The Force Awakens costume designer talks designing the new stormtroopers and iconic characters

Contributed by
May 21, 2015

Costume designer Michael Kaplan began his illustrious career working for Bob Mackie in the mid-1970s, before he got his first movie gig on Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi movie Blade Runner. He then went on to design costumes for Flashdance, Se7en, Fight Club, Armageddon, I Am Legend and both of J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek flicks. With this geek cred, it's no wonder the guy got to design the amazing costumes for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In a lengthy interview with Vanity Fair, Kaplan talked about designing outfits for a galaxy far, far away, and began by revealing whether he'd used any of the costumes previously used in the old Star Wars movies:

"We didn't use anything, but I went up to George Lucas's archives—huge building—and just spent a day going through sketches and looking just to get the tone of the movie, you know, in my guts and veins so that when I went to London I felt equipped and inspired, which I certainly did."

Kaplan further explained why he didn't want to use the old stormtrooper design. The reason? Kaplan wanted the new look of the Empire's iconic footsoldiers to fit today's "sophisticated" audiences. Here's why he did so:

"The old stormtroopers uniforms would not be usable. Audiences of today have become so sophisticated that a lot of things you could get away with in the past, you can't anymore. So, the new uniforms are much heavier. Also, the action in the film required them to not be "VacuFormed" [like the old uniforms] as those all broke and cracked. These new ones are much more heavy-duty, but they are redesigned, too, they're not the same stormtroopers.

"Everything was a conversation with J.J., of course. He wanted to hold on to the uniqueness and not get too far away from the stormtroopers, keep that iconic look, but still have 30 years of difference. I mean, it would be a little odd to have the same stormtroopers this much later, when Leia and Han are so much older."

So, what inspired Michael Kaplan to redesign the new stormtrooper outfits in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the first place? The answer may (or may not) surprise you; it was a certain company most of us are familiar with that gave Kaplan the insperation for the redesign:

"Maybe subconsciously, but with the stormtroopers it was more of a simplification, almost like, 'What would Apple do?' J.J. wanted them to look like stormtroopers at a glance but also be different enough to kind of wow people and get them excited about the new design."

But what about the look of the Rebels and that of the mighty Empire? How did Kaplan update their overall look?

"I remembered when I saw the original movie I was a little bit confused by the warring factions, because the uniform colors kind of overlapped—both [the rebels and the Empire] had some khakis and olive, and I kind of thought, Now I'm in a position to do something about this. So I made two very, very clean-cut palettes. The Empire is in very cold blacks and grays and metallics and teal blues. The Rebels are in khakis and olives and some oranges—warmer colors. So there are very clear separations and you know who you're looking at when you see them. Also, the lines of the costumes. The Rebels are kind of wools and natural fibers, cottons, and the Empire is very hard-lined, almost like Thierry Mugler. Very kind of edgy. The haircuts are these three-quarter parts, which were big in the 1930s, so that's kind of recalling something from the past."

Finally, Kaplan talked about designing costumes for our dynamic inter-galactic trio of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). He wanted to change their outfits ... but not too much:

"A lot of it had to do with what was right for the story and the action, but a lot of it was also, you know, people have a way of dressing. I wouldn't really be doing my job if I thought, Hey, let's redesign this character totally and put them in colors they've never worn. It just wouldn't make any sense. But you also want new, interesting things to look at. You want enough change to be there."

Kaplan had a lot more to say in the interview, namely what he learned about movie costume design thanks to Blade Runner, and his thoughts on the old Star Wars movies, so I encourage you to check out the whole thing. What do you think about Kaplan's comments on designing the new stormtroopers, the new look of the rebels and the Empire, and keeping close to the vest the overall look of our iconic characters Han and Luke and Leia?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on Dec. 18. Are you looking forward to seeing Michael Kaplan's new Star Wars designs on a big screen not so far away?

(via Vanity Fair)

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