Oct 25 2013 12:00pm

Carrie Fisher’s Sound Thoughts on Princess Leia in 1983

Princess Leia, Rolling Stone magazine 1983Everyone loves this ridiculous spread on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the 1983 Return of the Jedi ready issue that interviewed Carrie Fisher in all her bikini-ed glory. But more interesting than her space-faring beach party were the answers about Leia, and about the Star Wars films at large, that she gave to her interviewer, Carol Caldwell. Our Lady Organa had absolutely no illusions about why she was in a metal bikini, or why that galaxy far, far away rang true for the general population.

Basically, Carrie Fisher rocks, and was smarter about mythology and feminism thirty years ago than most people are now.

What’s shocking is that Fisher starts the interview by mentioning that many fans of the films view her character as “some kind of space bitch.”

These days, with Leia’s firmly entrenched position in the Great SF Film Pantheon, it’s hard to imagine that people were so callous about her character. But according to Fisher, the Princess’ hard road in the rebellion made her less than thrilling to fans:

“She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds—along with her hairdresser—so all she has is a cause. From the first film, she was just a soldier, front line and center. The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry.”

So Fisher would have preferred Leia to be scripted with a bit more nuance, then. Not just a leader, not just an angry woman who lost her home, but someone who had a few extra emotions packed in there. Then again, most of the Star Wars actors felt that way about their characters—Ford was famous for taking issue with the scripts and their lack of emotional flair. Subtlety was never Lucas’ strong point, and that worked out fine for the first trilogy (with a few line tweaks on the part of the actors). But it’s Fisher’s thoughts on Return of the Jedi that really spell out how her character was considered from a fan-pleasing standpoint:

“In Return of the Jedi, she gets to be more feminine, more supportive, more affectionate. But let’s not forget that these movies are basically boys’ fantasies. So the other way they made her more female in this one was to have her take off her clothes.”

Ouch. Alright, plenty of us ladies would argue about Star Wars being strictly a boy’s fantasy, but Fisher is correct in context; at the time that Star Wars originally came out, the population certainly agreed that these films were made primarily for kids and teenage boys, and they were marketed as such. So her point about being in the bikini is even more valid—it is hard to suggest that costume change is there for anything but male gaze.

Princess Leia, Rolling Stone magazine 1983Which is particularly gross when you consider the fact that this in an outfit she is subjected to as a sex slave for a grotesque crime lord, not something that she wears by choice.

So Fisher picked out the problem with the “slave Leia” costume without even trying; the spread for Rolling Stone shows her having a rollicking good time with aliens on a beach in that impractical bikini because she knows that the outfit was created to tantalize the boys, regardless of what an awful message it sends due to its position in the film. She says it without saying it; Leia, as a character, is not the sort of person who would ever wear this on her own. The filmmakers had to find an excuse for it, and were fine with that excuse being a deplorable one. Leia had to be softened and sexualized for the final film because too many fans thought she was a “space bitch.”

It’s a fascinating example that highlights exactly how sexism has altered for women in the media. And it eloquently explains why so many female fans take issue with the metal swimsuit, despite the fact that it is sexy and fabulous-looking on Fisher.

Return of the Jedi suddenly reads differently under this scrutiny. In A New Hope, Leia is the master of get-it-done, driving the plot forward as soon as she’s picked up. There’s lust and some romance for her in Empire Strikes Back, but her reactions to Han’s advances are mostly hostile, retort-heavy, self-protective. But then we get to Jedi, and Leia’s first line in her own voice is “Someone who loves you.” She does time in a sexy space bikini, she’s allowed to be more emotional (hence her teary talks with Luke and Han in the Ewok village), and let’s not overlook that this is the only film where she gets to let her hair down. Literally.

At first glance, all of this (minus her Jabba’s palace ensemble) seems like logical character progression—her relationships have advanced and the fight is moving toward its finale. She can afford to be more frank about her feelings, she’s had some time to heal from the destruction of Alderaan. She is ready to kick the Empire’s behind and move on to the next exciting stage of her life. At 22 years old, she already has the life experience of someone twice her age—it’s hardly surprising that she’s ready for a change.

Princess Leia, Rolling Stone magazine 1983But all of this might have ultimately been due to fans perceiving her as an ice queen. Which is beyond depressing, because it is all of Princess Leia that makes her great. Leia facing down Grand Moff Tarkin with a petulant sneer, Leia rolling her eyes internally at Lando’s smooth-talking, and yes, Leia asking Han to hold her when she’s feeling down. The Leia at the end of the trilogy is our payoff for sticking with her, seeing her through the hardest times. It shouldn’t be a pandering move to fans who don’t understand that a woman who can come off harsh when she’s leading an underground rebellion against a fascist dictatorship is still feminine and attractive. And damned sexy.

At least Fisher understood the importance of the character. Moreover, she understood perfectly well why Leia was allowed such a position of leadership when that would have been impossible in a more “realistic” film at that time:

“Movies are dreams! And they work on you subliminally. You can play Leia as capable, independent, sensible, a solder, a fighter, a woman in control—control being, of course, a lesser word than master. But you can portray a woman who’s a master and get through all the female prejudice if you have her travel in time, if you add a magical quality, if you’re dealing in fairy-tale terms. People need these bigger-than-life projections.”

So really, Carrie Fisher always understood why Leia was going to be an important figure to women and fans the world over. Why she was needed when she hit the stage. Even if Hollywood did need to “soften” her, no one has ever been able to soften her impact—real heroes have a tendency to shine no matter how you dress them.

Check out the rest of the Rolling Stone article here.

