Aspen Times Weekly: ‘Star Wars and the Power of Costume’ in Denver |

Aspen Times Weekly: ‘Star Wars and the Power of Costume’ in Denver

Han Solo, "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi." Solo's costume is among more than 70 on display at the Denver Art Museum's "Star Wars and the Power of Costume."
Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd. |

If You Go …

What: ‘Star Wars and the Power of Costume’

Where: Denver Art Museum

When: Through April 2, 2017

How much: $5-$28

Tickets and more info: 720-913-0130;

“Why in the galaxy,” Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich asked last week, “would we, as an art museum, consider doing a ‘Star Wars’ show?”

The cynic in you might answer: to sell tickets! The pop culture juggernaut will no doubt draw fans in droves to the museum for “Star Wars and the Power of Costume” over the next four months. But Heinrich argues that the show is more than a cash grab to draw the lightsaber-wielding masses to his museum — the film saga is a total work of art, he believes, combining countless media to make transcendent visual stories.

The extraordinary exhibition that his team has put together, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution and George Lucas’ Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, backs up his claim.

Three years in the making, the exhibition displays more than 70 costumes used in the films — including iconic items like Darth Vader’s suit, Chewbacca’s yak and mohair costume, and Han Solo’s swashbuckling garb — along with more than 300 archival items. The result is a show with a wow factor for superfans along with a deep dive into the creative process that birthed “Star Wars.”

The show doesn’t go chronologically through the seven films from which it collects costumes, but instead groups the pieces together by theme: the opening “Jedi vs. Sith” section incudes a platform showcasing mannequin warriors in a battle scene; “Royalty” and “Padme’s Journey” showcase the lavish haute couture worn by Padme Amidala on her journey from princess to senator to freedom fighter and romantic heroine in the prequels; areas dedicated to “Outlaws & Outsiders” and “Creatures” give us fan favorites like the Tusken Raiders, Boba Fett, Chewbacca and Han Solo, Rey and Finn from “The Force Awakens” and Wicket the Ewok from “Return of the Jedi.”

A section on “Military” themes includes storm troopers, Luke Skywalker’s orange jumpsuit from “Return of the Jedi” and archival materials that confirm, unsurprisingly, that Nazi imagery formed the basis of the iconography and costuming for the Empire’s officers serving under Darth Vader.

For superfans, there are hidden “Easter eggs” hidden throughout the show. Peak through unmarked tubes, for instance, and you’ll see things like the Emperor’s stained fingernails or a maquette of an Ewok on a speeder bike.

The Denver show is the third iteration of “Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” following exhibitions in Seattle and New York. But the Denver Art Museum team did additional scouring to make it unique.

“They really mined the depth of the archive,” said Laila French of the Lucas Museum, which houses all things “Star Wars” on Skywalker Ranch in northern California. “They couldn’t just have costumes. They had to have something extraordinary.”

Their research, French said, unearthed items that the Skywalker Ranch archivists didn’t know existed.

The show tries to offer something for everybody on the “Star Wars” spectrum — from nerds to neophytes — while also putting together an exhibition that is appropriate to an art museum. You can simply geek out on seeing treasures like Princess Leia’s “slave bikini” and the Yoda puppet with slits in the back of his robe for puppeteer hands or the trio of R-2D2, C-3PO and BB-8. But you can also get a sense of how the genius visuals of the “Star Wars” world came to be. My personal favorites were early sketches of Chewbacca as a decidedly chubbier version of the Wookie and early conceptual drawings for dozens of characters imagined for the cantina scene in “A New Hope.”

In that respect, the exhibition is reminiscent of the museum’s monumental “Becoming Van Gogh” of four years ago. Like that show, “Star Wars and the the Power of Costume” is not content to just throw together the iconic items for viewers. It wants to tell us a story.

It runs through early April, but museum officials advise fans to buy tickets well in advance ­— sell-outs are expected for much of the run. Landing the high-profile show is a big deal for Colorado, as evidenced by the appearance of Gov. John Hickenlooper at a media preview. The governor geeked out on the items on display, told the story of seeing “Star Wars” while doing geology research in Montana in 1977 and did a serviceable Jabba the Hut impression for the assembled press.

“It doesn’t matter whether people are casual fans who reenacted the Battle of Endor with action figures as a kid, or die hard fans that have immaculate 501st legion stormtrooper armor,” he said. “There’s something for everybody in this exhibition, and for anybody who has imagined a galaxy far, far away.”

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