On Tuesday, Carrie Fisher passed away following a heart attack she suffered aboard a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday. Fisher was an actress, author, mental health advocate, writer and mother, but to many, she will be most fondly remembered as Princess Leia, the iconic heroine she played in the Star Wars trilogy.
One of the most prominent images of Fisher as Leia involved that legendary gold bikini — a metal two-piece the character was forced to wear after she was captured and imprisoned by sluglike supervillain Jabba the Hutt, chained to the evil creature, and made to be his slave. Leia, a member of the Rebel Alliance and all-around kick-ass female, managed to make her way out of the shackles and [spoiler alert] strangle Hutt to death with his own chain.
The sexualized portrayal of the warrior princess in the metallic bikini is an image that has been etched into the collective consciousness — and it helped cement Fisher’s status as a science-fiction sex symbol. There is even an episode of Friends in which Ross famously asks Rachel to role-play in the bikini to fulfill his childhood fantasy — and she did, hair buns and all.
The gold bikini itself was an elaborate number that wrapped around Fisher’s upper arms and bore an interwoven snake detail. According to Fisher, it was pretty uncomfortable to wear. She once called the costume “what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of hell,” according to Movie Pilot. “I had to sit very straight because I couldn’t have lines on my sides, like little creases. No creases were allowed, so I had to sit very, very rigid straight,” she told NPR. But it was also uncomfortable for what it represented: conquering and objectifying a powerful woman and attempting to render her helpless.
“When [director George Lucas] showed me the outfit, I thought he was kidding and it made me very nervous,” she once told People, adding that she was “nearly naked, which is not a style choice for me. It wasn’t my choice.” Lucas actually helped design the metal garment, according to Movie Pilot. “The scene was planned to cause a stir in the audience, shifting focus away from Leia’s image as the contentious rebel leader and towards her allure as a woman,” the site explains.
Lucas even requested that Fisher lose weight to wear the bikini, according to Fisher’s audio commentary for Return of the Jedi. “He showed me to frighten me into exercise, I think. He succeeded,” she joked, though in reality, she was actually instructed to work on tightening her abs so “there would be no folds or wrinkles when she sat in front of Jabba.”
A vocal feminist, Fisher went along with the humiliating scene in spite of her hesitation. After all, she would eventually break out of the shackles and kill her tormentor, which made for sweet revenge. “What redeems it is I get to kill him, which was so enjoyable … I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him,” she told People.
If she had to do it all over again, though, Fisher — who said she never identified as a sex symbol and was not interested in being one, according to People — might have decided against wearing the skimpy outfit. In fact, she told Interview magazine that her advice to young actress Daisy Ridley, who stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was “not to settle for simply being a sex symbol. You should fight for your outfit. Don’t be a slave like I was.”
And co-star Harrison Ford agrees. According to Movie Pilot, when asked his opinion on Leia’s slave bikini, he replied, “I didn’t even think it was going to be in the movie. She’s a princess. What the hell is she doing walking around in a bikini?”
So where is the infamous bikini these days? In the possession of an anonymous buyer, who purchased the costume in a “Profiles of History” online auction in May 2015, according to Movie Pilot. The unknown buyer paid a stately $96,000 to own the garment from a galaxy far, far away. But that will be the last time a profit will be made off the image of the enslaved princess. According to the site, “Disney and Lucasfilm recently made the decision to stop manufacturing Slave Leia merchandise.”