Emily Asher-Perrin just really thinks that Princess Leia doesn’t get enough respect. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Thomas Thatcher
1. StrongDreams
Hmm. Well, I was 17 when Return came out and I never saw the slave bikini outfit as intended to appeal to my male gaze, but to Jabba's, and the first thing Leia does when she has her own agency back is to kill Jabba with her slave chains (subtle--not).

Slave Leia cosplayers, on the other hand, are definitely appealing to the male gaze (presumably on purpose -- they want boys to stare appreciatingly at them -- although whether women should want to do this is another topic altogether). If they wanted to be true to the character they would kill the fanboys who ogle them and take pictures.
David Clary
2. David Clary
Should that be "emotional flair" and not "emotional flare?"
David Clary
3. Colin R
Carrie Fisher is always wickedly intelligent--really a very unlikely but welcome choice for the movies. I think you're spot on about the skeeviness of the Slave Leia thing--at least there is small redemption in the fact that it is Leia who chokes out the giant slug in the end, with her own chains no less.
Bridget McGovern
4. BMcGovern
@2: Fixed--thanks! It should be stressed that emotional flares are for emergency use only.
Dave Thompson
5. DKT
Emotional flares are one of the things JJA will bring to SW (he says, as a JJA fan).

Man, I was a kid when I saw Jedi, and had NO IDEA Leia was seen as a space bitch. She was the Princess. That's pretty sad, although considering where we are now, I guess it shows a great improvement.

Even as a kid, though, I knew Leia's slave outfit (and the way it was plastered on the posters, etc.) was meant to attract me.

Emily, have you read the Martha Wells Princess Leia book yet? I'm seriously considering grabbing the audiobook.
James Whitehead
6. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Have always enjoyed Carrie Fisher is whatever she has been in, starting with Star Wars.

I never saw her as a 'space bitch' and I was 9 when Star Wars came out; kind of pathetic that people did honestly.

I thought she was great. I mean I wanted to be Luke & all but Leia was funny. I mean, come on, "Can someone get this big walking carpet of out my way?" is one of the better lines ever.

Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
Carrie Fisher has a hilarious one woman show, Wishful Drinking, where she talks about growing up Hollywood, beauty pressures, Star Wars, and licensed artwork that allows you to see her hoo-ha. You should really check it out.
David Clary
8. iola
I never saw Leia as a bitch. When I saw Star Wars as a kid I found her to be amazing. I had already watched a bunch of other fantasy and scifi movies where the women were passive, needing to be rescued and generally allowing their male counterparts to lead the way. Sure, Leia gets "rescued" by Luke and Han, but she rescues them 2 seconds later when they haven't thought things through. When we first meet her, she's cunning and then to Vader and crew she's defiant and honorable. She doesn't let Luke and Han walk over her opinion. She establishes herself as an equal to them, even a superior, given her status in the rebellion. I was so blown away by her as a kid, and continue to love her now.

Slave Leia is problematic, BUT her revenge against Jabba is not something that was done in films. The damsel must have the hero take care of such things. There was also a lot of subtle, but important body language in the way Carrie portrayed it too. In other movies (even today) the character would be expected to be fearful, pleading and vulnerable. Carrie played Leia in a way that said, "This is annoying, and I WILL kill this moron as soon as I get the chance." You never felt that Leia wasn't in control, even with a chain around her neck.
Jennifer B
9. JennB
Let's see... 1983, I was five and I so wanted a light saber. I had red plastic lunchbox with an ewok on it ( which broke and was replaced by a metal one with Luke on the front that I still have ). Leia was my princess role model. I never really cared for Disney princesses or anything girlie. I was more interested in being a Jedi than a senator from Alderaan, but she was still there, showing me that she was a leader, that she could be in the thick of the battle, she could resist torture, and when Jabba put her in a metal bikini and tried to lick her SHE killed him and escaped all by herself.

Luke didn't do it.

Han didn't do it.

Lando didn't do it.

In fact that was part of the plan.

As far as her softening up, all the main characters grow. How often does Luke whine in Return of the Jedi?
David Clary
10. Theo16
I think the real problem with Leia in ROTJ was that as soon as she rescued Han they pretty much ran out of plot and character development for her. Suddenly she's second in command or lower to Han on the mission and basically only reacting to ewoks and the brother revelation.

Of course, Leia's lack of character beats in Jedi isn't an isolated issue. Through the second half of the movie the script and the director seemed to be only interested in what was going on with Luke and everything else was generic action.
Jennifer B
11. JennB
As far as the metal bikini's purpose of tantalizing the male portion of the audience, well... I don't understand why it is considered anti feminist for men to enjoy seeing a woman in scant or no clothing or for women, such as cosplayers, to enjoy being looked at. ( Or vice versa.).

The thing with Leia's metal bikini is that it makes sense within the plot. We know that the only reason that she is wearing such a ridiculous outfit is because she is in place to kill Jabba as her part in Han's rescue. Star Wars does not glorify sexual slavery. Jabba is never portrayed as anything other than gross. Leia is never shown enjoying his attention. She escapes and kills her captor.

It's not like she is wearing warrior princess armor that is there to protect her during a fight yet barely covers her.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
I agree with what others have said. As I've commented before in this forum, what's awesome about Leia is that, yes, the metal bikini is an attempt to objectify and demean her, but it's one that utterly fails to take. Even stripped down and chained and presented as a sex object, she's still exactly the same confident, commanding, independent figure, and the attempt to diminish her just bounces right off. And that is awesome. The reason Leia is such an iconic heroine is because she so effortlessly transcends and subverts the vulnerable-damsel tropes that her adventures keep placing her in.

