August 01, 2014

Star Wars has gender problems, but "slave Leia" isn't one

Our home is full of Star Wars fans, from my husband and me down to my youngest, at just three years old. In fact, we've bred a whole new generation of fans, so you are welcome George Lucas.

Star Wars has gender issues. There are few "strong" female characters. And yet, the scene that I find people so often centered on as anti-feminist is one that I, personally, don't consider to be anti-feminist.

The scene is one where Leia, captured by Jabba, is forced into a slave costume.

Leia is really the only female character in the entire original trilogy. Throughout the movies, she's continually resourceful and smart, sharp. She's far from passive, never accepting her circumstances and always quick to adjust to an opening. She at one point pulls a blaster from a male character and proceeds to provide cover fire. All around, she's badass.

So on the surface level, I completely understand the distasteful aspect of seeing her subjugated in such a way.

But slave Leia isn't less than simply because of her situation or what she wears. Once again, she refuses to passively accept her situation. Instead, she uses the first opportunity presented to choke Jabba to death. Without argument, her efforts are key to the entire escape, for all of the characters.

And yet, we somehow look down on this Leia and portrayals of her.

I ran across a blog post talking about the situation. I agree with the idea, even if it goes perhaps a bit further with the symbolism than I would personally. The blog owner says:
How so?  Well, one could argue that this was just providing the fanboys of the movie with something to gaze/leer at, it is actually more complex.  Jabba had Leia wear this costume as part of his effort to dominate her.  Jabba is gross, disgusting and vile.  So, we should find his enslavement of Leia and his disrobing of her to be awful.  Indeed, one could argue that Jabba is a personification of patriarchy--that he is all lust, greed, and domination in a slimy package. 
And what happens to this depiction of patriarchy in the movie?  It gets slayed, choked to death, by a woman who uses her own chains against her target.  The only help Leia receives in this effort from the men around her is the provision of a distraction.  Luke's deployment of the force does not liberate Leia, but only catches the attention of those around Jabba--he is the Jedi squirrel!  The hard work of killing Jabba, of freeing woman from patriarchy, is done by Leia with her own bare hands. 
So there you have it. Slave Leia is not only badass, but she is patriarchy-slaying bad ass.

And that's a-okay with me.

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