Costumes and Characters Part III: Luke Skywalker

Two fun things before I begin this essay:

  1. I’m writing this from a greyhound bus on my way to NYC. And damn, I’ve knocked out quite a few blog posts while on this four hour trip.  It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have distractions (i.e. the Internet lol) and have plenty of time.  Plus, I feel like I look like some cool writer with my laptop out and typing away.  Though, most of the people around are sleeping or reading and not paying any attention to me.  Shhhh, I feel cool.
  2. I hit my 3 year blogging anniversary on WordPress! As Threepio says, “I never knew I had it in me.”  Thanks to all you awesome blogger friends out there!  In the past 3 years I’ve had guest posts, gotten to email with some people personally off this blog, get to know about their lives/more about them, and met up with one blogger friend in person…Darth Amethystos!  Who also mailed me some fun Star Wars Hallmark goodies recently.

Now onwards and upwards to the last section of my three part series on costumes and how they reflect the three main heroes in Star Wars.


Luke Skywalker evolves the most as a character within the Original Trilogy.  I’ve explored Han and Leia’s transformation in my earlier blog posts, and while I think Leia does go through some major changes, it’s nothing in comparison to Luke.  The narrative plot of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, focus solely on the journey of a naïve farm boy to a mature Jedi who helps overthrow the Empire.

I think Lucas made very deliberate choices with his costumes with each of the three main characters in the original trilogy and made sure that what they were clothed in also reflected either a) their personality, b) their development as a character, or c) their environment.  The latter is the most obvious and almost always true, but I think it’s interesting how color and shape can also dictate a deeper look into who they are.  I know nothing about costume fabrics so that area will remain untouched.

In A New Hope, Luke wears one costume primarily throughout the entire movie, other than the x-wing  uniform, which I will not go into.  We see him first as a farmboy on Tatooine where he wears a white tunic, cream/white colored pants, and the same color boots with straps.  He has a dark brown utility belt and in one scene, also wears a brown poncho when he and Obi-Wan sell his landspeeder and board the Millennium Falcon.  In the Throne Room ceremony scene, he is wearing black boots, brown pants, black shirt, overlaid by a gold jacket.

In the Empire Strikes Back, he starts off in Hoth with a mostly white snow suit and brown vest.  His boots are grey with white straps and he wears a hat that has a scarf attached to it so he can protect his face from the cold elements.  After healing from the Wampa attack, he is briefly in hospital garb that consists of a tunic on top, before changing into the Rogue Squadron uniform to fight the AT-AT’s in a snowspeeder.  When he heads to Dagobah, he is wearing a muted grey uniform (some people claim it’s cream or off-white, but I’ve always seen it grey or “muted”) that he stays in for almost the entire movie, until the last scene where he is in a comfortable off-white/tan hospital outfit that consists of baggy pants and a loose tunic.

The grey outfit is what we are most likely to think of when we associate Luke with the Empire Strikes Back.  The shirt is a sleeveless grey tank (the only one we see in the Star Wars Saga! Correct me if this is wrong, but I don’t remember seeing any other ones) and Luke often wears a jacket over it.  The jacket has multiple pockets and is made out of a coarser, heavier material and looks like it is meant to stand a lot of wear and tear.  His pants are slightly baggy, but the same color as his jacket, with darker boots. He also has a dark brown utility belt.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke stays in a same colored costume from beginning to end.  He has an all-black outfit: black shirt, black pants and black boots.  In the beginning, he has a standard Jedi Robe over his outfit, but loses it early on and also has two tabards over his long sleeve black shirt, very reminiscent to the original Jedi Order.  The tabards are lost when he meets up again with the Rebellion and he stays in that simple, black outfit for the entire movie (other than the camouflage tunic on Endor).  You’ll notice that his shirt is buttoned up very nicely until after his battle with Vader, where the top of his shirt comes undone from his shoulder, having it fall open in a triangular shape of a light grey color.  It stands out drastically compared to the rest of the outfit and it always bothered me when I was younger.  I wanted to attach it back to his shoulder.

With A New Hope, Luke is an innocent, young farmboy.  The greatest of his concerns are leaving the moisture farm to join his friends.  He’s the kid whose family doesn’t have enough to send him to college, and he has to stay behind, work, and watch all his friends go off and have adventures without him.  It definitely makes him a little petulant and whiny, as we see with his Tosche Station complaint to Uncle Owen.

