Alexina Duncan is a UK freelance costumier who has been working in the film and television industry since 2010. She’s worked in the Costume and Wardrobe Department on massive studio projects such as Miss Julie, Paddington, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and more recently Tomb Raider and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
Growing up watching the original trilogy she was, like so many of us, spellbound by what she was watching and hearing. But her epiphany came in 1999 when George Lucas after many years gave us Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Her connection to costuming was already strong but this revelation ignited a passion that has defined not only her professional life but shaped her personal one as well.
Admittedly, Star Wars got away from her for a few years but just like in 1999 she was once again love stricken, this time by a little known Twi’Lek named Hera Syndulla and in turn the animated series Star Wars Rebels. Her love for Syndulla and Rebels has tuned into a lifestyle as she is widely known both here in North America and at home as the foremost expert on Syndulla cosplay. And she’s keenly aware that what she’s doing means something and that its important to get it right…
You forget sometimes that these aren’t just characters that you love and characters that you are working hard to painstakingly create, and that all of that hard work means that to someone, somewhere, you’re almost literally bringing this character to life.
She’s been the subject of articles and interviews on multiple fan sites and was featured on StarWars.com last August. Look for Xena next in the upcoming documentary film Looking for Leia, directed by Annalise Ophelian.
Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with Xena about all things Star Wars, the final season of Rebels and of course costumes.
Hey Xena! Thanks for doing this I know you’ve been under the weather so thanks so much for doing this.
Yeah, of course, no problem.
For me Star Wars is very important and I absorb most everything I can, but admittedly costuming while I appreciate it and the history behind each character’s costumes, is my least knowledgeable facet of Star Wars.
I think that’s one of the great things about costume is that even if your consciously analyzing it like I tend to, you’re absorbing a large part of that information. You just don’t realize that you’re getting that information from that costume I think. That’s why if it works, and if it’s done its job, you’re getting all this information subconsciously, subliminally.
Could you tell me a bit about your history and maybe what came first? Was it Star Wars or your love of costuming and fashion?
The two for me are intrinsically connected; I can’t remember one without the other. I grew up on Star Wars before I can remember. One of my first memories was when I was no older than three years old and I was sitting explaining to my dad what was going on in The Empire Strikes Back. So the earliest memory was that I was aware enough to know what was going on and had seen enough times, so I really don’t know when Star Wars became part of my life it’s just always been there.
So that would be like 1992, then I saw all the re-releases at the cinema in the 90s then The Phantom Menace came out, we went to first screening of that in Scotland. Back then obviously UK got different releases dates than America, but within the UK Scotland got it before England, not sure why, so we went to the screening of The Phantom Menace in Scotland and it was amazing!
It was from that I became interested in costume. Obviously Amidala had her amazing wardrobe, her vast amazing wardrobe. And from The Phantom Menace we got the behind the scenes documentaries, and from magazines and from all that I discovered that costume was something that people actually did. That people made these costumes, they didn’t just appear on-screen.
From that I became very interested in costume and it just all sort of escalated from there. I did my degree in costume and I’ve been working in the film industry since 2010 and it’s all because if Star Wars. Somewhere along the lines I fell out of love with Star Wars, and then a few years ago I fell back in love and everything just cycles round and round.
Okay, well then my next question is what brought you back into the Star Wars universe? Was it Twi’leks or Rebels or Hera Syndulla that brought you back? If it was Hera specifically, what was it about her in particular that caught your attention?
It was Hera specifically! I was on a job doing a modern film; it was a Thursday night, racing around a few weeks before Christmas, it was horrific. My headphones had died so I rushed into HMV to buy some new headphones and I went by this DVD for this new Star Wars show and I stopped and I looked at it and I thought that it looked horrific. It looked so stupid and really childish and I hated the character design. So I rushed and grabbed my headphones and then I came back because there was this green Twi’leks on the cover and she looked really cool and I really liked Twi’leks.
