The Slave Leia outfit
The Gold Bikini
It’s gone by many names and descriptions, but the outfit worn by Carrie Fisher in the first half of Return of the Jedi – after her character is caught and imprisoned by space slug gangster Jabba the Hutt – is so well known, it’s iconic. It’s also not without controversy.
Made for the film by artist and designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers, the costume was meant to evoke early film roles embodied by actresses such as Maria Montez and the fantasy and science fiction book cover artwork of Frank Frazetta from the 50s and ‘60s, featuring scantily clad women (and sometimes men) alongside spaceships and fantastic creatures. Star Wars is nothing if not a call back to classic fantasy and sci-fi characters and imagery; and the outfit worn by Princess Leia is no exception.
But Leia as a character was never set dressing. So, for many, no matter how iconic it may be, the outfit is annoyingly gratuitous – an out-of-place cheesecake moment that needlessly objectifies a character who is a certified badass for two entire movies prior to Jedi. Others point out that despite the skimpy attire, Leia (and Fisher as her nucleus) turned that powerless moment on its head as she, in turn, strangled her vile captor to death and freed herself.
Fisher herself, before we lost her in 2016, opened up several times about her own complicated relationship with the costume she once described as “what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of hell.”
K, a cosplayer who goes by Collectress Cosplay, is no stranger to rocking the outfit at conventions. She references Fisher often as inspiration and says she sees the costume as a “powerful image of a woman regaining her autonomy.”
“I want people to remember that Leia kills Jabba the Hutt, her oppressor, while wearing this ridiculous bikini,” she said. “I can’t say it any better than Carrie did, ‘Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it.’ I like to think of it as Carrie’s way of extending the middle finger to people who reduced her to a sexual object.”
Two years ago, author Claudia Gray in her Star Wars novel Bloodline added another element to the legacy of the costume Fisher wore in Return of the Jedi. During a plot point in the Leia Organa-focused novel, it was revealed that many members of the Nikto species revered Leia and celebrated her as the “Huttslayer” for her killing of Jabba decades earlier.
A title Leia earned by strangling her captor with the very chains he’d used to restrain her.
Cosplayers in particular, were quick to pick up on the title (as well as the hashtags #huttslayer, #sleia and #huttslayerleia), adding a new element to a costume they already loved.
For Faith Medina, a cosplayer since 2011, the Huttslayer outfit she constructed a year ago with her partner was her first Leia costume and a personal favorite.
“I started using the hashtags Huttslayer and HuttslayerLeia as soon as I began posting my cosplay pictures,” she said. “I think that the name is empowering to Leia herself and the people who look up to her. With this new title, instead of her simply being the ‘sexy slave’ she’s instead depicted as the warrior she is; and she’s finally credited for the work she has done.”
Medina’s use of Huttslayer is also a deliberate step away from the irksome and somewhat inaccurate Slave Leia title (she’s more of a “Captive Leia,” wouldn’t you say?).
“I’ve been actively trying to substitute it for Slave Leia in casual conversation, hoping it will have the same effect on others. Thankfully everyone who has commented on it to me so far has been very positive and welcoming to this name.”
That simple name change, both women point out, is enough to change the narrative of the costume and put the focus on the toughness of the character they revere.
“It stuck with me, so when I started posting my cosplay pictures, that was the only term I’d use in the caption or tags,” K said. “I will never refer to or tag her as Slave Leia. Leia never was some simpering maiden in distress, and I feel that the word slave portrays her as helpless. She was never helpless. She was just waiting for the opportune moment to rescue herself, again.
“It gives her character a sense of empowerment that she has been robbed of,” Medina pointed out. “In all honesty, I was not a fan of the Slave Leia idea as a whole. I disliked seeing so many people cosplay her, as I felt it was playing into the degradation of Leia herself. However, my opinion has changed drastically over time. I have come to realize over these past years that appearance isn’t what delegates how strong someone may be.
While both cosplayers say they have had positive interactions with their fellow Star Wars fans, they admit it still takes a great deal of confidence to rock that particular outfit.
“In all honesty, it was Carrie Fisher’s passing that pushed me into making this outfit,” said K. “Carrie was a powerful, vibrant woman, and she wasn’t afraid to show who she was, and I feel that Huttslayer Leia embodies that. She’s a warrior.”
“It has been very daring! I pretty much knew the reactions I’d get, both the positive and negative ones, yet I didn’t let that stop me,” Medina said. With the Huttslayer moniker growing in popularity, she hopes to see cosplayers and fans alike appreciate the costume for more than just bare skin.
“For those doing it because they love Leia or simply because they want to feel confident in this costume, you all have valid enough reasons that do not in any means need to be explained to anyone giving you a rough time. And to fellow Leia fans, respect this woman!! She’s an amazing character who has been through a lot and deserves to be recognized for her achievements, not just her appearance.”