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Princess in Chains: Leia’s Jedi Bikini

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Princess in Chains: Leia’s Jedi Bikini

A contribution to Edward Copeland’s Star Wars blogathon.

Take a look at Princess Leia on the posters for Star Wars movies IV through VI. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the role had re-cast—and in a way it was. The original poster looks like pulp sci fi/fantasy novel book jacket: a futuristic yet retro illustration of an anonymous, muscular blond hero wielding a gleaming sword (or something) while a leggy heroine, cocks her hip (and a pistol) in the foreground. This galactic bombshell doesn’t look much like Carrie Fisher. Only the signature bagel-braids identify this heroine as Princess Leia. Her shredded low-cut frock looks nothing like the mostly practical and un-revealing costumes Leia favors throughout the series—with one glaring exception we see in Return of the Jedi.

Leia’s most memorable getup—according to the readers of Empire Magazine and most of the males who saw the movie in their formative years—is the metal bikini ensemble she wore as the prisoner of sluglord Jabba the Hutt. No, the bikini wasn’t Leia’s idea. With her main man Han Solo kidnapped by bounty hunters at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Leia makes a decidedly butch, near-incognito entrance at the start of Jedi as a commando on a rescue mission. But she’s immediately caught, and for no reason whatever, she’s made over into a Vegas version of an Egyptian belly dancer, chained to her captor. (Jabba is a testy slug—her predecessor, a green-skinned alien girl, got tossed into a pit for resisting his slimy advances.)

No surprise: Leia in her metal bikini, not Leia the commando chief, landed on the Jedi poster. A troubled-looking, black clad Luke wields a light saber, Han Solo strikes a James Bond/gunslinger pose aiming straight at us, but Leia, onetime Senator and rebel leader, ignores the fuzzy Ewok over her left shoulder, aims a come hither gaze at the viewer. Like one of those bronze-age Barbarian babes of a pulp fantasy novel, Leia looks seriously naked.

Like many girls who’d thrilled to Leia’s heroism and defiance, my heart sank when I saw the poster and the whole Jabba the Hutt scene. She’d been the forthright, unglamorous, smart-mouthed antidote to the fairytale princesses. Was she going to be stuck in the damsel-in-distress role again?

Not for long. During the movie’s best sequence, she rescues herself, turning part of that skimpy costume—the chain—into a deadly weapon. Frankly, she’s a bit frightening as she goes after Jabba. I wonder: when all those Star Wars fanboys fantasize over a bikini-clad Leia, are they remembering the beautiful, vulnerable, subdued princess—or the one who’s been biding her time, seething, measuring the strength of that chain?

House contributor Justine Elias blogs as Film Fatale at Movie City News. Her writing on film and television has appeared in The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix and other publications.