibition Project Director at the Smithsonian Institute, and the exhibit’s curator. “The Stormtroopers are anonymous drones. The Jedi are humble, in [modest] robes. Amidala is a product of formality. The senator robes have an air of authority. We’re really interested in digging deeper, telling stories…[understanding] how power is effused from these costumes,” he continues.

Queen Amidala in one of her regal gowns. Designed by Trisha Beggar, the bottom lights are in fact powered by a car battery.

The aesthetic of the Star Wars films incorporates fine art, historical,and mythical sources “including King Arthur, samurais, and World War II,” says Sopoci Drake. It's all driven by George Lucas’s initial vision, with final designs executed by head costume designers John Mollo (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back) Aggie Guerard Rodgers (Jedi) Trisha Beggar (Menace, Clones, Sith) and Michael Kaplan (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), plus their teams of hundreds of seamstresses and designers.

That teeny-weeny brass bikini Carrie Fisher wore in Return of the Jedi.

Personal whimsy was a bit in the mix, too. George Lucas wanted a character that was a composite of a dog (thinking of his own dog, Indiana, an Alaskan malamute), cat, and monkey; the result was Chewbacca. Lucas got the inspiration for Princess Leia’s bikini costume from Yvonne de Carlo’s 1945 Salome. Actress Carrie Fisher was not happy with donning the unforgiving bikini at the time, saying “It was like the bikini from hell.” The 1927 film Metropolis served as an inspiration for the look of C-3PO.

A Stormtrooper from the first Star Wars trilogy.

The visitor’s experience is enhanced by fabric swatches, interactive flipbooks featuring sketches, photographs, and notes that capture the creative team’s inspiration and vision. The new Stormtrooper helmets were made with 3D printers, Sopoci Drake noted.

At the end of the exhibit, visitors can stand in front of a "mirror," where they morph into a stormtrooper or Darth Vader and then can strike a pose.

Star Wars and the Power of the Costume: The Exhibition, opened at Discovery Times Square Nov. 14. Five years in the making, the exhibition is a partnership between the museum, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and Lucasfilm.

Tickets for Star Wars and the Power of the Costume start at $20. The exhibit will run at least through Sept., 2016. For more information, visit discoverytsx.com.

About the Author

Linda Sheridan is the Managing Editor for City Guide. She is a lifelong New Yorker, has written for the New York Daily News, and loves travel, writing, music, and space.

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