By Jim Frye
From the beautiful, flowing robes of General Leia Organa to the uniforms of an entire squadron of resistance fighters—not to mention the striking red armor of the Praetorian Guard—the costumes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi are an out-of-this-world affair. But perhaps one of the most stylish and eye-popping accomplishments for veteran costume designer Michael Kaplan is the Canto Bight scene, which required costuming some 200 people.
“[Writer/director] Rian Johnson took the opportunity to be very playful, now that audiences know who the characters are,” says Kaplan. “It was nice to add in elements of fun, and to break away from everyone in uniform—and to do that huge, huge fancy dress party was quite daunting.” He’s referring to Canto Bight, the huge cosmic playground for the galaxy’s ultra-rich that is one of The Last Jedi’s most spectacular wardrobe showpieces.
Kaplan began his career with the 1982 Blade Runner, creating a bold look that influenced films and culture for decades. He went to work on an impressive portfolio of films, including Pearl Harbor, Fight Club, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the blockbuster 2015 return to the Skywalker saga, directed by J.J. Abrams.
With so many films under his belt, D23 asked where he got his inspiration, especially for a film like The Last Jedi, which has such a “futuristic” look (even though it’s set “a long time ago.”). “It’s hard to research the future,” says Kaplan, “but you do look back because fashion does repeat itself. I took elements from the past and from my imagination. Rian had given me some interesting parameters, one being that it was to be all black and white. So I looked at the famous Black and White Ball that Truman Capote had.”
He’s referring to a huge masquerade party hosted by the famous author Truman Capote in 1966 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Held in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, Capote’s lavish affair was the must-attend event of the year. He claimed that he got the idea from a scene in the movie My Fair Lady where the guests at the Embassy Ball dress only in black and white.
“We have a lot of creatures that differentiate it from the Truman Capote party,” Kaplan laughs. “When I first read the script, it seemed like something you’d be more likely to see in a James Bond film, and I was nervous I’d have trouble translating it into the world of Star Wars, which is really ingrained in my mind. When I design something, I can say, ‘No, that wouldn’t work in the world of Star Wars.’”
“To create the look of these wealthy people, which we really haven’t seen in Star Wars before, is new territory and a huge challenge,” Kaplan continues. He says that finding enough fabric was a challenge, and that he dressed a number of characters who weren’t even seen in the film. When he and his team design uniforms, they can design a single prototype and then send it out to be mass-produced. But for the Canto Bight scene, they had to hand-design each and every costume. “They all had to be unique,” he says. “They required jewelry, hair styles, gloves, headpieces, and hats.”
The costumes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi may have been designed for an out-of-this-world affair, but the fact that Kaplan found inspiration a little closer to home is a tribute to that 1966 Black and White Gala. “I love the black and white,” says Kaplan. Capote would probably smile knowing that his party is still the talk of the town.