And so I have to disagree with #1 -- I don't think that cosplayers who dress up like Slave Leia want to be objectified. That's misunderstanding both cosplay and Leia. I think they're drawn to it, one, because it looks great -- it's a beautifully designed costume, and being sexy by choice is not demeaning -- and two, because it's an image of a woman who is strong and triumphant despite attempts to subjugate her.
Michael Grosberg
13. Michael_GR
The thing to remember aobut Star Wars is that it is (or at least was conceived as) a sort of re-interpretation of old scifi adventure serials such as Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. A space pricess is exactly the thing you'd expect to find in one of these serials, and one of the best things about star wars is the way it defied viewer's expectations by making the least "princessy" space princess imaginable. When she is rescued by look and instead of being all weak and passive and thankfull for her rescue she turns out to be bad-tempered and very good with a blaster? priceless.
I think the slave outfit was also in some ways a homage to 30's-40's pulp sensibilities. three years erlier a similar costume was worn by Ornella Mutti in Flash Gordon. And there it fit perfectly,since FG was intentionally cheesey. But star wars should have made a more nuanced interpretation/subversion of the trope, and here it faltered and ended up being exactly as titilating and cheesy as the original serials.
Christopher Bennett
14. ChristopherLBennett
@13: I agree with the first part -- what worked about SW was that it was at once a loving tribute to vintage adventure tropes and a humorous deconstruction of them. (Luke's line in ANH about how he couldn't see out of the Stormtrooper helmet is as metatextual and self-satirical as anything you'd hear in a Robot Chicken special.) So Leia took the stock trope of the princess/damsel in distress and turned it on its head. But I don't agree that the Slave Leia scene faltered. I think it worked in the same way -- that was indeed a very Princess Aura-style getup, or the sort of thing you'd see on a Frazetta or Vallejo cover, but again, Leia proved to be a self-rescuing princess and inverted the trope. Whether the attempt at titillation, in and of itself, cancels out the character's transcending thereof is a matter of opinion, and for me, it didn't.
David Clary
15. Platypus
I am one of the only obsessed Star Wars fans I know who is willing to take off their nostalgia goggles and watch the original trilogy objectively and say that sometimes it's just kind of bad. The acting is incredibly amateurish at times (primarily in Episode IV), there's weird inconsistencies that can only be explained with absurd EU fanwank and ret cons*, and the writing isn't always stellar. It's a very simple story with no shades of grey. I want to say IT'S NOT FOR KIDS but let's face it, long before Jar Jar and Darth Maul toys, this was a very kid-friendly series.

But Leia's enslavement has always been one of those things I've been kind of willing to turn a blind eye to because they made it work and still make her out to be a super badass. Instead of waiting on Luke to waltz into Jabba's palace, she's Plan A in rescuing Han. She tricks Jabba and scares everyone into thinking she's an incredibly capable bounty hunter. If all had gone according to plan, presumably she, Chewie, and Han would have snagged Threepio and Artoo (along with Luke's lightsaber, which was probably a worst case scenario back-up plan) on the way out.

And then, after she has been forced to dress ridiculously and treated like an object, once again, rather than wait for Luke to rescue her, SHE takes the initiative again, kills Jabba, and then starts using one of the mounted guns on the sail barge.

I've been seeing pictures from this Rolling Stone article since I got internet access in 1996 but had never read a transcription. Because I've never read that people had a problem with Leia's independence, however, the idea that they wrote in the metal bikini is hard to swallow. Not that I don't believe it but that I guess I don't want to.

* Why does Leia have an English accent when addressing Tarkin but an
American accent at other times? Because, like the difference between
keigo -- polite speech in Japanese which uses completely different
basic words compared to casual speech -- it is considered the polite
and refined form of Basic. Padmé does the same thing when she is
Queen Amidala vs when she is Padmé. Why do all Imperial officers have English accents? Because they all get their training on the same planet and living on that planet for years and years of training colored
their speech.)
Jennifer B
16. JennB
@12 Yes. Very well put.

@15. You aren't one of the only ones. We all see it, but it is what it is. We grew up with the characters and the story and we love them. I can't watch Episode IV without making fun, but I don't love it any less. My kids will probably feel the same way about the prequels.
David Clary
17. Cybersnark
I've always thought Leia was the most interesting character in the franchise, and that opinion has only deepened since growing up: Consider, she's (as far as anyone knows) a Princess --and we need look no further than our own world to see how princesses (both political and celebrity) normally act. By rights, she doesn't need to do anything more than be fashionable and vapid and spend daddy's money.

Instead, she has willingly thrown everything away to consort with a rag-tag band of refugees, fugitives, escaped slaves, political exiles, and idealistic dreamers in a probably-suicidal war against overwhelming odds (the RotJ novelization notes that the Empire has a thousand thousand worlds under its sway --to a five-year-old, that's not a typo: one thousand times one thousand).

Luke only joined the Rebellion because the Empire was hunting him. Han was (initially) there for the money. Bail had to call in a favour to get Obi-Wan to show up. Lando was forced into it. Even Chewie was willing to (grudgingly) walk away.

Leia is the only one who chose to be there. The mass-murder of Alderaan didn't force her to fight, it only strengthened her resolve.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
18. Lisamarie
Wow. I was 14 when I saw it, and this was in 97, so by then the idea of strong female characters wasn't as novel or unexpected (not saying things were perfect, of course) - and I never thought of Leia as a bitch or of needing softening. She was awesome! (Although I actually realize now that the walking carpet line is really kind of offensive!) And I liked that she got to be both badass and active, and also have her 'softer' side.

As for Slave Leia - I am a bti mixed on that. I personally always loved that despite the fact that Jabba makes her into a sex slave, dresses her in an outfit meant to objectify her - she takes none of it, and ultimately buys her own way to freedom with her own chains. Hell yeah!

