Currently stationed at Tokyo’s Warehouse Terrada G1-5F, the touring Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition features over 200 original costumes, props, models and pieces of artwork from across the series’ expansive canon. With the impending conclusion to the Skywalker saga releasing in December’s Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reflect on the creative legacy of the over 40-year-old space opera.
Star Wars found some of its earliest inspiration in Japan, as George Lucas was directly influenced by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in drafting his initial outline. Darth Vader’s costume design was even first modeled directly after samurai uniforms, kamishimo. The Force remains strong in the Land of the Rising Sun, with the epic talebeing adapted to a kabuki play with one of Japan’s biggest stars playing Kylo Ren.
Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition was divided into sections focusing on the development of specific characters including full displays featuring Boba Fett, Yoda, Chewbacca, as well as the final centerpiece Darth Vader. Also included were multiple costumes worn by Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.
An impressive array of starships and vehicles used in filming simulated the experience of traveling at light speed, as an Imperial Star Destroyer squared off against a rebel squadron. Technical blueprints and models detailed the passion that went into the production of the beloved Millennium Falcon.
Star Wars Identities attempts to examine the film’s characters and how their decisions shaped their universe through the lens of identity science. Visitors are invited to create their own personalized Star Wars characters by choosing preferences like homeworld, profession and answering a series of personality questionnaires. Apparently, I was not in tune with the force, as my Bespin bounty hunter avatar was attacked by a Wampa and badly injured.
Other highlights included Ralph McQuarrie’s original illustrations. Die-hard fans will instantly recognize the concept art, and seeing the raw storyboards in person highlighted the visual inspiration for the films. Some of the sets from the drawings that date back to the original trilogy have been glimpsed in trailers for the impending final chapter, specifically the Emperor’s imposing throne room.
With a focus on the original series and prequels, references to the sequel trilogy and other recent Disney releases at the exhibition were sparse. Aside from BB-8, there wasn’t much of a mention of J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson’s latest additions.
Eventually these science-fiction relics will be housed at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is expected to be completed in Los Angeles in 2021. At Star Wars Celebration in 2017, a fan event hosted by Lucasfilm, Lucas reiterated the stories were always intended to be enjoyed by a younger audience, to impart lessons on “friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing, living on the right side and avoiding the dark side.”
The prequels are now nearly as old as 1977’s A New Hope was when 1999’s The Phantom Menace was released, and as the films and the audience they were made for reach maturity, they’ve been looked back at more fondly.
In defending fellow Disney-property Marvel’s Cinematic Universe from recent criticisms from director Martin Scorsese, Guardians of The Galaxy’s helmer James Gunn recently opined in an Instagram post “I remember a great uncle to whom I was raving about Star Wars. He responded by saying, ‘I saw that when it was called 2001, and, boy, was it boring.’”
That cyclical nature has made maintaining public interest in new Star Wars entries a carefully paced calculation. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted “a little too much, too fast” in the studio’s releases. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were developing a trilogy that was recently canned by President of Lucasfilm, Ltd., Kathleen Kennedy, while The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson, has his own upcoming trilogy that little has been revealed about. When Star Wars Identities recently visited Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, it’s reported to have resulted in more than $750,000 in losses.
Despite some of these signs of wavering interest, the immediate future is bright for most Star Wars fans. Disney’s new streaming platform, Disney+, premiered the first Star Wars live-action television series in the highly-acclaimed The Mandalorian, featuring the much loved and endlessly memed Baby Yoda. A prequel series to 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, centered around Diego Luna’s Rebel spy Cassian Andor, is also scheduled to start production in 2020, and Ewan McGregor recently confirmed a return to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for limited series chronicling his time between Episode III and Episode IV. And between theme park attractions like Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and exhibits like Star Wars Identities, we can now experience these movies like never before.
Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition
runs through January 13th, 2020 at Warehouse Terrada G1-5F (Higashi Shinagawa 2-6-4, Tokyo).
Joshua Mellin is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who’s work has appeared everywhere from major-label album covers and Super Bowl advertisements. You can follow his adventures at twitter and instagram.