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Why feminists should love Princess Leia

It's time to re-evaluate the gold bikini

On a momentous May the fourth, the late Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan and rebel badass received her long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As we pay tribute to the immensely talented actress and the legacy she left behind, it’s time to celebrate the fashion legacy of the princess that she brought to life.

Over the years, Princess Leia has become synonymous with two of her different ensembles, the elegant white Grecian-inspired robe and cinnamon buns seen in the first leg of the original trilogy, A New Hope (1977) as well as the controversial gold bikini seen in the third film of the saga, The Return of the Jedi (1983).

Now, despite Fisher not being the biggest fan of the costume itself, it would be naive to look past the importance of the bikini because of the evolutionary symbolism it held for our princess. In episode six of the saga, the crime lord Jabba the Hutt  enslaves Princess Leia after she is caught in an attempt at rescuing Han Solo and as a result, dresses her in an objectifying and exploitative ensemble.

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Unsurprisingly, this left feminists worldwide disgusted by movie-maker George Lucas’s decision to dress our beloved princess in such demeaning attire and further argued that it was simply a decision made to please the male gaze. But this could be interpreted as  an extremely narrow-minded point of view. With Feminist perspectives having evolved since the film’s release in 1983, it is important to change the narrative around the bikini and instead, see the ensemble as a symbol of strength, empowerment and resilience.

Costume Archivist, fashion student and mega Star Wars fan Mimi Francis states: “The film was released in the 1980s, during second-wave feminism. When you think about the feminist scholars at the time, the main focus was combatting the over-sexualisation of female characters on screen. It was the same time as when Laura Mulvey first coined the term ‘male gaze’, so everyone critically analysing these films was looking at it from that lens. Now, our feminist culture has shifted from anti-porn to resoundingly pro-sex, and this fresh perspective allows us to look at Leia’s costume from a more nuanced lens. We can bring second-wave feminism, third-wave feminism, post-feminism and our current feminist landscape into the conversation, and figure out what feels like the right conclusion for us as modern, female viewers.”

Long story short, it’s this very bikini that really cements her position as more than just a princess but also as a warrior. When we look at the Star Wars saga as a whole, almost all of the male characters in the cinematic universe rely on their weaponry – lightsabers and blasters – and armour when facing a villain. In this scene, against all odds, our rebel princess managed to defeat Jabba the Hutt in a barely -ensemble by using her own chain collar to choke, defeat and free herself from her oppressor.

Rather than simply being a passive damsel in distress, which at the time was a common narrative for women in film, Princess Leia managed to do what many powerful men (be they skilled bounty hunters or force wielders) could not accomplish in the 600 years that Jabba the Hutt had been alive for. After killing the bloated slug, she rescued Han Solo, ultimately changing the narrative of females needing to be rescued. According to Star Wars lore, the Hutt clan’s power diminished shortly after Jabba’s death and their reign of terror as slave masters and crime syndicates ceased to exist.

Carrie Fisher’s opinion on the outfit has been misconstrued through the media for years, with sources stating that she hated the bikini as it supposedly turned her character into a mere sex symbol. In an interview with NPR, our princess set this narrative straight by stating that the reason why she wasn’t a fan of the ensemble was mainly due to how uncomfortable it was to wear during filming. Instead of being angry at the alleged sexualisation of her character, we should be angrier about the conditions she was forced to work in. “I had to sit very straight because I couldn’t have lines on my sides, like little creases. No creases were allowed, so I had to sit very, very rigid straight.”

Despite George Lucas’s fatphobia, there was a silver lining for our princess: “What redeems it is I get to kill him, which was so enjoyable. I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”

All-in-all, Leia’s ensemble highlights her journey from a princess to a powerful force to be reckoned with within the Star Wars universe. Instead of seeing the bikini as a means to cater to the male gaze, it should be reinterpreted as a representation of the princess’s adaptability, resilience and determination. In this ensemble, she serves as a reminder that strength and empowerment can come in various forms and that one’s appearance should never undermine the agency and resilience of a character.

Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher, your star will shine forever in Hollywood and in our hearts. We love you, we miss you and you will always be our princess.

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