That said, I do think some people are fans of the outfit for the 'wrong reasons'. I can't tell you how many times in high school people asked if I'd dress up as Slave Leia (always 'Slave Leia') for Halloween or, as soon as they found out I was a Star Wars fan, asking if I had a Slave Leia costume at home. I highly doubt it's because they wanted to express their love of female agency!

It's not an outfit I will personally ever cosplay in, because of my own views on modesty. But I understand why women would want to embrace it - both for the empowering aspect, and yeah, maybe there are some who just think it's sexy and want to be sexy, and that's okay too. Although I am sometimes a little disturbed when I see people really playing up the 'slave' aspect without really realizing what the implication is there. It's okay (at least in my book) if a man also wants to appreciate that aesthetic, as long as it's not reducing a woman to JUST that or thinking it's something they are entitled to enjoy.
Joseph Newton
19. crzydroid
Very interesting article, Emily. Like others, I never really viewed her as a "space bitch." The only line of hers I thought was uncalled for was the walking carpet line, because it's extremely racist and seems out of character for a leader of the rebellion who strives to unify all peoples against an oppressive empire. But when you think about the transition of her character in Return of the Jedi, it does make some sense. Whereas I don't see her as a space bitch, I can imagine that many people, especially at that time, would have seen her that way with the cultural views that they hold of women. For some people it really seems that they have two paradigms of women: Completely Submissive, and Bitch. As for any hostility that she has towards Han in the first two movies, maybe she is being less than charitable in her interactions, but let's face it: Han was kind of an ass to her. Especially in the first film, where it was intended as part of his character. He's a completely condescending know it all to her. At one point he even outright tells her that he doesn't give a shit about her or her revolution, but that he just wants money. So it's kind of ironic that everybody wants to be Han because he's so awesome, but Leia is just a PMS'd space bitch.

@11: The idea behind the slave bikini being anti-feminist depends upon your views of sexuality and modesty. To put things very simply on the most general of levels, I think the concern is in men literally objectifying her, treating her as an object rather than a person. I think some men will not see this woman as a person with emotions and desires and interests and rights, but rather as something that exists for their personal sexual gratification. We also live in a society of victim blaming in the case of rape (in particular with regards to what the victim was wearing), so it follows that some men have this mentality that if a woman wears the slave bikini, she wants sex, and for some reason they conclude that they must want sex from them. Yet it is perfectly logical to conclude that these women don't just want to be groped and solicited by random men. So, I think that is the concern that some feminists have, though other feminists may disagree. Obviously, it is on the men to learn to treat women as people and not personal sex toys, but obviously the concern arises nonetheless.

I said I was going to try and keep it simple as basic, but I don't know if that's possible. I think another concern regarding anti-feminism that people might have has to do with the motivations. A woman may want to feel sexy and have her body appreciated, but it begs the question as to why she wants to feel sexy to everybody. I think some people would say that it's because of the way women are constantly being sexualized in advertising and the media. They might say there's a subconcious message that women have to make themselves sexy in order to be accepted. So I think some people might have the concern that sexing yourself up is just feeding into the patriarchy of what men want, and the notion that the only thing a woman has to contribute to society is her personal appearance. There was a whole generation of women that felt as though they had to make themselves up even to go out to the mailbox, because you would never know if someone might see you. These women wouldn't dare leave the house without makeup. Even today, there are some circles that subconciously tell women that they basically have to focus on their physical appearance in order to attract a man, and that is their primary function in life. So I think some feminists may have a concern with things like the slave bikini in that it buys into this patriarchal message. Again, based on your individual views of sexuality and modesty, you may disagree.

To follow that though, I agree with ChristopherLBennett @12 in so far as she transcends and subverts her own objectification in the context of the story. In terms of our society, it seems to me that the slave bikini has become one of the biggest icons associated with Princess Leia. It seems that you can hardly find an article or top 10 favorite things list about Leia without the slave bikini being mentioned in some form or another. And a lot of the time the mention of the bikini is in a "woo hoo" kind of tone. I'm guessing at a percentage here, but it also seems that more than half the time an image of Leia is chosen for something (magazine cover, etc.) it is an image of the slave bikini--even if the related article isn't explicitly related to the bikini. So while in the movie she overcomes this attempt to make her into an object and she still remains a strong female character while in the bikini, I would say that in terms of our society, it has successfully objectified her.

Which brings me to my final point: Yes, the slave bikini DOES make sense in the context of the story. But how many other costume variants can you think of that would ALSO make sense in the same context? Obviously, a lot of the possible costumes would be overly sexualizing even if they are not as revealing. But it seems that a costume could've been chosen that wouldn't have been one of the first things many people associate with Princess Leia.
Joseph Newton
20. crzydroid
For the record, I'm not really sure why people cosplay as slave Leia, so I don't want to presuppose what their motives are.
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
In defense of the bikini's context and other possible costumes, Jabba's dancers where either Twi'Lek slaves or the woman with six breasts. There were probably no other clothes for her to wear.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
22. Lisamarie
I assume what he means is, the constume designers could theoretically have designed something that was less titilating but still got the message across that Leia was being objectified, without actually risking objectifying Carrie Fisher. Of course, what determines objectification is going to be a case of YMMV.
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
That's true.

And as far as costume design and function goes, the Twi'Lek who gets fed to the rancor has a boob slip moment while she's struggling, so maybe the iconic costume got something right(or they were just more careful with the editing?)

There is of course no doubt that Fisher was objectified, and continues to be. She was forced to go to "fat camp" and prevented from wearing underwear. The show I talked about early, she's very frank about what it's done to her.

