Concept art for Padme Amidala

The Art of Star Wars and the Power of Costume

In order to create a future, we looked into the past, and drew inspiration from history and nature in order to give our fictional creations a realistic foundation.

– Doug Chiang, design director, Episode I, II

Why does a pop-culture phenomenon like Star Wars™ belong in an art museum? Because, like every exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume presents fodder for the imagination and ways for visitors to explore their own creativity.

This exhibition goes beyond the “cool factor” (though, be assured, it's super cool) to show the complex process of costume making.

Star Wars came from the imagination of George Lucas, who, in the 1970s, took inspiration from literature, anthropology, world history, and art to create a fantastic galaxy with planets, spacecraft, characters, creatures, and costumes unlike anything we'd ever seen before.

Costume designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero and George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian
Costume designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero presents completed costume illustrations to Return of the Jedi executive producer George Lucas and producer Howard Kazanjian in 1981. Also visible is a maquette (model) for Princess Leia's bounty hunter disguise costume, crafted by Joe Johnston.

Not a draftsman himself, Lucas brought in artists to visualize the far-off world that existed in his creative mind. In Star Wars and the Power of Costume, you’ll see examples of these original drawings and paintings from some of the films in the Skywalker saga. Throughout the exhibition, with real artworks and artifacts, we invite you to explore the process of creation—from concept artists envisioning a world on paper in the art studio, to dozens of specialized artisans making the costumes a material reality in the costume shop, and finally the actors bringing the costumes to life.

The level of detail Lucas and his creative team went into is astonishing. For example, even modest Star Wars geeks know that they invented emblems for the numerous factions (the Rebels, the Empire, the Galactic Senate …) and planets occupying the Star Wars universe.

In the DAM’s exhibition, you’ll see the artists’ exploration of Art Nouveau motifs to land on just the right emblems to symbolize the elegant, peaceful rulers of Naboo.

We’re excited to share with Star Wars fans and art lovers alike the astonishing creativity manifested in these films, from A New Hope in 1977 to The Force Awakens in 2015.

Stefania Van Dyke is the interpretive specialist, textile art and special projects. Her favorite email subject line during the course of planning Star Wars and the Power of Costume was “Missing Dianoga.”