Superfly Solo

MILD SPOILERS

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is far and away the most ‘A New Hope-like’ film in the series yet. In terms of tone, sure, but particularly costume.

What costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman have so expertly achieved with Solo is making a contemporary looking movie set during the late 1960s. Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977 which puts Solo’s timeline around a decade before, or likely just over. But hang on, isn’t this a science fiction movie? What does when it’s made have to do with the space opera world being brought to life on screen? Well the seventies in particular was one of the most eclectic and anachronistic costume decades of all time, especially for period, sci-fi and fantasy. There were wide lapels, flared trousers and hostess dresses seen in anything from Edwardian Britain to 23rd century cosmos. Fashion influence bled into costume and while it might not have always ensured the most historically accurate results, they were often downright glorious. A New Hope, flawlessly costumed by John Mollo it should be noted, was not overly affected in this regard…though in truth it was a bit. Thankfully Dillon and Crossman have recognised this facet and kept it alive for Solo. And, yes, there are even some flares on display.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ri in her 1970s, Halston style dress. Costume design by Glyn Dillon and David Crossman.

A Superfly vibe runs through the costumes in Solo. Not comical, just canonical. To lay this undercurrent entirely at the feet of Solo’s central black character, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), is inaccurate. Much has been made of his colourful capes, which in context symbolise the extravagant suits of the 1970s, yet he is a late addition. Lando rounds out the feeling but it is in place from the outset. One of the most noticeable seventies era pieces is a dress worn by Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as she is reunited with Han (Alden Ehrenreich) aboard Dryden Vos’ (Paul Bettany) yacht. It’s black, full length, backless, with a thigh-high split, subtle shoulder padding, gold and black belt, and attached gold detail neckline (incidentally the bodice appears to be wrap on screen but actually isn’t). Basically it is straight out of Studio 54, which is also exactly what Vos’ yacht party resembles. Any number of dresses could have been designed for this scene, but this is very specifically space disco. Conversely, bandit Val (Thandie Newton) sports a more action orientated, dare we say Blaxploitation ensemble of black leather jacket with white piping and detachable fur scarf, as seen during the Vandor-1 heist. Plus a prominent afro hairstyle. It is not a million miles from John Shaft’s matching black leather suit worn in Shaft’s Big Score (1972). The ladies of Solo do lead the way in terms of a retro look, but the gentlemen feature prominently too. Which eventually, and inevitably, does lead us to Lando.

Val (Thandie Newton) in her fur topped jacket with space afro – a guise somewhat similar to Shaft’s in Shaft’s Big Score.

Yet before we are even introduced to Lando there are hints of 1970s peppered about the boys’ outfits. Tobias’ (Woody Harrelson)’s huge lapel coat, the shaggy fur coat briefly seen on Han (Lando wears an even fancier one later), not to mention his floppy hair and sideburns. Away from the industrial grime of Corellia and muddy trenches of Mimban, everyone in the film seems to have a strut about them. These are costumes with function, though that does’t mean that’s all they are. Conspicuous display has long been one of the most fun elements of Star Wars costumes – Padme’s (Natalie Portman) fabulous finery in the prequels for example. However this was largely ceremonial garb; the clothes in Solo have more of a purchased-in-an-intergalactic-mall vibe. Lando, though, is something else entirely; a custom man shaped by an understanding that ‘dress to impress’ is always going to be thing in the galaxy.

A Topps card image of Lando (Donald Glover) wearing some subtle flares during the escape from Kessel, alongside his Ralph McQuarrie concept art inspired shirt seen in the film’s final scene.

Lando does wear a pair of flared trousers, glimpsed during the shoot-out on Kessel. They are more kick flare than bell-bottom, but the silhouette is unmistakable: natural waist, long slim leg, kicking out from knee through ankle. Lando is a sci-fi variant of the archetypal street-smart Blaxploitation hustler. Someone like a young Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) in Black Caesar (1973) who adopted the strict sartorial codes of Prohibition gangsters in seventies New York to indicate his wealth and authority. It is not a stretch to imagine that Lando would have spent his first proper galactic credits on clothes. If they do decide to go down the standalone movie route for this character, Lando will probably have a mentor who teaches him the value of a polished appearance. Lando is a black man in the Star Wars universe. How much, if any, racism exists toward black people in space is never touched upon in the films, but if these stories are to echo the politics of our world then it is possible Lando would feel the need to stand out to be seen. Contrast this with the relatively subdued dressing of Dryden Vos. Apart from a very deep white collarless shirt that buttons to the left instead of the right – traditional in women’s clothing – Vos is not especially boisterous in his style. Is he white? He is played by a white actor, but that hardly answers much in this context. Vos is an out and out villain, however, whereas Lando is a scam-artist. Lando’s flashy capes mitigate his criminality with a conscious playfulness.

Solo is a period piece sci-fi, if such a concept can truly exist. Referencing a movie series made in the 1970s-80’s means that the costuming on display can revel in such allusions. Remember that Star Wars is set ‘a long time ago’. Qi-ra’s wide leg trousers seen during the last act of the film are reminiscent of Kirsten Dunst’s beach pyjamas in Roaring Twenties romp The Cats Meow (2001). Reaching into the past to costume what somehow always seems like the future makes perfect sense. As such Solo is the funkiest Star Wars movie yet.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is currently on general release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.