So while Leia may be an example of a powerful woman transcending, Carrie Fisher was not able to do the same.
John Dodds
24. jakk1954
Fisher gets the final word on the whole debate in her one-woman show, which I saw on HBO or Cinemax recently (don't remember which). She was phenomenally funny, and sent up herself as Leia, and, as per the previous writers' comments, had things to say about her current weight. She's a clever, witty, woman. There are shades of grey to everything, I suppose, but in the end Hollywood has always objectified women for the most part. And the slave costume isn't new...that stuff goes back to the scifi pulps many, many years before Star Wars.
Christopher Bennett
25. ChristopherLBennett
I have to ask, though: is sexualization automatically objectification? Can't it be just admiration? If you look at the media today, there are tons of male stars who are constantly taking their shirts off in TV and movies, like Taylor Lautner in Twilight or Stephen Amell in Arrow, and female fans who are quite uninhibited and unapologetic about expressing their admiration for those shirtless men. Are those women objectifying those men? Or are they simply enjoying sexuality in a healthy and non-exploitative way? And if it's possible for women to do that with men, can't it be possible for men to do that with women? Certainly there is a pervasive culture of objectification and exploitation toward women in our media, but not all men express their attraction to women in a demeaning way. It would be nice if those men who do wish to exploit and victimize could be marginalized or educated, so that the rest of us could feel free to express healthy and non-abusive attraction for the opposite sex without it being perceived as objectification. After all, artists have been celebrating the unclothed human form for millennia. It's not intrinsically a demeaning or exploitative thing; that's a corruption of how it's supposed to work. So I wish we could get to the point as a society where we could celebrate the human body without any objectification or humiliation being intended.
Alan Brown
26. AlanBrown
I hope the new movies will have evolved to the point where the tale is no longer a boy's space fantasy, but a space fantasy that everyone can identify with. For all her pluckiness, Leia was still an outnumbered female presence in the original trilogy (her, Aunt Beru, Oola the slave girl and Mon Mothma are the only female speaking parts I can think of off the top of my head).
Back when the first movie first came out, most military personnel and all fighter pilots were male, something reflected in the world presented in the movies. I would like to see that portrayed as a flaw of Imperial culture, and be shown a Star Wars universe that has evolved and grown like the real world has.
David Clary
27. Cybersnark

FWIW, that's always been the in-universe line: that the Empire was an exclusively human (and mostly male) club, while the Rebel Alliance was filled with (just off-camera) "minorities" like women, aliens, and non memory-wiped droids.

Pity the films couldn't really live up to it, though I credit it to the same real-world budget-related handicap that struck Star Trek and its 99.9% human Enterprise crew --ironic, actually, since the egalitarian, inclusive world of Star Trek was pretty much what the Rebels were fighting for. . .
David Clary
28. Colin R

Sexuality and objectification are obviously not the same thing, but this is obviously an example of objectification. And it is layered objectification--Jabba the Hutt is obviously treating Princess Leia as a sexual object, but she is also being displayed to the viewer as a sexual object--and it is clearly not a role that Princess Leia is enjoying. The only people enjoying her sexualization are her captors, literally and figuratively. And I think it goes without saying that Jabba dressing Leia up like a sex slave is totally weird in-universe--why would a space slug be turned on by Princess Leia? Jabba and Chewbacca roll around naked all day long, and no one is turned on by them. The in-context reason for her being in the outfit is clearly just an excuse to give the audience eye candy. Non-consensual ey-candy, at that. This is objectification at its most obvious, but there are still mulitple layers to it.

I'll compare it to a much more recent film, Star Trek Into Darkness. It was observed by many that the shot of Carl Marcus in her underwear was gratuitous. There is ostensibly purpose in the scene--obviously, Marcus and Kirk are supposed to be attracted to each other, and the audience is privy to the fact that they had a son in an alternate timeline. We are supposed to see them lusting for each other. But the depiction of the scene is imbalanced--from what we can tell, Kirk has the pleasure of seeing her undressed, but the favor is not returned to Marcus . And from the audience perspective, the need to serve up Alice Eve's body for the audience's enjoyment overshadows the sexual tension between the characters. There are ways to film a scene like that to make it more equitable--about something happening between the characters. And even if there is purpose in only allowing Kirk to spy on Marcus, there are other ways to shoot this scene to make it more about the characters. The way it is shot though, it barely seems to be about them at all--it's just an exercise in titillating the audience.
Christopher Bennett
29. ChristopherLBennett
@28: You miss my point. Obviously it was meant to be objectifying in-story. What I'm saying is that when a viewer admires the sight of Carrie Fisher or a cosplayer wearing that costume, that isn't automatically objectification. Admiring the physique of a human being of the opposite sex is not intrinsically, automatically a demeaning act. Human sexuality did not evolve as a tool of domination or control, but as a mechanism for interpersonal bonding, trust-building, and stress relief. People who approach attraction and sex with the intent to dominate or objectify, to take pleasure for themselves at the other party's expense, are doing it wrong. When it's done right, when it's healthy, it's a constructive and mutually rewarding thing.

So what I'm saying is that we shouldn't reflexively stigmatize the act of enjoying the sight of someone in a bikini. Yes, there are men -- and movies -- that do so in a demeaning and objectifying way, but we need to recognize that as an aberration, a distortion of how it's supposed to work.
David Clary
30. Amaryllis
I was a young woman when this movie came out. And I distinctly recall my first reaction to those promotional posters: "Oh shit, they got to her too. Dammit."

And all the posters, IIRC, did feature the bikini. Leia was fully clothed during most of the movie, but those were the shots chosen for the promotions. There's a reason for that.

