Design by Reid Graham

I love Star Wars because it’s visually fun. The brilliant planets and flashy space battles are eternally stunning, but my favorite aspect of Star Wars iconography is the costuming. The best characters are memorable because of their unforgettable clothing and accessories. From opulent gowns to cyborg appendages, Star Wars is stuffed to the brim with iconic fashion moments. 

The following are three Star Wars “looks” that have seared themselves most indelibly into our collective cultural conscience — outfits so awesome, our own galaxy couldn’t help but take notice. 

Original Trilogy: Luke Skywalker’s Chanel Boots

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, “Star Wars: A New Hope”) has a lot of fantastic looks, but there’s a special place in my heart for the sinister all-black robes he debuts in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” At this point, Luke has lost a lot: his hand, his lightsaber, his mentors, his friends. On top of that, any delusions he had about a heroic family lineage have been destroyed. He’s beginning to question his abilities and shed his innocent farm boy ideals. His clothes reflect this growing moral complexity. 

Symbolic costuming is a big part of Star Wars, especially for its central heroes. As characters change, so do their clothes, and audiences take note. Luke’s gloomy “Return of the Jedi” outfit sticks with us because it actually enriches his story. His solemn clothes represent his newfound maturity and remind us of how far he has come. When Luke comes to blows with Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, “The Lion King”) at the end of the film, he looks as stern and commanding as his towering opponent. It’s clear that Luke has grown into a Jedi worthy of this climactic battle. 

Luke’s “Return of the Jedi” look also just stylistically rocks. Outfits only add to the story if they’re visually memorable, so it’s lucky Luke delivers. Beyond the long, black cloak, he wears a sharp tunic and (most importantly) fabulous knee-high boots. The internet has spun these boots into their own culturally important character, joking that Luke is a budding fashionista who makes sure to wear nothing but the best to defeat evil. His boots have been identified as Chanel, based off of an iconic “Devil Wears Prada” meme. The Queer community celebrates them as proof of Luke’s own Queerness. The boots are widely recognized by fans, to the point that they’re often cited in fan merchandise and have even caught Mark Hamill’s attention. This is fun, but it’s also important. Luke’s celebration as a fashion-forward, effeminate hero is undeniably different from the way most leading male characters are regarded. He is allowed to be soft. Luke and his Chanel boots serve as a reminder to many generations of boys that heroism does not require hypermasculinity. 

Luke’s dramatic outfits solidify him as a role model, a hero and most importantly, an undeniable fashion icon. Truly, only Luke Skywalker could simultaneously restore peace to the galaxy, play with gender norms and pioneer ’70s-inspired space fashion. 

Prequel Trilogy: Padmè Amidala 

I admit it’s a cheat to list an entire character as a fashion moment. But if there’s one character worthy of this generalization, it is Padmè Amidala (Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”). To reduce her iconicism to one or two outfits would be to ignore the fact that every time Padmè is on screen, her clothes are stunning. From her first appearance in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in ornate, red, ceremonial robes, Padmè’s impact on pop culture was all but guaranteed. 

The prequels featuring Padmè take place before the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire, when freedom, peace and cultural exchange were widespread throughout the galaxy. Yet Padmè’s character ultimately exists to motivate the destruction of that society: She is the love of Anakin Skywalker’s life (Hayden Christensen, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”), and it is her love that eventually triggers his transformation into the villainous Darth Vader. When Padmè dies at the end of the prequel series, so does the refinement and balance of galactic society.

It is her wardrobe that drives this point home — a wardrobe that represents the best of galactic art and life. She has ornate headdresses for public appearances, whimsical gowns for romantic getaways, no-nonsense suits for senate hearings and unassuming civilian clothes that help her avoid assassination attempts. Her outfits reflect her own complexity — a complexity that turns her from merely a female character to an actively feminist one. 

