There is a detail that recurs throughout Star Wars again and again: a pleated sleeve panel. Shared by Rebellion, Resistance and Clone War veterans alike, where did this detail come from?
The first notable appearance of this detailing was on Luke’s ceremony jacket at the triumphant finale of A New Hope. The newfound golden child of the Rebellion, Luke’s jacket was inspired by rally driver jackets. Protective but lightweight, these jackets were the embodiment of the growing popularity of stylish athletic wear and advancements in technology both mechanical and textile. By reinterpreting something with this recognisable and familiar silhouette, Luke’s status as a heroic daredevil is clearly communicated. However, as this is a galaxy far far away the look had to be twisted to make something new.
1970’s rally drivers. Note the cut of their jackets, and the athletic stripe detailing on the sleeves.
This something new was to replace the recognisable ‘go faster’ athletic sleeve stripe with a pleated panel. This take on the detail seems to be almost random. Perhaps the product of experimenting and settling on what works, what looks good. However, despite the relative absence of sleeve panels until the Yavin ceremony this detail appears again and again in costume designer John Mollo’s costume sketches. On aliens, on flightsuits and undersleeves the motif of horizontally striped panels can be see throughout Mollo’s work. While ultimately much of this motif was not realised until the Empire Strikes Back, the pleated stripe sits well aesthetically with the quilted elements of the patched-together rebel uniforms, including the white mae-wests worn by the rebel pilots. A subtle continuity, this reminds the audience that Luke is a pilot hero.
L: John Mollo’s sketches for the Mos Eisley Cantina, including a number in pleated-panel flightsuits. R: Sketches for rebel pilot cold-weather gear for Empire Strikes Back, drawing from real-life pilot bomber jackets.
Note the aesthetic parallel between the sleeves and mae-west.
The reappearance of this detailing across the franchise then creates a level of continuity and association. This is design favoured by heroes, and good guys. The Rebellion and the Resistance. Men and women like Luke Skywalker, an immediate connection for the audience. The reappearance of this detail in animated form in The Clone Wars adds historicity and longevity to this association whilst adding depth to the future state of the Rebellion. In a callback to the original trilogy, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are depicted in Trespassers wearing oversized, furhooded parka-style coats ala Han Solo on Hoth. This style of parka is quintessentially ’70’s, drawing again from the growing athletic industry of that decade. The horizontal striped panels here look more overtly quilted than pleated, but the parallel is inescapable. By borrowing this shape and look for the earlier period, the implication is made that these garments – or others just like them – are being reused, reappropriated by the future Rebellion. The connection moves beyond the aesthetic to the potentially physical.
Moving forward, this detail element recurs throughout The Force Awakens and is worn by all pilots, most notably the dashing Poe Dameron in both his flightsuit and his casual jacket. The jacket that is adopted by former stormtrooper Finn as he transitions onto his heroic journey. The association of heroism, as established by the now legendary Luke Skywalker, now includes Finn. A seemingly random element of design has become a visual baton of goodness.