And yes, Carrie Fisher looked lovely in that bikini-- I say it with a straight woman's purely esthetic appreciation; it wasn't just l;eerin teenaged boys who thought so. And yes, there was an in-universe reason for Leia's costume and situation. And yes, she got to strangle her abuser with his own chains, rather than waiting for a man to do it for her (and the look on her face when she did it was priceless).

The whole thing still left a bad taste in my mouth. There could surely have been other in-universe ways to handle that particular plot necessity, without turning the only example of female leadership in those films-- almost the only woman at all-- into just another chick in a skimpy bathing suit..
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
31. Lisamarie
@29, I am totally with you on this. I definitely agree there is a difference between a healthy appreciation of sexuality and beauty, and objectification. For example, if I were to dress up for my husband, because I know the kind of man he is, I know he is not objectifying me -but appreciating me as a whole person, which includes physical beauty (even though I'm actually not really what modern media would consider attractive - but in HIS eyes I am) and sexuality, and that he recognizes that I am making a total gift of self, and so is he. And I beleive this is how it is supposed to be, and there should be no shame in it.

And it's always not quite that lofty, there are definitely times whrere I see a man (or even a woman, although I identify as straight) and can appreciate their attractiveness, without ignorning their personhood. And sometimes you do get people that kind of mutually consent that their 'appreciation' of each other is going to be pretty much strings free and just based on the physical and, while I don't think that's a great thing, at least that's their choice (assuming it really is mutually BOTH of their choices, sadly I do think one party sometimes doesn't really want that).

But, unfortunately, we live in a world where it's all too easy for it to go further than that - to reduce a person to JUST that attractiveness, and to feel entitled to it (to say nothing of things like sexual assault), or say a person's value solely lies in it and they have nothing else to offer, etc. This whole idea is quite aggressively marketed towards us, especially women (I do see it with men, but not the same extent). I think that is why some of us have a similar reaction to the bikini - as lovely as it was, and as awesome as Leia the character was - as Amaryllis did. I may be a bit skeptical, but I kinda doubt that the creators of Return of the Jedi were thinking, "How can we make a statement about Leia's awesomeness and agency and talk about sexual objectification"? They probably (as is supported by this interview) just wanted a chance to 'feminize' (according to their definition of what being female has to mean) Leia, and then came up with a plot for it to justify that.

That's the problematic aspect of it, at least for me - not appreciating and admitting that she looked good in the bikini in and of itself. Because she certainly did! And I definitely don't want society to go to a point where we can't appreciate beauty.

@26 - don't forget the 'Stand by, ion control' lady on Hoth in Empire Strikes back! I assume that she is played by 'Bridgette Kahn', as that is the only female rebel officer listed in the credits ;)
Christopher Bennett
32. ChristopherLBennett
@30: But again, I have to ask, is there a double standard? Lots of male action leads go shirtless, but nobody considers that demeaning or incompatible with strength or leadership. And yes, I understand that there's a difference with women because of the power imbalance in our society, but the point is that there shouldn't be. If our society is able to see men as strong and powerful when they take their clothes off, then surely we should aspire to create a world where the same goes for women -- where nudity is not defined as a sign of weakness or victimization, but is simply a form of self-expression. Skin itself is not the problem. The way our society reacts to it is.
Gerd K
33. Kah-thurak
And it's always not quite that lofty, there are definitely times whrere I see a man (or even a woman, although I identify as straight) and can appreciate their attractiveness, without ignorning their personhood.
Personally I never really understood that problem. You see a person. You find that person sexually attractive and enjoy it, but if you do not know that person and dont really care to, this somehow becomes wrong, because the appreciation of the attractiveness is then "objectifying". If you listen to a singer of great talent and love her/his voice and enjoy it very much, nobody would ever think of this as "objectifying", no matter if you are interested in the actual person singing or not. I somehow fail to see the difference...
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
34. Lisamarie
Oh, there's definitely a double standard! And I agree with you it SHOULD all be equal, and we should be able to celebrate/accept nudity. But that's just now how it is, at least right now - and I will be honest, I don't know how to fix that, but it will probably take a long time.

@33 - I think I agree with you? I may have been misunderstood - but I'm basically saying that yes, sometimes we can just appreciate that a person is sexually attractive. I don't necessarily mean that every time that happens, you have to know the person on some deep level. Just that, at least on some fundamental level, you know they are a person. Which, sadly, does not seem to be the case with some people.

I'm trying to think of a good example with your singer analogy without being heavy handed. But even somebody who loves going to operas and enjoying a person's voice, doesn't expect all people to have voices like that, and, if they did meet the singer in some other context, expect them to sing for them all the time, etc. I actually can envision a society where such a thing COULD be a way to objectify a person - great singers are viewed as things that just exist for our entertainment. I definitely don't think objectification is limited to sexual spheres, although it's usually the most obvious.
David Clary
35. Colin R
"You miss my point. Obviously it was meant to be objectifying in-story. What I'm saying is that when a viewer admires the sight of Carrie Fisher or a cosplayer wearing that costume, that isn't automatically objectification."

No, I get your point, but I disagree. "automatically" is a misleading word here; Princess Leia's outfit is not observed in a void of context. It is not a mutually enjoyable sex act--the context is that she is a sex slave of a slug, and the intent is for the audience to enjoy not simply Carrie Fisher's young body, but also her domination. That is part of the kink.

If a woman wants to dress up in this outfit and act out this kink with a chosen partner, that's totally their business and no one else's. Likewise, the context would be a lot different if Leia and Han Solo wer using the outfit for fun sexy times. But let's be honest about what is put on screen and served up for the enjoyment of adults and children alike. As adults we understand what is going on--that Jabba the Hutt is turning Princess Leia into a sex toy.

