The term “Slave Leia” is frequently thrown around certain parts of the internet. Still, there are likely many people not familiar with this term. Generally speaking, “Slave Leia” refers to the character of Leia Organa during the second half of Act One of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and any depictions (including cosplay, or costume-play, of this costume). Nobody seems quite sure where the name originated (the earliest name that I can find for it is “Jabba's Prisoner”), but it has largely become a cosplay movement. It is very rare that a Science Fiction or pop culture convention with wide attendance will pass without one to two dozen attendees, male or female, donning the metal bikini for some stretch of time.
Why is this? At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about this costume. Many film, television, comic, and video game costumes have similarly revealing costumes, yet this one stands out to us. Why do people choose this costume? What reasons could they have? More well than you can imagine.
Let me start with the obvious, and the not-so-obvious attached to it. Jabba the Hutt, the notious gangster of Return of the Jedi, chose this costume for its sexuality. In many parts of the world, Leia's metal outfit is as little clothing as a woman can wear in public – particularly to avoid a PG-13 or higher rating. Cosplay – both on holidays such as Halloween and at conventions – is often seen as a time to relax those standards. A person is less likely to be judged for wearing a Slave Leia costume at Comic-Con or a sexy nurse costume on Halloween than they would be wearing similarly revealing clothing at the mall.
But there is more to that, too. Not only are you less likely to be judged for showing skin in the first place, but in many cases, it provides a safe zone around the nature of the body itself. Society can sometimes be a difficult place for those who do not match stringent and fickle expectations about what the ideal body is and about what those who don't have one are allowed to wear. Most of it is complete rubbish (Give me a break; I'm trying to keep it PG and at least I refrained from using “balderdash” or “poppycock”) but that doesn't prevent people from believing it at least some of the time.
The widespread knowledge of the Slave Leia costume provides some protection from this. It is a standard costume and a natural thing to wear, much like a speedo for the swim team or shorts for the track team. It's almost a uniform, placing the wearer in a group where being proud to represent your team replaces feelings of shame about those love handles you just can't get rid of. While this does not prevent the worst abusers from coming forward, it does allow for some measure of peace where there otherwise may be none. The costume may not place you in 1983 Carrie Fisher's skin, but it is the next best thing.
This measure of peace runs deeper than just the willingness to show more skin than you might be comfortable with otherwise. Whether as a way for a woman to assert sexual independence, a means to demonstrate pride in your body, or a way to overcome your insecurities by facing them head on, the cultural phenomenon of Slave Leia gives you an outlet. While many young girls have begun their cosyplay in the pure and virginal white dress of Leia in A New Hope, some will find the next stage of their growth once they'd rather kiss a Wookiee to be the bikini, and the fact that these represent different stages of a heroine says a lot in a society that still feels the urge to tell youg women to cover up when their bare shoulders may entice the Jabbas around them. Even if many – even most – of the male Leias at a convention wear the costume ironically, it is still a statement that they are more comfortable with their own body than I am.
There are a lot of reasons that somebody might choose to wear a Slave Leia costume, with the only compelling reason not to being that the person does not want to. Keeping up so far? Great, kid; don't get cocky. This article has addressed the aspects of Slave Leia relating to the fact that it is a popular costume from a well-known franchise, but there is more to it than that. I talk about how the Slave Leia costume tells a story that makes it one of the sexiest thing in Star Wars on my personal blog here.