Faced with the force of love, Star Wars' female characters shed power and clothes

Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope's (from far left) Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope's (from far left) Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).PHOTO: LUCASFILM

NEW YORK • Heroines in the Star Wars science-fiction movies dress more skimpily and grow more helpless under the force of love, according to a study released on Tuesday showing two of the strong female leads lose power when romance strikes.

Star Wars characters Padme Amidala and Princess Leia typically wear stately robes and ornate dresses when protecting empires, but shed those clothes when they fall in love, according to researchers at Florida State University.

The two characters, played by Natalie Portman and Carrie Fisher, are among the most popular and best known in a Star Wars franchise, created by George Lucas, that has grossed more than US$9 billion (S$12.1 billion).

A new film, Star Wars: Episode IX, is due in theatres this year.

The movies show the two famous female characters wielding less power as the plots delve into romance, the research found.

The criticism comes in the midst of the #MeToo movement that was triggered by women in Hollywood calling out sexual abuse and harassment. It has spread into widespread demands ranging from equal pay to better jobs to less demeaning roles for women.

In movies and in the real world, women do not need to cede control just because they become romantically involved, Ms Mary King, co-author of the study published in the international journal Fashion And Textiles, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Film-makers can show women as leaders and romantic partners simultaneously," she said. "We don't have to be one or the other.

"We've seen some improvement, but there is so much more that can be done."

Heroine Amidala is first portrayed fully clad in ornate dresses, making decisions and wielding authority as a 14-year-old queen, the research said.

But when she declares her love for Anakin, the future Darth Vader, she turns up in a skin-tight jumpsuit bearing her midriff and needs his help in battle.

Princess Leia is introduced in a loosely fitted white gown, leading a rebellion, but is arguably best known for the iconic metal bikini she wears when she is a slave stripped of all power, the research said.

The research looked at the two characters in 118 scenes in six films in 34 different costumes.

"How groups of people, in this case women, are being presented to an audience should be done with care," Ms King said. "Sure, give us the gorgeous costumes, but don't diminish our roles just because we wear them."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'Faced with the force of love, Star Wars' female characters shed power and clothes'. Print Edition | Subscribe