And yes, there is a double standard. Men are rarely stripped down as a way of taking away their power. I'll note that Jabba didn't strip Han Solo down to a speedo and chain him to his throne--seeing a man naked and humiliated like that is much rarer in films.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying naked people. Observing that without context is meaningless though. Consensual nakedness is no problem. Getting a look at someone naked through nonconsensual means is a BIG problem. And we ought to think critically about what films are saying--we should not remove the context of the film, neither the narrative context nor the artistic context.
Christopher Bennett
36. ChristopherLBennett
@35: Please don't generalize. Yes, for some people the slave stuff is "part of the kink." But not for everyone, because people are different, and men shouldn't be stereotyped any more than women. I, for one, just like it because it's a beautifully designed costume, it shows a lot of skin, and it reminds me of a scene in which a female character I respect showed her strength and indomitable spirit. I like it because I was a teenager when I saw it and it fired my nascent libido, but what I was thinking at the time was not "Ooh, she's a slave and that turns me on," because any knowledge of fetish or BDSM was far beyond anything I'd been exposed to at that age. All I was thinking was "Wow, she's nearly naked and she looks gorgeous." That's all it meant to me, all it could have meant at the time. So my enjoyment of the costume is not about "kink." I know it is for some people, but not all people are alike.

I do not dispute that there were certain intentions and assumptions in the text itself. But here's the thing: readers and viewers bring their own perspectives and experiences to a text. It's very unwise to assume that every member of the audience will read a text in the same way, or will interpret its meaning in the way the creator intended. People are different from each other, which is the whole reason that stereotyping people by their sex is a bad idea. If we want to support gender equality, we have to take care not to stereotype either men or women, and to remember that every person is an individual rather than a category.
David Clary
37. Colin R
Are you looking for permission or absolution or something to like looking at women in Princess Leia slave bikinis? I don't give out either. I'm talking about the artistic choices and depictions in film.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
@37: I certainly don't have to justify myself to you, so I'm not attempting to. I'm trying to point out to you that people are individuals and you can't assume they all have the same motivations for liking the same thing.
David Clary
39. Colin R
Of course you don't have to justify your tastes to me, which is why I am puzzled why you keep bringing them up as sort of a rebuttal to my points. Like you keep talking about equality of representation without engaging the fact that in the movie, Leia's presentation is not equitable. She is the only one humiliated by being stripped. Her sexualization from a character standpoint isn't merely objectification of the character and the actress--it's a depiction of nonconsensual sexualization.

It's uncontroversial to note that for many children, Return of the Jedi was their introduction to sexuality, probably before many of them could understand what was happening--I saw the movie when I was three. The image of Carrie Fisher in a bikini was in my brain long before I understood how creepy the context was.
Katharine Duckett
40. Katharine
Moderator stepping in: the conversation has started to take a personal tone, so I'd like to refer everyone to our moderation policy, and gear the discussion back towards the content of the article. Thank you for keeping the discussion civil thus far!
David Clary
41. gusty
Anyone else notice the 2nd and 3rd pics aren't Carrie Fisher?
Christopher Bennett
42. ChristopherLBennett
@39: I will repeat what I have already said: I do not dispute how the character was presented in the movie. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the perception and interpretation of the costume in the real world, and the diverse reasons that people can have for enjoying it. Since people are not all the same, it makes no sense to assume that every male fan or female cosplayer who finds the costume appealing must therefore approve of Jabba's enslavement of women.

And yes, it's a depiction of nonconsensual sexualization, but it's a fictional depiction. If someone dresses up as Jason Voorhees for a Halloween party, that's a depiction of a mass murderer, but that doesn't mean they actually support mass murder, because it's a fictitious depiction and involves no real harm to anyone. It means they understand the difference between fiction and reality. Lots of people enjoy fiction about things they would never support in real life. I doubt people who play Grand Theft Auto really want to engage in murder and mayhem, or that people who laugh at Roadrunner cartoons get their kicks by throwing coyotes off of cliffs. Heck, I doubt that people who dress up as Darth Vader actually want to strangle people to death or chop off their limbs. And by the same token, people can enjoy a fantasy of sexual enslavement -- especially a PG-rated, fanciful one like this -- without actually supporting or tolerating the practice in real life. Lots of people of both sexes enjoy engaging in BDSM and enslavement fantasies with people they trust. That's a healthy and normative thing, as long as the participants are aware of the difference between fantasy and reality. And I think that the vast majority of people who watch Star Wars are aware that it is very, very much a fantasy.
Anthony Pero
43. anthonypero
I can't read this article and the comments without the new Samsung Holloween commercial playing through my brain, lol

The Dad dressed as Jabba carrying the slave Leia baby in a front carrier is just... hysterical. I laugh everytime I see it.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
44. Lisamarie
Slave Leia Baby? With the father as Jabba?

Uh. No. Just no.

And while I totally grok the whole idea behind apprecaiting the aesthetic or the (perhaps unintentional) subversion of the trope without objectifiying a person or approving of non-consensual

I see the humor intent, but that really kind of squicks me out and has all sorts of unfortunate implications I just do not want to unpack right now.

I mean, why not something like Dad as Dagobah Luke and Yoda in a baby carrier? Why was the default go-to a very sexualized custome for a BABY and pretend to be subjugating her???? (Not that I think the people responsible are actually pervy or actively thinking these things but...this is crossing a line for me I was not aware was there)
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
45. Lisamarie
(Sad thing is, it really was a funny commercial, and I love that it was actually non-white people in the commercial, and the the other costumse were great and it's a very creative idea. But that just kind of left a bad taste in my mouth).
Christopher Bennett
46. ChristopherLBennett
@44/5: I think it just goes to show how a trope can be divorced from its origins. Just as words or symbols can radically change their meaning through appropriation and conceptual drift, so can filmic images or fictional characters. How else did we get from Vlad the Impaler to Count Chocula? Are people who buy that cereal really exposing their kids to the image of a mass-murdering tyrant, or are they simply celebrating a cultural trope that's been divorced from its darker origins and become fun and playful?

