'Star Wars' poised to add to franchise's rich costume legacy

TORONTO -- From Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi robes to Darth Vader's mask and Princess Leia's golden bikini, costumes featured in "Star Wars" are arguably as famous as the franchise's characters themselves.

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As "The Force Awakens" arrives in theatres on Friday, costume curators and creators can't wait to see how fashion plays a role in the latest instalment.

"From the prequels, you look at some of Natalie Portman's gowns, they're so lavish, they're so fashionable. And what that says to me is that society is doing well," said Saul Drake, project director of the Smithsonian travelling exhibition "Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: 'Star Wars' and the Power of Costume."

"What's really interesting to see for 'The Force Awakens' costumes is that it's kind of almost a return to form for the classic style of costume. They're very sparse, they're very monotone, there's not a lot of embellishment on there. And without even seeing the movie, what that tells me is that the society is not doing that well. There's struggle going on.

"It's interesting to see how those costumes not only create character, but they also reflect what's going on in the 'Star Wars' movies in that time period."

A selection of designs from "The Force Awakens" are among the 70 costumes currently on display in the Smithsonian's exhibition at the Discovery Times Square centre in New York until Sept. 5, 2016.

Styles sported by newcomers Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are also featured alongside notable ensembles from the six previous films spanning from the 1977 debut to 2002's "Attack of the Clones."

Toronto-based costume and set designer Sarah Armstrong said she's noted some parallels between the designs she's seen so far on Finn and Rey and those worn by their onscreen predecessors Han Solo and Leia (Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.)

They harken back to fashions from the original movies, which encompassed Asian-inspired designs with simple shapes alongside military-influenced styles, Armstrong said.

"I think it's incredible how the original designer (John Mollo) was able to blend and marry the Samurai with a modern warrior and build archetypes that have remained timeless," said Armstrong. "You can't ignore that. And there are very few films out there that have been able to do that.

"I think that's also one of the reasons it's been so successful because it's a unique thing on its own, and that's why it still retains its impact."

Among the most enduring costumes from the film franchise is its most revealing.

The gilded bikini worn onscreen by Fisher in 1983's "Return of the Jedi" has remained perennially popular -- and parodied -- ever since.

Comedian Amy Schumer struck a suggestive pose with C-3PO while dressed as Leia on the August cover of GQ. Montreal label UNTTLD was awarded a $15,000 prize in a "Star Wars" costume contest held during Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week in October with their interpretation of Leia's look.

Recent published reports suggested that Disney plans to retire the two-piece from use in product sales and marketing. Company representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The fact that it it's a very male-centred world makes anything that Leia wore stand out," Armstrong said. "Leia's costumes are very (much) drawn on some of the male shapes but are very feminine."

Armstrong said the fashion formula established early in the "Star Wars" series was "incredibly successful" and it would be wise for those now steering the franchise not to veer too far off-course.

"They'll want to have something to appeal to the old fans, the people like me that saw it in '77, and they're going to want to appeal to a whole new generation of people.... Once they've had success with this first one, you might see them try to take some more liberties."


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