So I got it but didn’t watch it for months. When I did watch it I think watched it 5 times in a row and then I got my hands of the rest of Rebels and watched all of Season One, just sat and watched it all. So yeah, it was Rebels that brought me back to Star Wars. And I didn’t watch Clone Wars so I went and watched all of that so it was very much the animated side of things that dragged me back kicking and screaming.
We know a bit more about Hera post Rebels thanks to Rogue One and Forces of Destiny, Forces of Destiny in particular places her on Endor which is 4 ABY. I’m wondering if you think we’ll see anything on Hera after this season.
I know nothing, I have no secrets. Like everyone else I like to read conspiracy theories into everything so I’d like to think they’re maneuvering her to be some big lynchpin of the canon. I’m not sure entirely in what capacity, I just think with the fact that she’s going to be this constant throughout the original trilogy.
And the way with the season 4 marketing, they’ve built all the trailers around Hera. They’ve built her up as a leader who led this crew, who leads the rebellion. They’ve been positioning her within the rebellion in interesting ways and Filoni has positioned her in a way where’s she’s so far past all the bureaucratic nonsense. My dream for her would be a comic based on a young Hera.
You’re right; all these inserts and marketing efforts are not coincidental. We know that Dave and others love these characters so it’s definitely not the last we’ve seen of these characters, particular the Ghost Crew. Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about Star Wars’ great gains with women both in front and behind the camera. We’ve had great heroines like Rey and Jyn partnered with great industry leaders like Carrie Beck and Kiri Hart. It’d be hard to argue the fact that Ahsoka Tano isn’t the most popular Star Wars character right now with a good number of fans, and Hera is right there with her.
She’s amazing (Tano). With Hera, I think there’s a little bit of a retroactive awareness of the fan base that she has. Like in the last year or two her popularity has been sky rocketing up but I think she’s always had that massive fan base within fandom. It’s been ignored because she’s been deemed the boring supporting character. That whole space family vernacular which I find exhausting, she’s been put in this box and was cut out of the marketing because they thought nobody really cared. So now they’re retroactively going, “oh wait, she’s huge along with Sabine.”
Similar to what happened with Rey, because they didn’t expect her to be so successful. They sort of minimized her marketing presence initially and her merchandising. Obviously they saw how amazing the response was and how huge it was and how much she spoke to so many people. They sort of had to back pedal, get stuff out on the shelves and start putting her front and center, which is where she is now. Interesting how they assume these things to perform a certain way and that leads to these assumptions but it blows up in their faces. But it’s not what people actually want because there are girls and women interested in Star Wars obviously.
Before I let you go I just wanted to ask about Hera’s X-Wing flight suit which we just saw for the first time in “Rebel Assault”. How are you making out with that? Also, I enjoyed your makeup tutorial; I was wondering how long does it take to get into full Hera mode?
Not yet, I’m doing that in the New Year. I have commissioned her helmet and once I have that in hand I will kick off on the rest of it. I’m this close to finishing her disguise from “The Occupation” I just need to finish a couple of things. It takes about an hour roughly for Hera, I can do it quicker if I’m not too busy talking!
I have so much respect for the people who do Darth Talon or Darth Maul. When we do events there are guys I know that do shirtless Maul and he’s literally going from eight in the morning till lunch time, getting painted.
Okay Xena, thanks for your time I appreciate it! You have a friend in Canada now!
There you have it! We talked for a very long time, most of which was just us talking about Star Wars in general. She’s extremely intelligent and wonderfully self-assured and I would encourage anyone, if given the opportunity, to speak with her. You’ll be the better for it.
A double threat, she’s a great writer as well as a wonderful costumier and I encourage you to visit her website, Poetry In Costume. A favorite of mine is a piece she wrote on the largely unexplored character Lyra Erso, which not only examines the symbolic nature of Lyra’s wardrobe but goes deep into the mythology of the Star Wars universe in general.
It’s a thoughtful and deep expose and a must read for any Star Wars fan. You can read it HERE.
As mentioned she can be seen next in the upcoming documentary Looking For Leia and at a Star Wars celebration near you!
Till next time…MTFBWY.