Star Wars and the Power of Costume
We take a break from our regularly scheduled book reviews to bring you a look at science fiction from a slightly different angle. (And by “regularly scheduled,” I mean “whenever I’m not playing gigs, coaching soccer, cleaning the house, or doing the other zillion things that have eaten away my life in the last year.” Most recently I lost two nights of blogging time because my kids brought home seven (!) goldfish they had rescued at the fair who were suddenly in dire need of a home. We now have a lovely new aquarium, the pieces of which I begged, borrowed, and bought in a state of high emergency. I digress.) Last Sunday I went to Seattle’s Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and caught one of the last showings of the Smithsonian produced exhibition, Star Wars and the Power of Costume. Consequently, today I can talk about assorted pieces of cloth rather than white wood pulp.
A teeny bit of background. Last Christmas, Mrs. Pep got me a membership to EMP. For those not in the know, EMP (Experience Music Project) is Paul Allen’s two-pronged museum of rock music and science fiction. Unfortunately for the former half, I don’t go for rock music all that much and most of the hands-on activities are music tasks that I do quite regularly. It’s entertaining however, and a good chance for the kids to get a sense of what I’m doing all those nights I’m not at home. I mostly go for the science fiction, and that half consistently delivers. I primarily enjoy books, and it’s hard to make a museum of books, but there’s always something fascinating to see anyway. Lots of movie props and costumes, but also a fair bit of interactive stuff and deeper explanations of what makes the whole of speculative fiction tick. There is also a room in the museum dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks that contains the actual Superbowl trophy. Woooo!
Until October 4th of this year, EMP is hosting the first leg of the Star Wars exhibition tour. We’d put off going during previous visits, but time is running out. It was Sunday or nothing. The display at EMP is split into two levels. The bottom floor is heavy on Republic fashion, be it senators’ robes or Amidala’s dresses. My wife and daughter gravitated to this part of the show, especially the wedding scene from Attack of the Clones. My son appreciated the Emperor’s robes, showcased next to Mace Windu and another Jedi with whom I was not familiar. (Somewhat alarming when my 7 year old can name more Jedi than I can.) Explanations of the Terran origins of things were also fascinating – African hats paired with Victorian skirts, World War II military styles for the Empire, a mix of European monks and samurai armor for the Jedi, and more. Naturally C-3PO and R2-D2 were the highlights here for me.
The good stuff is on the second floor. I am naturally more attached to the original trilogy, if for no other reason than my age, so walking up the stairs and bumping head-on into Ben Kenobi’s costume sent the first shivers down my spine. Things got better as we walked towards Leia’s bounty hunter get-up from Return of the Jedi, then down the line past Han Solo, a Chewbacca suit, and the Imperial officers. I will confess that the gold bikini didn’t thrill me as much as others, but I never really had those thoughts about Leia when growing up.
Let’s take a break to talk about Star Wars. I realize that George Lucas is basically a one-hit wonder who can’t stop crapping all over his own legacy, but I’m not sure anything had a bigger effect on young me than the original trilogy. Star Wars and I came into the world in the same year, my parents allegedly took me with them to see Empire Strikes Back at a drive in, and I have vague memories of seeing Return of the Jedi in a theater. While I’m not sure when I consciously watched each movie for the first time, I do know that by junior high school, I watched one or another of them almost every weekend. After long nights of junk food and roleplaying games, we would pop in a frazzled VHS tape and fall asleep as we mumbled our favorite lines. The original Star Wars RPG was second only to Mech Warrior in playing time, usually with a horde of Jedi wannabes and one person forced to be a smuggler, since we had to have a spaceship somehow. I even played some of the X-Wing computer games, though we as a group were always partial to Wing Commander.
I admit that my Star Wars immersion attenuated as I grew older. I was initially in the apologist camp for the new movies, but they wore on me. Timothy Zahn’s first set of books was amazing, but after awhile, I stopped reading in the expanded universe as much. I always meant to introduce my kids to the magic, but my daughter was never interested and somehow time for movie watching has all but disappeared. Instead, without any urging on my part, my son has found The Clone Wars and is now as big a fan as I ever was, even though we can’t watch the originals until I pick up a working VHS player from the thrift store. (Or I cave in and get the Lucas reworks on DVD. Boo.) Even as we speak, he is pushing through a Clone Wars chapter book above his grade level, because that’s what I can get him to read after school. Somehow, the obsession has started again. Life, as they say, finds a way.
So for my son, things weren’t quite what he hoped. He wanted clone armor, Captain Rex, Commander Cody, etc., whoever they are. Unfortunately, all of his favorites are, well, animated. Me? I was staring open-mouthed at Luke’s X-Wing suit and the TIE Fighter pilot. In the end, we all gazed reverently at the slightly faded Storm Trooper armor, then my wife snapped a photo of me, the kids, and Darth Vader, our hands identical in the force choke position. An iconic moment indeed for this rapidly aging nerd.
We still don’t have a VHS player, so instead settled on Attack of the Clones to close out the evening. Even the women watched until we shut it off partway for bedtime, feeling a bit of the magic from the exhibition I suppose.
I don’t know where else the costumes will go after they leave Seattle, or how many readers will have the chance to see them. For those that do, my recommendation is to take advantage. There remains some undeniable power in the display. I will never use the Force, to my great dismay, and never see Coruscant or Endor, so standing face to face with a Storm Trooper will have to be enough. It almost is.