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Creation Date

2015

Description

This poster explores the way clothing establishes gender in Star Wars in ways similar to those in medieval and Renaissance culture. In Episode IV: A New Hope, Princess Leia dresses in a flowing white gown that emphasizes her youth and innocence, suggesting sexual purity. In fact, the outfit was designed to look like a nun's habit. Although Leia is a powerful, strong-willed woman, she is looked down upon by Grand Moff Tarkin, who runs the Death Star upon which she is held captive. Tarkin's condescending attitude and inability to take Leia seriously as a threat may be due to his chauvinistic perceptions of her outfit and her youth. In contrast to Tarkin, Jabba takes Leia very seriously in Return of the Jedi, at least at first. This is due to the fact that Leia has cross-dressed as the male bounty hunter Boushh to enter his palace. Jabba even raises the bounty on Chewbacca due to his being impressed by Boushh's male demeanor and threatening posture. However, once his "favorite scum" is revealed to be a woman, Jabba immediately enslaves Leia, adding her to his harem and no longer treating her like a fearsome warrior. The lustful behavior Jabba shows towards Leia reflects the tone in which Joan of Arc's enemies sometimes addressed and demeaned her. Like Leia, Joan also cross-dressed in male armor to gain access to spaces where she might not else be able to go. Unlike a woman's outfit at the time, Joan's male garb was tied together in many places, which also afforded some protection against rape.

Leia's cross-dressing also recalls that of Britomart in Edmund Spenser's Elizabethan epic poem, The Faerie Queene. In Spenser's story, Britomart dons a knight's armor in order to protect herself from unwanted male advances and to find her destined love, Artegall. Along her journey, Britomart rescues the half-naked woman Amoret from the lustful wizard Busirane, who has chained Amoret to a phallic brazen pillar. Britomart turns the tables on Busirane by chaining him up with the very links he had forged to enslave Amoret to his will. This is very similar to how Leia strangles the phallic Jabba with the very chain he had attached to her neck. Together, Joan, Britomart, and Leia reflect the idea that a woman can be just as effective as a man once gender stereotypes are taken away. Cross-dressing facilitates this female empowerment in all three cases, especially in Leia’s where Jabba’s sexist underestimation of her strength leads to his downfall.

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