As his story takes him off Tatooine, he learns more and progresses more, but still maintains the innocence of the beginning of the movie.  It stands in stark contrast to Han Solo’s bravado and worldly wisdom.  Luke is the eager beaver, wanting to impress and not stand out as the one who has no experience.  We’ve all been in that situation where we want to fit in and not show how little we know about what’s going on.  That’s the point where Luke is in this part of the trilogy.  He wants to fit in, to help in any way he can, and show that he can keep up with the big boys of the Rebellion.  The entirely white costume makes sense within the context of A New Hope as Luke shows his naiveté and innocence as a character.  When Luke gets awarded at the end of A New Hope with some medals, he has now been accepted into the Rebellion, and the shiny gold jacket represents the hero who saved the day.  It represents hope and a future for the Rebellion that is pinned on this one farm boy.

By the time we reach the Empire Strikes Back, Luke has gained some of that knowledge that he so wanted in A New Hope. But the knowledge comes at a price: Luke’s mentor, Obi-Wan, died by Darth Vader, Luke’s best friend was killed in the run against the Death Star, the Rebellion thought they had won a decisive victory and instead are forced into hiding on the remote, frigid world of Hoth.  Every day is lived in fear of the Empire finding them.

Luke’s knowledge and instincts in the Force begin to grow.  Since Obi-Wan helped him tap into that strength, a long luke esbsleeping power begins to grow within him.  With that power, life is not simple.  Yoda teaches him about the dark side versus the light side of the Force, and how Luke can live the way of a Jedi.  Toward the end of the movie, Luke has to make a choice between staying and continuing to learn under Yoda or go and rescue his friends.  Yoda tells him sternly not to leave his training when they’ve barely begun, but Luke leaves anyway.  During the failed rescue attempt, which is actually a trap for him, he learns the worst point of all: the feared Sith Lord and villain Darth Vader is his father.

That is a lot for one character to go through during an entire movie.  There’s no question that while Luke is still good, still a hero, he is now struggling with bigger and harder choices.  His main outfit, all in grey, helps emphasize the point that our main character is stuck between good and evil.  By the end of the movie, you think and hope that Luke continues on the path he is currently on, one with the light side of the Force.  Especially as the movie ends with him in a lighter costume with Leia.

When we move into Return of the Jedi, the progression of color seems a little baffling, especially knowing the ending of the film.  We know Luke redeems his father and stays on the light side of the Force, so why is he in black for the entire film?  And when the portion falls open, is it a deliberate choice by Lucas?

Black is almost always associated with evil.  Sure, you can change it around if you want, but in most mythical storylines, the character in black clearly equates to the villain.  So it is with Star Wars as well: Darth Vader and the Emperor are both always in black.  But so is Luke in Return of the Jedi.

Why?

We find out in the middle of the movie that Luke has come to accept he is Darth Vader’s son.  When he asks Yoda if Darth Vader is his father, it’s clear he already knows the answer deep down even as Yoda confirms it.  When Luke enters this Luke_Skywalkernew chapter of his life, he must be wondering what his fate is.  Will he be able to withstand the power of the dark side or will he succumb as his father did?

I studied criminology in college and there was one fact that stood out to me so clearly and I still remember to this day.  If a man had a checkered past, either with doing/selling drugs, going to jail, etc., but is now on the clean, law-abiding path, he should not tell his children – but more specifically his son(s) – that he had a questionable past.  Studies show that psychologically, young boys will start internalizing this fact and believe they are ultimately headed for the same lifestyle.  Instead of having the effect of a cautionary tale as was hoped, it backfired and the children, especially sons, were more likely to get into trouble knowing their fathers once had as well.  Of course, this is not true of all children, but was the case for the majority of those studied over a long term.

Luke, I believe, had already internalized the fact that Darth Vader was his father by the time he went off to rescue Han Solo on Tatooine.  He was already internalizing it at the end of the Empire Strikes Back when he kept asking, “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?”  If Luke has accepted that Darth Vader is his father, the black outfit follows the path that Luke believes he could potentially be headed on.  It makes the audience question whether or not he had enough training from Yoda to remain a Jedi, or inevitably become a Sith, like Anakin.  Maybe he thought it was part of his destiny, as Darth Vader had proclaimed.

