This month’s picture in my daughter’s calendar depicts a classic scene of a father berating his daughter for wearing a revealing outfit. The intergalactic twist is that the father is Darth Vader, his daughter is Princess Leia, and she’s wearing her ‘Slave’ costume from Return of the Jedi.
It’s one of the many memorable panels from Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, the second in his series of books set in a parallel Star Wars universe where Vader is an involved father to his twin children. The calendar is one of the many Princess Leia things my daughter has in her room.
Vader’s Little Princess takes a rather stereotypical view of girls – Leia is shown chatting endlessly on the phone, obsessing over boys (a certain scoundrel in particular), being bored by sports, having tantrums, and being preoccupied with clothes. While the author treated Luke as just a child in the preceding book Darth Vader and Son, here Brown – who is the father of two boys – makes some seemingly lazy assumptions about young girls.
Despite being able to see these sexist flaws, I still love the book. It highlights the most high profile female character in Star Wars, is full of delightful & funny vignettes, and at its heart it’s about a loving father/daughter relationship.
This was one of the first Star Wars ‘things’ I showed my daughter, and frankly I credit it with hooking her interest in Star Wars at a young age (she was about 21 months old at the time). She often chose it for us to read to her. Soon, she spotted my old Star Wars toys, instantly recognised familiar characters and vehicles, and they never left her grasp. I always thought I wouldn’t show her the movies until she was at least 5, but at age 2 we were watching them. We continue to do so and her love of Star Wars gets stronger as she gets older.
Every time we watch a Star Wars movie or cartoon, she picks up on something new. Eventually the ‘Slave Leia’ outfit was referenced:
My way of talking to her about it was this: Jabba had taken Leia prisoner, and made her wear what her wanted her to wear, because he had that power and that’s how he wanted her to look. I continued that it was wrong because Princess Leia should choose what she wants to wear herself.
We carried on watching, and whenever Princess Leia appeared subsequently in the movie, my daughter declared “Leia decided to wear that herself!”
It’s still a part of the story that she frequently references, including with
her our Star Wars toys.
For instance, here Vader is unhappy that Leia has been treated so badly by Jabba:
Another time, Leia shows she’s none too happy with Jabba either:
‘Slave Leia’ remains one of the few Leia figures we don’t own, and it continues to be divisive amongst Star Wars fans.
What’s so bad about Slave Leia?
Clearly sexualised, the look was a hit with the dominant male fanbase. As the boys grew into men, the Slave Leia look became ever more popular, and became one of the most used depictions of Leia.
There were vocal dissenters, such as in the growing fangirl community, or as many male fans became fathers of daughters, some (ahem) started to complain about this being the prevalent depiction of Leia. She’s a politician, fighter, Rebel leader – yet mostly shown as a sexually exploited woman.
On the other side, people talk about how it’s no worse than you see at the swimming pool or beach, or on overly sexualised dolls aimed at girls. Some defended the outfit as a symbol of Leia’s defiance against her captor. Many members of the female cosplayer community enjoy wearing it.
In one memorable defence, the daughter of comedian Adam Buxton said Leia should keep wearing it because it’s a “pretty good look for her”.
As far as Jeffrey Brown’s picture goes, the cliche of the father telling his daughter not to wear such revealing clothes is also problematic.
While as parents we make decisions and rules we like to think are in the best interests of our children, they need to find their own path too – and that includes the process of understanding their own sexuality. This clearly begins long before they are adults.
When a father is telling his daughter not to wear something revealing, is he helping her develop, or trying to limit her growing sexuality? If my daughter wanted to wear a Slave Leia outfit out of the house, I’m pretty sure I’d insist she doesn’t. But she’s 3, and I think that’s fair enough. But what about 10, 13, 15? What age is Leia in this picture? Is she a child or a young woman?
Tricky questions for my future.
“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!”
For now, I still like this picture. For one, it’s funny. But it’s also part of an alternate Star Wars narrative my daughter has melded from various sources.
So I look at the scene like this. Perhaps Darth, instead of limiting Leia’s sexual expression, is upset that her exploitation by Jabba is having lasting effects. That far from being her choice, her father feels she has been conditioned to think this is what men want.
But if we want to empower our daughters, ultimately the choice of outfit has to be theirs. At the moment my daughter’s only real dress restrictions are about being weather/environment appropriate (although I did suggest she rethink her summertime idea of wearing a short skirt as a dress). In the future, school uniforms and dress codes will feature. But eventually we won’t be the ones responsible for what she wears – she will.
I hope I never have a “You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” moment with her. If any woman, be it Leia, my daughter, or someone else, truly wants to dress in a revealing gold bikini, then fair enough. I guess it’s a pretty good look for some.
What do you think about the Slave Leia look? Or parents telling their teenagers what to wear?