With the release of The Force Awakens, there’s been a renewed interest in the lives of the stars from the original trilogy and–along with that–a lot of both praise and criticism for Carrie Fisher.
The complaints that she doesn’t look like she once did boggle me. I think she’s aged like a normal human being; she’s older than my mother and she looks fine to me. I can’t say I’m surprised, however. What does surprise me, though, is the barrage of new criticism for Leia’s metal bikini. There are endless articles decrying the Slave Leia look as objectifying, and when I see them, I’m just as confused as I am by the belief that actresses should never age. What I learned from bikini-clad Leia as a child doesn’t seem to be reflected anywhere, but I’m sure I’m not alone.
Star Wars was still big when I was a girl. I was born in ’87 and the trilogy had been finished for a few years, so I already had Star Wars everything at my fingertips. My grandfather provided VHS copies of the film, and I couldn’t say how often I wanted to be Princess Leia for Halloween–or any time, really. My brother liked The Empire Strikes Back best, but as a girl, I liked Return of the Jedi because I loved happy endings. And along with this preference came frequent viewings of Princess Leia’s bikini.
According to the articles about this matter, this should have been a horrible experience, a bad influence on a developing girl. I’d grow up obsessed with beauty, with being thin, with being sexy. I’d grow up thinking the only role of a geek girl was to be eye candy for the guys. Truthfully, those things never crossed my mind.
The journalists and opinion columnists complaining about the bikini view the world through lenses colored with experience. When they see Leia in her skimpy getup, they relate it to years of looking at Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and Victoria’s Secret catalogs. And in doing that, they overlook a deeper message that, as a child, I found easy to grasp.
Leia’s bikini was never objectification to me.
It was empowerment.
Leia was the picture of everything I wanted to be when I grew up. She was a princess, yeah. She was beautiful, sure. But most importantly, she was capable. She was leader of her people. She was intelligent. She could fight and shoot and ride speeder bikes just as well as the guys. She could do everything.
And Jabba? He represented everything our society wanted Leia to be.
Looking back at the films now, it seems so fitting that he was an enormous, disgusting slug. He was greedy, gross and unforgiving. And as soon as he got hold of Leia, he chained her at his side and stuffed her into the metal bikini.
Despite that, Leia never stopped being herself. She never stopped being independent, never stopped resisting, never stopped fighting. Despite the role Jabba tried to force her into, she never stopped being herself. It’s easy to see her as a damsel in distress just because she was chained, but knowing her resilience, I still believe she would have found a way to get herself free if things had worked out differently. And the very moment she had the opportunity, she had a blaster back in her hands, and leaped at the chance to strangle Jabba with the very chains he tried to control her with.
Was she sexy in the bikini? Of course she was. But it wasn’t her body that made it so. It was the strength of her character. So if you ever tell me the bikini only existed for fan service, I’ll just shake my head and encourage you to look deeper, because Leia–complete with sexy slave bikini–was one of the greatest role models a girl like me could have had.