This is where I think the part of the shirt falling open at the end of the movie is key to his character.  The shirt falling open still annoys me to this day, but now I look at it as a deliberate choice from Lucas.  By having the top part of the shirt fall open, it not only breaks up the black within the costume and gives us some light, but from an audience’s viewpoint, it’s on the left of Luke’s body.  Our hearts are on the left side of our chest and viewing Luke from an opposite side, it shows Luke’s heart being open.  When he refuses to give in to the dark side of the force, he is tortured and the shirt falls open, revealing that the dark side did not overtake him.  It was interrupted by the light side of the Force.   It makes Luke open to change, open to choice, and open to the light side of the Force.

At the end of the movie, Luke decides to focus not on the fact that Darth Vader is a Sith, but that he has come to accept that he was once Anakin Skywalker, his father.  By realizing that the Anakin Skywalker who fathered him was a Jedi at that point, it helps Luke remember that he has a choice.  His heart opens to the light side of the Force and at the climax of the movie, he tells the Emperor, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”  He accepts both the dark side and the light side of the Force as part of him and makes a choice on which to follow.


I hope you all enjoyed my three part series on the costumes of Leia, Han, and Luke as it reflects their journeys as characters.  I’m most interested to see where this leads us going forward with The Force Awakens, especially with Luke.  As a Jedi, there’s a lot more at stake if Luke turns to the dark side and with Darth Vader as his father, it’s entirely possible.

What are your thoughts on our three heroes and their costumes? Have I made a right judgement in my analyses?  Luke was the hardest to figure out, which is why I saved him for last. Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on Luke? 

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10 thoughts on “Costumes and Characters Part III: Luke Skywalker

  1. Luke’s clothing in Return of the Jedi is more solid than the previous two movies, showing a steadiness in character and a unification of who he is. The darkness shows how much at risk he is of falling to the dark side, and the light-colored flap is a symbol of his transformation.
    The clothing in Empire Strike’s Back is more similar to an army training uniform – which is fitting with the training he achieves. Also, I never noticed how well-tailored Luke’s pants are until watching the Star Wars episode of the Muppet Show, where one of the gags is the Muppets asking Luke, “Who’s your tailor?” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lcts5aFseVU

    • Oh good point with the training uniform in ESB. Didn’t even think of that!
      But I’m not sure I entirely agree with Luke being a steady character. I feel like he’s very unsteady in himself. He knows what he wants but is full of doubts.
      I’m going to watch that Muppet video asap!

  2. Very nice! Loved this series.
    I always thought Luke looked like a priest in ROTJ, like he was attempting to grow into his role as a serious, slightly ascetic Jedi. Even his hair is more tame. I liked the open shirt flap at the end for no other reason than I thought it looked stylish lol.
    Luke has always been my favorite character and I think the white-grey-black transition is a nice way to subtly highlight his character journey.

    • Thanks mei mei! I was honestly looking forward to your thoughts so I appreciate your response. I never thought about the priest allusion but I can see what you’re saying. He was really hard to write about because there are so many ways to interpret his journey through the costumes.

      And I still hate the open shirt flap.

  3. Happy 3rd Blogaversary! I’m glad you wrote this post (and I wish I had read it sooner). I’m older than you and was in high school just after the OS came out. I was also reading Tolkien and I remember comparing how Gandolf goes from Grey to White and how Luke goes from White to Black and gosh darn i’m sure there is an old essay tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

    I don’t think the wearing black in ROTJ is about the Dark Side, I think it’s about loss of innocence, not being able to unknow what Luke has discovered and all the pain, suffering and loss of friends has done to him.

    Sidenote: it also seemed that the different uniforms were a good excuse for selling more action figures.

    • I am currently rereading the LotR trilogy! SOOOO goood.

      Thanks for the compliments on the post. Great point on the loss of innocence. I really really like that argument, Icarus. It fits in really nicely with the fact that he was basically all white in the beginning, and then eventually moved to black.

      And yes, totally a good excuse for selling more action figures. They just gave word of two action figures being released for TFA: “Jakku Rey” and “Jakku Finn”, which implies they do change outfits at some point since I doubt they are on Jakku the whole time. And to sell more action figures, obvs.

  4. Pingback: Luke and the Dark Side | Star Wars Anonymous

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