The Art of the Force

Darth Vader, Star Wars™: Return of the Jedi.

Photography provided by Cincinnati Museum Center


The Force is now with the Queen City. On May 25, the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” arrived at Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. Film buffs and Star Wars fans alike get a behind-the-scenes look at how the universe was created and costumed.

“We didn’t have a proper place for the public to see it, and we never did a full-on costume exhibit,” says Laela French, director of archives for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at Skywalker Ranch. “[But] we didn’t want just costumes: We wanted something educational and meaningful.”

“Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” runs until October 1 with tickets from $12-$24. The exhibit is curated by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which partnered with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and Lucasfilm. The collaboration helped narrow the original Death Star-sized collection.

“It can be overwhelming. Researchers’ eyes glaze over,” says French.

After a lot of back and forth, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and SITES decided on a multi-media exhibit that includes short films featuring behind-the-scenes glimpses at the creative process, as well as interviews with artists, designers and actors; concept drawings; digital interactives featuring sketches, photographs and notes; and more than 70 original, screen-used costumes.

Because of Star Wars’ popularity and legitimate storytelling, it’s a win-win for museums, says French.

Expect to see iconic costumes including Princess Leia Organa’s white gown from “The Empire Strikes Back” and her infamous bikini from “Return of the Jedi,” both worn by the incomparable Carrie Fisher. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s and Luke Skywalker’s Jedi robes are also in the exhibit, as well as the military-influenced uniforms of the Senate Guard, a TIE Fighter Pilot and a sharpshooting Imperial Stormtrooper. If you’re new to the Star Wars universe, here’s a spoiler alert: The stormtroopers can fire 1,000 times and not hit a single target.

The costume portion of the exhibit isn’t just limited to apparel. Chewbacca’s yak hair and mohair costume and droids C3PO, R2D2 and BB-8 make an appearance. And Sith lord himself, Darth Vader, looms right around a corner.

“Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” is intentionally split into different galleries throughout the museum: Introduction: Dressing a Galaxy; Jedi versus Sith: Form, Function and Design; Concept and Design for Royalty and Beyond; Symbolism and Military Power; Outlaws and Outsiders; All Corners of the Galaxy: The Galactic Senate; After the Throne: Padmé’s Journey; and Darth Vader: Iconic Villain.

One of French’s favorites, Outlaws and Outsiders, was inspired by the American West and the spaghetti Western movie genre. The gallery, which also includes bounty hunters Jango and Boba Fett, and Zam Wesell, was purposefully set up with the gunslinging, holster-wearing baddies.

“I love the Outsiders gallery: Han Solo, the Rogue and the Rebels. They’re the fringe element,” she says. “Han Solo and Zam Wesell look like they’re in a shootout, even though they never faced each other in the movies.”

Another French favorite is the deliberate layout of the exhibit, particularly the order of Padme Amidala’s and Anakin Skywalker’s wedding and what follows (another spoiler alert): the menacing costume of Darth Vader.

“It’s my favorite nugget. [Anakin] felt responsible for his wife’s death, and he becomes Darth Vader,” she says. “We wanted to have fun. I loved that.” 


Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located at 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45203. For more information, call 513.287.7000 or visit