Barely a Comic-Con or Halloween goes by when we don't see a young, skinny, woman wrapped in chains and sporting a certain golden bikini — here's looking at you Olivia Munn. The reason, you ask? Well, any avid #StarWars fan will recognize #CarrieFisher's Princess Leia golden outfit from 1983. Like the wind up Marilyn's skirt or Jessica Rabbit's plunging sequin gown, Leia's bikini became a sex symbol for the ages and one of the most memorable outfits in cinema. The image of the late great Carrie Fisher parading around the Yuma Desert will immediately come to mind, accompanied by the words "slave bikini" — a dangerous phrase indeed.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi may not have been the best-received of George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy, but it nonetheless a great of cinematic history, helped in no small part by Fisher's spunky Leia Organa. With the tragic passing of Fisher, images of the outfit are trending worldwide and the specter of scantily clad #PrincessLeia is once again becoming a hot topic. From reports of empowered feminism to accusations of sexism, #GeorgeLucas vs. Carrie Fisher, and forcing the actress into such a revealing outfit, here is the story behind that infamous item of clothing.
A War Of Words
Only last year that certain piece of clothing sold for a whopping $96,000, but back in 1983 it was unlikely that anyone knew what power such a small piece of clothing would have, which might explain why Fisher at times seemed less than impressed with the outfit choice. In fact, she was once quoted as telling Newsweek:
"I remember that iron bikini I wore in 'Episode VI': what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of Hell."
It had been three films in which Leia had stuck out from the rest of the black of deep space in her sparkling white robes. It is surely no coincidence that the gold-covered breasts of Fisher featured front and center on the promotional poster for the film — we all know sex sells, and George Lucas was no fool.
The film's costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers said that Lucas gave only sparse instructions for what the outfit should be, but that "his eyes started sparkling when we talked about it." Rogers had wanted over 25 ft. of fabric, but stunts meant that this was impractical. There were several versions of the outfit, including a solid metal one and one lined with leather to accommodate Fisher's movements so as not to chafe, but almost all of them consisted of not a lot!
Fisher remembered having to sit rigidly straight so as not to create any lines or creases on her body, sitting for hour on end in the uncomfortable position. All this for the bikini, which only appears in roughly two minutes of screen time. Perhaps Lucas knew he had a sex icon in the making?
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While nowadays the Leia bikini trick can be used to seduce your partner, and has been adopted by several erotic dancers for their Leia-themed fantasy dances, the roots of the bikini can be traced back to the adventure films of the 1940s. Dwight Bowers, curator at the National Museum of American History writes:
These early vamp characters functioned largely as sexual objects, waiting to be moulded by a male character. With the Leia slave bikini, George Lucas, however, turns the idea of 'object' on its head. Leia is not a character that needs to be moulded. She is exposed and temporarily humiliated, but she is in control, plotting her revenge...Ironically, and somewhat brilliantly, the vehicle for her revenge is the costume itself —she uses her own chains to strangle her monstrous captor.
Women were very much still damsels, although #scifi was developing a breed of Ellen Ripley heroines that could take on their male counterparts. Ripley was reduced to tank tops and stomper boots, while Leia was taking a more *erm* minimalist approach to her wardrobe. Some still see it as a sexist representation, while others have nicknamed the outfit as "Hutt Slayer" in reference to Jabba's capture of Leia and his coming demise. There is still the idea that Leia used the chains in which she was held to strangle her male oppressor, but is it really enough to warrant that the character should be defined by such sexist imagery?
Remember Her For Something Else
Pop culture has swallowed the Princess Leia look, parodied in comedies and cartoons worldwide, we even had the episode of Friends, "The One with the Princess Leia Fantasy." Where a horny Ross Geller has Jennifer Aniston act out his nerdy wet dream. Only in 2015 some parents were left furious that the bikini Leia toy had become available as an action figure and would promote the wrong image to children. It wasn't one of the most flattering of depictions, but Fisher became annoyed in particular by one father who was disgusted by the toy. Fisher reminded them that the bikini wasn't just on some damsel in distress:
"Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage."
Lucas himself became somewhat obsessed with bikini Leia, showing her concept designs to "frighten" her into exercise, while she was quick to remove the piece whenever possible. Fisher also told People that the outfit was so revealing, she was nearly naked, not a decision he took lightly:
“I started checking for any bounce or slip after takes. It was, ‘CUT. Hey, how they doin’? The hooters in place?"
Dressing a barely there Carrie Fisher into such an outfit is even more tragic when you look back at her appearance in The Force Awakens when some media claimed that Fisher and co-star Mark Hamill were "too fat" to reprise their roles from the original films, and were each assigned a personal trainer. Sharing images of bikini Leia just doesn't do her justice, especially when some how-to websites on making your own "Hutt Slayer" bikini call for you to find someone with a Princess Leia form, outcasting those with a fuller figure.
Her Memory Lives On
The whole situation is one that you can't imagine the empowered, feminist, version of Fisher taking in her later years. The bikini was clearly not an idea that she enjoyed, but also not an idea that you expect from a wholesome family sci-fi film. After the passing of Fisher, George Lucas spoke out on what a feisty and powerful woman she was. The two had a reportedly rocky relationship, but even he couldn't deny that Fisher and Leia went hand in hand. As for the bikini, it was a relic of the time, and probably not something that would have made it into the new trilogy of films. However, the bikini does live on as a power statement too, as do Fisher's words:
“You should fight for your outfit. Don’t be a slave like I was.”
That was the advice that she gave to Daisy Ridley, the new trilogy's main heroine, ahead of The Force Awakens. Indeed, it seemed to work, there wasn't a bikini in sight during 2015's film.
Carrie Fisher was much more than a Cinnabon haircut or a golden bikini, but her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars will undoubtedly be what she will be best known for. Leia herself had gone from the stereotypical title of Princess Leia to General Organa — and it is this who we should remember her as, a fierce political powerhouse who will always have the "force" to take on her problems.
Check out our tribute to Carrie Fisher, and don't forget the poll below!
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