J.J. Abrams‘ Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens tells the story of a unexpected group of heroes who partner with the Resistance to save the galaxy. The fascinating realization of this world earned costume designer Michael Kaplan a Costume Designer Guild award nomination for excellence in fantasy film. Kaplan, who is known for his work on Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Fight Club (1999) and Se7en (1995), was most excited about working again with Abrams after having worked with him on two Star Trek films. Embracing such a massive creative project was also a draw. “Of course the challenge of taking on Star Wars was extremely exciting as well as daunting and intimidating,” the costume designer said.
Kaplan began by immersing himself into the world of Star Wars and its long history. He wanted to go back to the root of things and rediscover anew the feelings he felt when he first saw the original trilogy and infuse the new film with those emotions. “I did this by reviewing those films as well as visiting the amazing archives at Lucas Ranch. There, I was able to sift through files and files of Ralph McQuarrie and John Mollo artwork as well as viewing original costumes,” he explained.
There were plenty of challenges on this project but Kaplan discovered along the way that with a good crew any difficulty can be tackled. So he was concerned when he couldn’t bring his U.S. team to the U.K. for shooting. “This was a concern, but I had faith that I would be able to assemble a strong crew, so I went for it. The hiring process turned out to be an embarrassment of riches. I so enjoyed the process of meeting all the remarkably talented artists and artisans, hearing their stories and seeing examples of their work. My insecurity about this aspect of the job quickly dissipated,” he said.
Kaplan’s favorite character was the character Rey (Daisy Ridley). This might be because she was the first character he worked on and the process of designing her became a path for him to enter this world. “I think setting the look and tone of Rey’s costume (colors, fabrics, textures) was a key to designing the rest of the costumes. It helped me to see and realize the level of simplicity and spareness I wanted for the look of the film,” he said.
The collaborative effort on this Star Wars enhanced the project in numerous ways and Kaplan considers this to be one of his most fulfilling film experiences. “[Abrams] worked very closely with all of us, so we were all on the same page. You can see and feel this cohesiveness in the completed film,” he said. There are so many great memories that were created on this project, although the best for Kaplan might have been the first day on the Millennium Falcon set, when Harrison Ford arrived in full costume.