It’s Not the Bikini That’s the Problem

Everyone’s been getting pretty riled up over the past couple days over the rumor that Disney may be discontinuing merchandise that features “Slave Leia.” As one can imagine, a lot of people were upset about this potential development, as the metal bikini has been a staple of the franchise since the 80s. But there are several reasons why this is good for Disney, the franchise, and fans everywhere.

First though, I’ve got a little steam to blow off. *inhale*

Calm down, people. It’s not like you’ll never see Leia in her gold bikini ever again, as I’m sure she will live on in your childhood fantasies. Besides, this look is by no means Princess Leia’s most iconic. Twin buns, anyone?

And let’s not pretend this is some kind of social justice/politically correct conspiracy. It’s a megacorporation re-branding one of their franchises to fit with their overall image. Parents are tired of digging through the dozens and dozens of “sexy” Leias to find a toy for their daughter. Star Wars isn’t just a boys club anymore, and hasn’t been for quite some time. Get over it.

*exhale*

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what’s actually going on here.

I first learned of the rumors from C. Spike Trotman of Iron Circus Comics: “Nerd culture preoccupation with Slave Leia over Every Other Leia Outfit is gross & creepy & I’m glad if Disney is avoiding endorsing it.”

I was shocked, but in a good way. Like, pleasantly surprised by Disney for once. Star Wars has been a big part of my life, but I have never been the primary demographic. This move says that women are finally being considered in marketing decisions for the franchise.

The news comes days after an interview with Carrie Fisher and The Force Awakens lead Daisy Ridley. In it, Fisher warns Ridley against becoming an unintentional sex symbol:

“FISHER: Oh, you’re going to have people have fantasies about you! That will make you uncomfortable, I’m guessing.

RIDLEY: Yeah, a bit.

FISHER: Have you been asked that?

RIDLEY: No, they always talk about how you’re a sex symbol, and how do I feel about that. [Fisher sighs] I’m not a sex symbol! [laughs]

FISHER: Listen! I am not a sex symbol, so that’s an opinion of someone. I don’t share that.

RIDLEY: I don’t think that’s the right —

FISHER: Word for it? Well, you should fight for your outfit. Don’t be a slave like I was.

RIDLEY: All right, I’ll fight.

FISHER: You keep fighting against that slave outfit.”

Fisher is right: Princess Leia is not a sex symbol.

But despite Fisher’s regrets about the costume, it can still be seen as a powerful symbol in support of women and feminism. Now, let me say that context is everything here. Even though Leia’s gold bikini is commonly referred to as her “slave” outfit, people somehow forget that this is something she was forced to wear by a violent warlord. Jabba the Hutt is a disgusting, cruel, and sadistic gang leader, so it’s not hard to imagine that he would use humiliation to control Leia. So what does Leia do? She takes that humiliation and throws it back in Jabba’s face. She defeats those who try to control her by literally breaking her chains and murdering her captor in front of his crew. I can think of few better examples of using the tools of one’s oppression to take down the oppressor.

Unfortunately, that’s not why the scene was included. In 1983, just before the release of Return of the Jedi, Fisher discussed her role with Rolling Stone:

“ 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.”

Thirty years later, that statement is truer than ever. “Slave Leia” is no longer remembered as a hero, but as a hypersexualized fantasy to facilitate nostalgic fanboy ejaculation. Not to mention that in two previous films she led the rebellion against an evil tyrant and repeatedly risked her life for her cause.

Some try to defend the outfit by claiming that she’s “sexually liberated”…but that’s obvious bullshit, and also the exact opposite of what is happening in the twenty minutes she’s wearing it. Leia. Did. Not. Choose. The. Bikini. It was intended to control and subdue her. What Leia shows us in that scene is that she can empower herself despite being forced into a humiliating and submissive position.

Keep in mind too that Disney’s decision only applies to the merchandise. No one is trying to recut the original film or ban Leia cosplayers from conventions. This is Disney’s way of saying that it’s time for a new era of Star Wars. This is Disney recognizing that marketing solely to boys and men excludes a huge part of the fanbase and tells young girls: this is the only place for you here. But by shifting the focus away from toys and statues that reflect the sexual fantasies of twelve-year-olds, we can get back to what really matters: that Princess Leia is a fierce, unflinching badass.

Let’s remember her that way.