It was controversial, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most iconic film costumes of all time.
The Slave Leia costume from the 1983 film, Return of the Jedi, is one for the ages, like Fisher herself.
More jewelry than clothing, the piece was created by costume designers Aggie Guerard Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero, and was inspired by the works of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, according to the Star Wars fan site, starwars.wikia.com. Leia is forced to wear it when she is taken prisoner by Jabba the Hutt, the ultimate exercise in female objectification, it would seem.
“I remember that iron bikini I wore in Episode VI: what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of hell,” Fisher said of the costume, a brass brassiere fastened with a string, a brass thong and veil that attaches to the front and back of a barely-there panty. She was only partly right; the costume, as it turns out, would hardly raise an eyebrow to today’s casual observer of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, or Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat.
George Lucas requested the bikini in part based on Fisher’s complaints about the lack of interesting costumes in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and was involved in the entire design process from sketch to screen. “His eyes started sparkling when we talked about it,” said costume designer Rodgers.
The designers made a mold of Fisher’s torso so the bikini could be custom fit, and created several versions in metal and some in rubber, which were worn by stuntwoman Tracy Eddon. The look has only about three minutes of screen time.
Fisher was pressured to slim down to wear the bikini, she shared on the audio commentary for Return of the Jedi. “He showed me sketches to frighten me into exercise, I think. He succeeded.” When she sits in front of Jabba the Hutt, her flat stomach is evidence she followed orders. She also joked about how revealing it was, adding in an interview years later, “If you stood behind me, you could see straight to Florida. You’ll have to ask Boba Fett about it.”
Fisher also wore the costume on the cover of the August 1983 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, posing on a beach towel to illustrate an interview with George Lucas titled, “Star Wars Goes on Vacation.”
The outfit was controversial as soon as it appeared, as it changed the perception of Leia’s character from rebel fighter draped in sexless robes to sex object. Fisher herself criticized it, warning Star Wars: The Force Awakens actress Daisy Ridley in Interview magazine, “Don’t be a slave like I was … You keep fighting against that slave outfit.”
Feminists have debated the meaning of the costume, whether it is the symbol of an cliched male fantasy, or of Leia literally breaking free of one (she strangles Jabba the Hutt with the chains that bind her). Some even called for Disney and LucasFilm to stop selling depictions of the character. The conversaton over her image echoed in the recent controversy over a skimpily dressed Wonder Woman being named an honorary ambassador for the United Nations, then dropped from the role.
Still, the Slave Leia bikini has endured as a pop culture icon and fan favorite, with enthusiasts wearing versions of it to Comic-Con and other sci-fi conventions. A version of the bikini makes an appearance in Friends, when Rachel wears a similar style to seduce Ross, and the costume is parodied in Family Guy. There are fan sites full of photos of women — and men — in the look.
The real costume was auctioned off in May 2015, and sold for $96,000, $16,000 over its starting price. The buyer was anonymous.