Costume Design

Hiding the Jedi

Did Obi-wan really go into hiding wearing his Jedi robes?

With The Rise of Skywalker coming out this week, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some Star Wars costuming–specifically what happens when new design breaks the world the old design established.

Specifically: Jedi robes.

Many jokes have been made about Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda going into hiding in their Jedi robes. While there’s some points to be made about Obi-wan not bothering to change his last name, the Jedi robe issue is actually one of costuming inconsistency between movies.

Star Wars is usually so good at costuming, so what’s going on here? Well, a couple things it turns out.

Obi-wan’s robes were never intended to be a “Jedi” costume.

Per costume designer John Mollo*, “Ben Kenobi was supposed to be partly samurai warrior and partly a sort of monk or priest”. Mollo also states the brown desert cloak was something that Kenobi “had obviously owned and used for a long time”.

Mollo designed the costume to be the robes of a desert hermit rather than a Jedi. “His outfit seems to have turned into this sort of costume of the Jedi Knights, really”.

Kenobi’s robes were not intended to be Jedi robes, but part of the palette of Tatooine’s desert planet. Case in point: Uncle Owen, wearing what we now think of as Jedi robes.

Hangin’ out in Jedi robes…the real reason the Stormtroopers had a
Lars Family BBQ?

Another data point: when you look at other characters on Tatooine, like the Jawas and Tusken Raiders, they all have cloak and wrapping style costuming.

So, that was the intention and costume “vocabulary” that was established with A New Hope. Then some design slide happened.

John Mollo was in charge of building Yoda’s costume for The Empire Strikes Back. The costume, per Mollo, was intended to be a broken down version of Ben Kenobi’s robes.

I would guess that Yoda wears a 4T in toddler clothes…

As far as design slide goes, this is still subtle. At this point, we could still justify that those brown undershirts are a common garment–the equivalent of a tee-shirt in the Star Wars universe. Maybe Kenobi and Yoda stopped at the same outpost on their way to exile. The design slide is minor in the large scheme of things.

Then, the Star Wars Prequels. As but a Padawan learner of costuming at the time, I still had quite a bit of costume shock in the theatre at seeing this on the screen:

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if a teenage costume student suddenly cried out in terror and was suddenly encouraged to silence by her friends.

WHAT. THE. WHAT. The prequels had huge design slide. In putting all the Jedi in what was supposed to be desert wear, the prequels established that Kenobi essentially went into hiding in his work clothes. As the prequels progressed, the costume designer leaned into this:


At the end of the day, costuming should be in service of the story. Unfortunately this design choice reinforced questions the audience had about how exactly Kenobi was able to hide from the Empire this whole time.

With the Kenobi Disney+ show coming up, it will be interesting to see how they deal with this issue–keep Kenobi in the robes, or have him actually try to hide? We’ll see!

*John Mollo quotes were taken from “Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy”