Editor’s Note: Star Wars: The Power of the Costume, a recently opened exhibit at Discovery Times Square, looks at the garb and gear of the popular film series. The NYC Dads Group previewed the exhibit last week.
I stabbed myself in the finger two dozen times that day. My son Liam and I were heading into Discovery Times Square’s new exhibit, Star Wars: The Power of the Costume. I needed to wear my favorite Star Wars shirt, but it was 20 years old and featured a huge rip in the back. So, out came the sewing kit, and that’s how I stabbed myself in the finger two dozen times.
The point, no pun intended, is that Star Wars means a lot to a lot of people. It is not just a movie franchise, not just an entertainment event, but a mythology. It’s been around for almost 40 years now, do you realize that? We have lived our lives on both this planet and in a galaxy far, far away.
That’s why I had to wear that shirt; my Chewbacca shirt. Full on Chewie face print everywhere. It’s one of the oldest and most sentimental articles of clothing I own, even if it makes my wife crazy, and if I was going to see the actual costumes from Star Wars, the shirt needed to go with me. The power of my own costume, if you will.
We met up with Exhibit Director Teresa Brady, who had let the NYC Dads Group preview last year’s Avengers exhibition, and we were off to that storied galaxy.
The exhibit starts, naturally, in a movie theater. Design concepts and finished production stills of characters from all six movies adorn the walls in a chamber that could be set in the Death Star. We were treated to a brief, entertaining, and informative film about how costumes were conceived for Star Wars, and how integral they were to the film’s overall mystique. Then the hatch opened, and we entered the Star Wars galaxy.
Say what you want about the much-maligned Prequels, but nobody talked trash about them in the presence of their costumes. Up close, the robes and finery of Queen Amidala are breath-taking; the robes of the Jedi, just by themselves, invoke nobility and command attention; Darth Maul is feral and vicious; and Emperor Palpatine practically broadcasts malevolence and evil.
Not lots of this mattered to Liam. Even if his first movie in a theater was the Star Wars Rebels premiere, also with NYC Dads Group, all he saw were lightsabers. He doesn’t know the storyline or characters, but he does know lightsabers. He loves pressing buttons and swiping on tablet displays, too, and as there was plenty of that, he was a happy kid.
For the Dads and I though, just being close to these iconic costumes was a thrill. There was a hushed air as we moved through the exhibition. It didn’t seem like we were looking at clothes draped over mannequins, but at the characters themselves. Besides, in the case of some of them, like the droids, the costumes are the characters.
You need a different example? Stormtroopers. The eponymous white-armored soldiers of the Empire immediately draw you into the mythology.
This particular part of the Exhibition really conveyed who and what the Stormtroopers were; overwhelming numbers. That was their whole deal, there were lots of them, they were faceless, and would just keep coming at you.
I’m harping on the Stormtrooper display because it emphasizes how well the Exhibition was planned. A stormtrooper costume by itself does not really convey who they were. But if you set up a suit of that armor in a narrow, mirrored hall, with helmets mounted down both sides, you get a claustrophobic sense of being surrounded. There’s a certain feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when everywhere you look, there’s a Stormtrooper staring back at you, and it’s only sorta pleasant. It was brilliantly done. That part of the exhibition by itself is worth the price of admission.
You get more than just costumes at the exhibition, you also get props. That includes a certain scruffy-looking nerf-herder after he was frozen in Carbonite and hung in Jabba’s Palace.
Naturally, the weapons had to be there. The whole story revolves around conflict and war and the blasters have become nearly as iconic as the characters’ look.
Of course, it can be argued that lightsabers are indeed as iconic as the characters’ looks. Certainly they’re all Liam cares about.
But as you move through the exhibition, the costumes remind you of the themes of the films. How good can win out over evil, even when the bad guys are overwhelming and relentless and don’t care if the good guys are a little on the unprepared and ridiculous side. That’s the real New Hope for NYC Dads, amirite?
How you should always stick by your friends. Even if he’s too hairy and completely unintelligible. Even if you can’t take him into a bar without somebody gunning for him.
Fathers and sons are a prevalent theme throughout Star Wars. Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Jango and Boba Fett. Even the foster-father relationships, from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan to Anakin and Luke. Even though dads aren’t perfect, we will do whatever it takes to be there for our kids. We’ll always redeem any mistakes we make.
You don’t get any warning you’re about to see him, Yoda is just there. He is looking right at you, with an expression of bemused recognition. Few characters have such a palpable effect on people as the Jedi Master does. Even Liam knew who he was. As we regarded him, it was hard to miss everyone else’s reactions upon seeing him. They would stop, draw in breath, and with an expression of wonder, approach him with near reverence. You want to see the power of a costume? Stand in this room and watch how people react to this one. There was only one other that could have this effect.
And there he was. Yeah, maybe you’ve been around dudes in Darth Vader costumes before. You know he’s the Big Bad of Star Wars and have seen him casually change the course of the galaxy with a flick of his wrist. But this is the Darth Vader. The actual, original costume from the first movie, standing before the lava rivers of Mustafar. Until you’ve actually stood next to him, until he’s loomed over you, you don’t know the power of Darth Vader. His costume is everything. Without that costume, you have no Darth Vader. Without Darth Vader, you have no Star Wars. That, my friends, is power.
They could have ended the exhibition there. The point of how powerful good costumes are was clearly made. But the final room held sneak peeks at the characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Not only that, but there were a line of screens with motion-capture sensors. If someone stands in a marked spot, his movements are translated into a computer-generated Star Wars character on the screen. Watching Darth Vader breakdance? Priceless!
Coming from a fan who has lived and breathed Star Wars all of his life, this was an amazing experience. But if you’re not a fan of the franchise, you’ll also dig the show. The costumes do indeed have the power to move you, and just the reactions of people around you will be worth the trip. Keep in mind that visitors to the exhibit, including yours truly, will most definitely be dressed in accordance to the environment.
I’ve attended a few events with NYC Dads Group now, and haven’t been disappointed by any of them. They’ve taken me to see a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. We’ve visited Sesame Street. They’ve taught me about child safety car-seats and we’ve visited the Avengers. Now I can say we’ve gone to a galaxy far, far away.
I highly recommend these experiences. Check out the NYC Meetups listings here. They’ve got something for you, too.
Chad R. MacDonald once stopped a crime in a superhero suit but he’ll only tell that story in person. His other stories appear on SpoiledNYC.com, QuietMike.org, BleedingYankeeBlue.com, and many other awesome sites. Follow him on Facebook.