The Last Jedi: Interview with Costume Designer Michael Kaplan


There are already lots of good interviews with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) costume designer Michael Kaplan on the internet (we recommend this one in particular), so for Clothes on Film we kept it brief and fresh. We caught up with Kaplan, who is also responsible for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Trek (2009), Fight Club (1999) and Blade Runner (1982), for a little chat about what’s new for episode 8 of the ever evolving space saga.

Clothes on Film: Let’s kick off by asking you about the best new costume in the film, the Elite Praetorian Guard…

Michael Kaplan: They are my favourite costumes too! I created a mood board with all the elements I was thinking about – mostly shiny, red, candy apple muscle cars from the early 1970s. We incorporated the bends, the vents, etc. I loved the final, completed design arrived at, but that was just the beginning. These guards (all stuntmen) would be doing a lot of heavy duty fighting and needed to have total range of motion full visibility. My brilliant team dealt with the many demands and hurdles and achieved a beautiful suit of armour. Even though there are no indications of eye holes we created a pattern of tiny ‘sawline’ slits in the helmets which worked beautifully.

The Elite Praetorian Guard, all of whom were played by stunt performers.

CoF: Was your approach very different for this film with new director Rian Johnson?

MK: A new director and new script will certainly change a lot of things, but my approach is always the same; study the script and support the director and his vision. Rian and JJ (Abrams, director of The Force Awakens) had very different sensibilities and each had his different take on Star Wars. Still, I needed to do the best I could possibly do in capturing each director’s vision. I actually loved seeing and creating through their contrasting views of the same world.

CoF: Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma got a notable suit upgrade. How did that come about?

MK: In The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma’s character was created and cast very late in the process. We rushed the production of her armour, completing it just in time for filming. With The Last Jedi we knew Gwendoline and Phasma were returning and I wanted to finesse her design and finish. The new Phasma is actually plated with real silver.

CoF: So what’s happening with John Boyega as Finn now? Did he basically just keep Poe Dameron’s outfit from The Force Awakens?

MK: Poe’s jacket was ripped in the last episode. Finn has had it repaired with inter-galactic staples. The rest of his costume is Rebel donated.

Vanity Fair shoot for Canto Bight by Annie Leibovitz. Costume designer Michael Kaplan admitted disappointment that more of the outfits were not featured in the final cut.

CoF: The casino sequence on Canto Bight is a tour de force of alien black tie. Were you disappointed it didn’t get that much screen-time?

MK: I actually was disappointed. My brilliant team and I spent months working on that scene. I hand picked each extra and custom designed their costumes. Besides the seamstresses and tailors we had a millinery department, a jewellery department, glove makers all on the lot at Pinewood Studios. It was like MGM in the 1930s. There were so many wonderful characters in that scene that went unseen! Rian told me, every second he needed to cut out of that sequence was painful.

CoF: We had a specific question from Twitter about Lily Cole’s ensemble in the casino sequence – can your explain your inspiration for her?

MK: I was inspired by Lily’s distinctive beauty as well as one of my favourite Broadway Costumes in Nine, by the brilliant William Ivey Long. Her hair was inspired by a photo of Jean Shrimpton from the 60’s.

Lily Cole in her ‘Nine’ inspired costume for Canto Bight and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Hondo. Kaplan did not deliberately reference her look in the novel ‘Leia, Princess of Alderaan’.

CoF: Another one from Twitter – Did you create Vice Admiral Holdo’s costume in line with how her character appears in the new book ‘Leia, Princess of Alderaan’ by Claudia Gray, or were you not aware of the text?

MK: I’m not aware of that reference; did I unknowingly plagiarise? (Editor’s note: honestly no clue. Anyone?)

CoF: Tell us about Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker’s new ensemble seen on Ahch-To with the ‘messenger bag’.

MK: Beside Luke’s ceremonial robes at the end of The Force Awakens and the start of The Last Jedi, I thought he needed some practical garb for the island’s terrain and weather conditions. Hence the shorter tunic, the hooded leather rain poncho and his foraging sack.

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma encased in REAL silver.

CoF: The ‘fish women’ on the island are hilariously relatable. How did you approach designing their look?

MK: They are called ‘Caretakers’ as they are there to take care of Luke. My intent was to costume them in a way reminiscent of Elizabethan nurses or nuns.

CoF: Interesting that you dressed Luke in black for the final battle with Kylo Ren. Was this in homage to his outfit in The Return of the Jedi (1983)?

MK: It was a bit of his Return of the Jedi look mixed with a tad of Clint Eastwood.

The Caretakers (not ‘fish women’) with a costume based on Elizabethan nurses.

CoF: Daisy Ridley as Rey wears not just light grey but also dark blue for her confrontation with Snope – was this a nod to her channeling the light and dark side of the force?

MK: No. I just thought Daisy would look beautiful in that shade of teal blue.

CoF: Finally, what about the many fashion tie-ins I’ve seen pop up for The Last Jedi. Companies like Rag & Bone, Clarks, Matchless putting out clothing ‘inspired by’ the films – have you ever been involved with any of these?

MK: None of these tie-ins were directly based on any of the specific looks in the two Star Wars films I designed. To my knowledge, they are generally Star Wars inspired and I was not involved.

With thanks to Michael Kaplan.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is currently on general release.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.