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Justice for Trisha Biggar, Star Wars costume designer

Contributed by
Mar 5, 2018

This past Sunday marked the 90th annual Academy Awards, which every year honors the greatest accomplishments in the year of cinema. In theory, anyway—Monster Trucks didn’t get nominated for anything last year, so how on-point can the Oscars really be? 

The shameful decision of AMPAS to nominate a movie where oil baron Rob Lowe gets sprayed in the face with acid by the movie’s heroes—watch Monster Trucks, it happened—isn’t the only misstep in the Academy’s history. The Oscars’ aversion to horror, for one, is well-documented; if Get Out pulls out an unlikely win in the Best Picture category, it will be only the second horror film in history, after Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, to do so. Science fiction and fantasy, outside of technical categories, don’t fare much better. Admittedly, the Best Picture category has become more friendly to genre nominees ever since AMPAS expanded the field from eight to a possible ten in 2009, with District 9, Avatar, Inception, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road and more picking up nominations, if not wins. But the fact remains: the Academy Awards still have a notorious anti-genre bias.

That brings me to the Star Wars prequels. 

Now, I’m not arguing that any of the prequels should have been nominated for Best Picture, barring version of the prequels from a bizarro universe where George Lucas retired on the proceeds of his action figure money sometime in the mid-'90s, leaving his franchise in less erratic hands. We’d live in a world devoid of Jar Jar. Imagine.

What I am saying is this: the Star Wars prequels never—not once—got an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. That is, pardon the coarse phrasing, Bantha poodoo.

Cast your mind back to the successful elements of the prequels—Darth Maul, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the choice of Jimmy Smits as Leia’s foster-father-to-be Bail Organa—and Trisha Biggar’s costume design is more than likely on the list. Certainly, these are the elements that have emerged from the miasma of suck surrounding the prequels to have some sort of life after Revenge of the Sith left theaters in 2005. Darth Maul lived on in the EU and Star Wars: Rebels. Fans still clamor for Ewan McGregor to star in Disney’s rumored Obi-Wan solo film. Jimmy Smits reprised the role of Bail Organa in Rogue One. And who can't pull up an instant mental image of Natalie Portman in that famous red gown from The Phantom Menace?

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Padmé is the Star Wars’ prequels most obvious fashion doyenne. Over three films, Biggar designed sixty-eight different outfits for her—and those are only the ones that made it on-screen. As Biggar wrote in Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, many more were initially planned. You have elaborate, ornate gowns and headdresses. Gowns for the Senate. Gowns for frolicking in a field. Gowns for disguising a pregnancy. More low-key outfits for when she’s pretending to be a handmaiden. Jumpsuits for later in the trilogy, when it’s time to stop being polite and start getting real. The, uh, weird dominatrix gown. That was Uncle George’s idea, OK? We can’t blame Trisha for that. 

The fact is that Biggar designed literally dozens of outfits for Padmé, most of which were absolutely gorgeous, all of which said something about her character. Padmé’s funeral outfit—a delicately pleated aqua dress covered by a cloak studded with beads and pearls—is honest-to-God one of the most gorgeous outfits in cinema history. Seen in person, it takes your breath away. It’s on-screen for all of 32 seconds. Count ‘em.

Trisha Biggar did that.

And more than that, too. Because Padmé’s wardrobe, iconic and enduring as it is, isn’t the prequels’ only fashion accomplishment. Palpatine’s wardrobe gets more sinister over the course of the trilogy, echoing the character’s grand debutante coming out as a Sith Master. Palpatine in The Phantom Menace dresses like a little bit of a puffed-up goofball, honestly. It's a brilliant disguise. "I can't be evil. Look: I'm wearing jodphurs." By the time Revenge of the Sith rolls around, screw it—he’s breaking out the hooded cloaks and the dark red velvet. In the costuming of Bail Organa and many of the non-Padmé, non-Handmaiden Naboo characters, Biggar crafted a Flash Gordon-esque, retro-futuristic vibe that pays homage to the original trilogy’s inspiration while staying true to the prequels’ overall aesthetic. Be the dignified space disco couture you want to see in the world.

Capes. Velvet. Space ombre.

With her work in the Star Wars prequels, Trisha Biggar pulled off the dual accomplishments of designing clothes that are tremendously impressive on a technical design level while also furthering the storytelling and the worldbuilding of the films it inhabits. And yet the Academy failed to recognize her with so much as a nomination—not just once, but three times. It’s such an egregious oversight that I honestly assumed she had bee nominated until I happened to see a few months back that that wasn’t the case. She should have secured a win for herself with the headdresses alone.