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Star Wars: The Force Awakens costume designer Michael Kaplan, whose credits include Blade Runner and Star Trek, sought to strike a balance between conveying passage of time and maintaining consistency in style for the costumes. Take the new film's Stormtroopers, for example: “We redesigned the Stormtroopers to show 30 years of change and yet tried to keep them iconically the same,” Kaplan says of the white, armored uniforms, which were inspired in part by Apple. “So, at a glance, they would appear to be the same thing, but on closer inspection, you could see that they were really simplified, modernized.”
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Rey — Daisy Ridley's scavenger on the planet Jakku — wears a costume that is focused on function: Her long scarf protects against sandstorms, and her goggles, Kaplan explains, are made from old Stormtrooper eyepieces that she sewed to a strip of leather as she could not afford them otherwise. “That shows an industrious nature which only expands her character, I think, when you see that she was clever enough to come up with something like that with something that she found.”
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Kaplan says that new antagonist Kylo Ren (Girls’ Adam Driver), who dons a dark cloak and mask, boasts an especially unique look. “He doesn’t look like a Stormtrooper,” Kaplan says. “He doesn’t look like anyone else around him. It’s a look all unto himself.” And while his face mask is reminiscent of the mask worn by Darth Vader, it also stands on its own with its mirror-like details. “Instead of seeing into his character, you kind of see a reflection of what’s going on around him, which only enhances the design that’s already there.”
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Kaplan sought to keep Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in recognizable territory. “The garments he is wearing were all made for him for this film, and they are different,” Kaplan says. “I tried to make him look as I thought Han would have evolved.” He’s transformed, to be sure, but his new look is still reminiscent of his earlier slim pants, white shirt, and dark vest. The Force Awakens sees Ford once again sporting his “bad-ass, sexy, kind of masculine, very simple style,” Kaplan says.
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The character of Captain Phasma (Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie) began with her unique look. “I had designed the costume thinking that it would be extremely cool to have silver armor for a character in this film,” Kaplan says. “I thought it was going to be a man,” he adds of the character, who is the series’ first female villain, “but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a woman.” (Read more on what Christie thinks of her costume, and why her character is good for girls here.)
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A standout fighter pilot in the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) wears a pilot's uniform that “harkens back to the World War I and II pilots, which was a look that was prevalent in the original Star Wars films with the retro-looking helmets,” Kaplan says. “It’s just kind of following within the mold of what was already created.” More generally, members of the Resistance appear in Earth tones like rust, olive, and brown, and they wear softer fabrics, like broken-in wools and other textiles that are rumpled and distressed.
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Kaplan sought to create visual distinctions between the Resistance and the First Order. “I decided that I would make a definite delineation between the warring armies,” he says. So in contrast to the Resistance, the First Order members predominantly appear in black, teal blue, and steel gray, with the Stormtroopers again in white. Their costumes also feature hard lines, like in the uniform worn by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), pictured above. “The silhouettes of the [First] Order are very severe, almost like something Thierry Mugler, the designer, would have done — very hard edge, very broad shoulders, very angular, geometric.”