Imagine the love of your life is captured by their greatest enemy, and you and your friends have a plan to set things right. You go in to one of the most dangerous places in the galaxy, hoping your disguise will keep anyone from recognizing your face, a face known to almost every bounty hunter, but the plan goes awry and you free your love but you’re caught anyway. Being a high profile person, the big crime boss decides that breaking you down and demeaning you is what he wants, but in the end you help save your love, you kill the crime boss, and you escape with your friends. Now imagine you’re told that all of your accomplishments in this regard are tainted by the outfit you were wearing at the time. That’s sort of what Disney is rumored to be doing with Princess Leia in regards to the ‘slave’ bikini outfit she wore for a small part of Return of the Jedi, according to makingstarwars.net.
Of course I’m over-dramatizing it a little bit, Leia isn’t a real person, but she is a real example that many real people have looked up to. See, Leia was one of the best examples of a three-dimensional, powerful, smart, witty, and skilled female character my generation had. She wasn’t just ‘Slave’ Leia, she was also a princess, a rebel, warrior, leader, lover, sister and friend. She is Force sensitive, compassionate, commanding, and decisive. These are all aspects of one of the best examples of a fully realized female character we have from that era, but one of those aspects has possibly been deemed offensive. Why am I putting ‘slave’ in quotes you ask? Well, some of you might not be asking, you might already know, but to put the frosting on this ridiculous cake, the outfit was originally described and defined as a dancing girl outfit. The line between slave and captive is very blurry in this instance, and not one that needs defining, nor does it really matter except to note it wasn’t the writers that gave it the name.
All of this silliness might be understandable if this version of Leia was the only one to come out of the trilogy, if it was the only figure available, or the only art anyone saw. It might be understandable if it was her only role in the movies, or people ignored all her other parts in the saga. It’s not, however, it’s one aspect of the myriad facets of her character, and an important one. See, she put herself in that danger for the sake of her friend and the man she loves. She knew the risk, how the Hutts liked to take high profile prisoners. The dismissal of all of that, because of what she wore, would be a slap in the face if she were real, but in reality it’s just Disney pandering to one group over another.
Fact of the matter is Disney bought a franchise with fans who are young and old. Fans who are looking forward to new movies, shows, and toys, and fans to dearly cherish the old ones. The franchise has always dealt with dark topics, whether it be the core good versus evil theme, war, destruction, murder, and slavery, and it has always dealt with the consequences of those and the idea that good people must rise up to fight these evils. Pretending those dark parts aren’t there, or glossing them over to ‘protect the children’ trivializes the message the story is trying to present. When I told my wife this was happening she was shocked, and a bit angry. Back in our day, little girls growing up had very few good female characters to look up to. She said for her, when they were playing at being characters in their favorite movies, she was always Princess Leia, or Diana from V. She liked (and still does) women who are strong, decisive, and intelligent and by trying to brush this one aspect of Leia in the corner they are taking away something that makes the character whole.
So is this a done deal? We don’t know for sure yet. The article above is artists talking about the direction and rules regarding the comic books, and some hint on the air that Disney is making this decision. What do I think will be the outcome? Well, I think they’ll just be making an already popular character more popular in the long run. They can stop production on any new licensed material depicting this version of Leia, but they will never get rid of it. Bootleg products, fan art, and cosplay are already a huge market for the gold bikini, and I think this move will just make it more sought after. It may also drive up the price of collectibles with people knowing they will never see another official figure, poster, or comic. I expect artists like Frank Cho will continue to poke fun at the Neo Puritan mentality driving the decision with his trademark tongue-in-cheek art, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more women cosplay our favorite princess. Disney may just find that they’ve done nothing more than insure that more people see ‘slave’ Leia in the future.
When it’s all said and done I would pose a question to Disney. There’s another character that was literally fridged (frozen) to give the other characters something to do, turned into an object (objectified), and who lost all agency and power. While ‘slave’ Leia is removed from future marketing, are we going to also see Han in carbonite removed for all its problematic cliche? Honestly Disney, there are some pretty dark stuff in your past, and some of the most classic movies are based on some of the most disturbing tales.