Padmè is the only woman featured in all three of the prequel films. It’s unfortunate that she stands alone in this regard, but it’s exciting that she’s not trivialized and is instead allowed to be outstanding. Padmè is one of the most distinguished characters to ever grace a Star Wars story, outshining even the Jedi whose paths she crosses. She is by turn a politician, spy, mother, diplomat, adventurer and lover. She fights for justice, falls in love, takes matters into her own hands and delegates easily. Padmè’s clothes are memorable not just because they look cool, but because she is cool. Her outfits are celebrated as Halloween costumes and at fan conventions and through social media because she’s worthy of admiration. We want to be her, we want to love her and we want to emulate her. Putting on our own versions of her clothes allows us to channel whatever we love most about Padmè’s character, whether it’s the badassery of her white battle outfit or the princess-y romanticism of her wedding gown. Her complexity allows all sorts of girls and women to see themselves in her. Since she’s the only main woman character in the prequels, the fact that she manages to be representative of everything from softness and intellectuality to practicality and intensity is really wonderful. We can all see ourselves in Padmè, and her costumes give us tangible ways to celebrate and embody that influence. 

Padmè shines light in her galaxy and our own, and thanks to her multiplicity, there’s room for everyone to exist within her image. 

Sequel Trilogy: Finn and Poe’s Jacket 

The long-awaited Star Wars sequel series begins with “Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” The first person we meet is resistance super spy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, “Dune”). He’s working for the good guys, and he’s got a pretty cool jacket. When the sinister First Order takes Poe prisoner, his jacket falls into the possession of former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, “The Woman King”).

“The Force Awakens” maintains costume symbolism similar to that of the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s only natural that Poe’s jacket is more than it first appears. When Poe finds Finn with his jacket, he tells Finn to keep it, even though Finn is one of the “bad guys.” It hints at a brighter future for a galaxy so often plagued by division. The jacket, now Finn’s, symbolizes the ethos of the rebellion: You don’t have to be born on the right side to do the right thing. Your own choices reflect your true self. Finn puts on that jacket as a testament to trust and a celebration of our ability to change for the better. 

The jacket also kickstarts Finn and Poe’s relationship, in which many fans identify Queer undertones. The scene in which Poe gifts Finn the jacket is iconic because of its underlying romantic tension. Poe tells Finn that he’s a “good man” and that the jacket “suits him.” It’s undeniably flirty. Poe and Finn develop a close relationship throughout the sequels. While the romantic nature of their relationship has never been explicitly confirmed or denied, the relationship’s potential is important to many people, specifically Queer fans. The Star Wars fanbase has always been diverse, but rarely is that diversity reflected on screen. Poe and Finn have an intimate, loving relationship that’s made more meaningful given that healthy male relationships are so rarely shown on screen. Finn and Poe as a romantic pairing consistently ranks in the top three most popular relationships on fanfiction sites, and even the actors openly share that they read Finn and Poe’s interactions as romantic. This duo’s existence is all thanks to Poe’s jacket. It has come to represent not just the spirit of the rebellion in-universe, but also the indomitable spirit of the real-world Star Wars fan community. While Queer representation remains subpar in most franchise films, the hope that Finn and Poe’s jacket sparked is still tangible. If a relationship like theirs can be portrayed on screen once, it can happen again. Maybe a similar relationship could even be confirmed as romantic. 

Poe and Finn’s jacket is a reminder that people of all sorts can and must shift the fate of our galaxy. Heroism and representation, as it turns out, suit all of us. 

Honorable Mentions

It was hard to narrow this down. Star Wars has a lot of awesome costumes. Some notable runner-ups are: Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher, “Star Wars: A New Hope”) controversial and potentially feminist golden bikini, Darth Maul’s (Ray Park, “Solo”) revolutionary double-sided lightsaber, Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams, “Batman”) cape collection and Ahsoka Tano’s (Ashley Eckstein, “Star Wars Rebels”) Lord of the Rings inspired white cloak.

Daily Arts Writer Lola D’Onofrio can be reached at lolad@umich.edu.