By the same token, I think the "Slave Leia" costume has metastasized beyond being a symbol of a character's enslavement and simply become a symbol of Star Wars and fandom and light entertainment. Again, I don't see how dressing up as Jabba is so much worse than dressing up as Darth Vader -- who, let's remember, tortured Leia years before Jabba put her in chains. Or dressing up as Stormtroopers, brutal soldiers who go around killing people and setting farmers on fire. There's a lot of horrible stuff being done to people in the SW movies, but since they're fantasy, that violence and cruelty is abstract and not truly harmful. Heck, how many innocent prisoners and harmless technicians and engineers did Luke Skywalker kill when he blew up the Death Star? We don't think about that, because it's just a fairy tale and nobody was really hurt.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
47. Lisamarie
LOL, we just bought some Count Chocula.

Actually, my big pet peeve is pirates.

But, of course you're right - and I have thought of these things before as well, as nameless peons are getting mowed down - it's actually a little harder for me to mindlessly consume things as I did as a child and just say "It's fantasy!". We all have our trigger points, I guess, and for me that's one of them, perhaps because of my own experiences. and the way I still see women in the world getting treated today.

I was at least relieved to see that the costume was a fairly stylized one, when it was first described I was imagining it with a much more sexualized design.
Chris Nelly
48. Aeryl
Pirates I'm kinda ok on, the period where piracy became pretty prevalent is known for the massive income inequality and economic oppression, such actions are an outgrowth of such policies. We celebrate Robin Hood, why not pirates?

For me it's Vikings. That was my high school mascot, and I was like, um, these were raiding, maurading, violents rapists and invaders, should we be IDOLIZING that?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
49. Lisamarie
See, that's how I feel about pirates - although I can at least understand that for a kid it's more about exploring and finding treasure and all that.

Even Robin Hood...well, I just tell myself he didn't kill anybody and my headcanon is mostly the Disney/Men In Tights variety ;)
Anthony Pero
50. anthonypero
Yeah, the costume is hardly sexualized on the baby. Its hilarious. I can see where you are coming from, Lisamarie, but for me, the non-sequitor nature of the dad and baby daughter in the costume was PART of the humor. I immediately turned to my wife and said, "That's just wrong on so many levels" and we both laughed hysterically.
Anthony Pero
51. anthonypero
And then the dad exclaiming "Weirdo!" at the end... just leaves me shaking. Because Slave Leia baby with Dad Jabba... the creators of the commerial are extremely aware of what they did, on all levels.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
52. Lisamarie
Man, I must be getting old. I'm usually a huge fan of 'so wrong it's hilarious' humor.
David Clary
53. Colin R
My criticisms are explicitly about the movie--adult humans can and should wear whatever they want. I still think the movie is kind of messed up--the bad taste some people have felt is because the Star Wars movies ARE such PG-affairs--their violence is so bloodless, and sex is nearly nonexistent, that Leia's enslavement is a bit jarring. It's weird that in this essentially childish setting, the fiery female lead woman (the ONLY woman with a large role) is not just subjugated, but literally slobbered all over and stripped for display.

To my adult eyes now it's as jarring as if lightsaber combat suddenly resulted in fountains of blood all over the place, or people were doing lines of spice in the cantina. As if for a brief moment, Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino had intruded on George Lucas' film. It's weird man.

Not that I wouldn't enjoy Peckinpah or Tarantino versions of Star Wars. And that commercial is hilarious.
Joseph Newton
54. crzydroid
Oh no...the Abrams versions are going to have lightsabers spewing blood all over...

Don't watch Episode VII you's going to be terrible!

@48: Robin Hood only steals money. He presumably spreads it around to innocent poor people, unlike pirates, who only take it for themselves. Also, Robin Hood isn't typically thought of as having pillaged and raped. In fact, in many regards, pirates are pretty much just like Vikings, except maybe their not as good warriors. So I'm not sure where you draw the distinction.

@41: What makes you think they are not Carrie Fisher?
Chris Nelly
55. Aeryl
From what literature about it I've read, pirates have a bad rap, care of the trading companies that were targeted. As far as the raping and pillaging goes, yes they did it, as all areas with rampant criminality did(including the thieves that ran around Prince John's England, those legends have been sanitized), but mainly pirates targeted shipping, ships captained and crewed by men(not that men can't be rape victims, but it's a far cry from raiding peaceful Carribean villages).

Now, the point can be made that it's the poor impoverished sailor who suffered to enrich people already wealthy people, and I'm not arguing against that. But pirates weren't pirates because they wanted to be, they were pirates because they were poor men with no options.

Vikings wanted expansion and wealth, they were already taking care of themselves and their people just fine, they just wanted MORE. So the Vikings have a lot more in common with the trading magnates of the pirate era, than the pirates themselves.
David Clary
56. Dianthus
Fisher also has a book out titled Wishful Drinking. I read it and laughed most of the way. Her other books (novels like Postcards from the
Edge, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, etc) are also great fun.

Han's prob'ly my favorite SW character, 'cuz I have a weakness for charming rogues and tricksters, but Leia runs a close second. They're a terrific couple.
David Clary
57. gusty
@54 Well it just doesn't look like her face. I suppose it could be though.

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