Leia and Ripley LOTW

Look of the Week: Princess Leia and Ripley's battle-ready style

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May 27, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week! Celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

May 25 is an important date in movie release history. It was the day Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) made their debut with the release of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley also entered the world stage on this date two years later in Alien. And, completing the first Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi hit theaters four years later on, you guessed it, May 25. (Solo: A Star Wars Story is the third film in this franchise to arrive on this date.) To commemorate these anniversaries, Look of the Week is celebrating the costumes of these SYFY FANGRRLS icons.

The obvious place to start when discussing Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) costuming in Return of the Jedi is, of course, the gold bikini. This two-piece is worn in just two scenes, but the life it has taken on in the fantasies of many—including fictional characters Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi)—is endless. It is an outfit Carrie Fisher had a complicated relationship with. In an essay for Newsweek in 1999 she quipped, “I remember that iron bikini I wore in Episode VI, what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of hell.”   

But this is not the outfit we are honoring today; we're focusing instead on something Leia wasn’t forced into wearing. And while Leia ultimately used her chains as a weapon against Jabba the Hutt, her Forest Moon of Endor ensemble is battle-ready.

Return of the Jedi screenshot


A green belted poncho acts as camouflage on this leafy planet, the closest Star Wars comes to contemporary clothing as it evokes obvious comparisons to camo worn during the Vietnam War. Imperial officers wear Nazi-esque attire from 40 years previous. It is far costumier than military issue, a luscious green to match the home of the Ewoks. Luke gets a less striking brown poncho, but even Han gets in on the camo action with a duster coat thrown over his usual vest.

There is a brief costume change for Leia when they spend the night with the Ewoks, in which they somehow magically have a dress in her size on hand, but as soon as the fighting starts the poncho comes back on and the hair goes up.  Practical footwear for this terrain is a must; black flat boots will do just fine.  

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From a sartorial point of view, the blue-gray pants with the yellow racer-stripe are incredibly on trend 35 years after its release. Athleisure continues to have its moment on the runway, trickling down to fast fashion brands including Topshop and Zara. Carrie Fisher will always be in style, but it's fun to look back at Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ costume design work on Return of the Jedi and see just how cyclical fashion can be even when it comes to dressing characters who are fighting alongside bearlike creatures.

John Mollo was the costume designer on the first two Star Wars films. The gold metal bikini is memorable, but the white dress from A New Hope is indelible. It is how we are introduced to Leia. A few years ago Mollo told Entertainment Weekly that the first instruction he got from George Lucas was “I don’t want to notice any of the costumes.” Sorry, George, it's impossible not to notice Carrie Fisher in that white frock, but it is timeless. The dress is similar in style to what Katharine Hepburn throws over her swimsuit in The Philadelphia Story, thanks to legendary costume designer Adrian. It works just as well in 1940s high-society America as it does in a galaxy far, far away.

Katherine Hepburn and Carrie Fisher
One surprising connection between Star Wars and Alien, other than the release date and space setting, is the costume designer. Mollo worked on Episodes IV and V as well as the first movie in the Alien franchise. The looks that define these iconic sci-fi characters come from the same creative mind. Whereas Princess Leia’s white dress is crisp, Ripley and the rest of the USCSS Nostromo crew exhibit a lived-in style. Crumpled shirts and uniforms that have seen better days offer up a relaxed vibe before all hell springs loose.

For the most part, Ripley wears her flight jumpsuit, avoiding the Kane (John Hurt) human blood splatter but getting covered in Ash’s (Ian Holm) white android "blood." If this coverall uniform didn’t need a wash before, it definitely does by the end of the film.

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It's an entirely practical ensemble for Ripley at work on this ship, which also doesn’t require a change in clothes when the crew starts getting picked off and infected one by one. Layers make up Ripley’s look: a patch-covered official USCSS Nostromo jacket—with patches you can find on Etsy—as well as a flight suit and white short-sleeve shirt with a green tee and white vest underneath. These are layers that get peeled off when it looks like Ripley is safe from the xenomorph that has been stalking her.

When Ripley strips down to her vest and underpants, it very much feels like those days when you arrive home from a hard day at work and you can’t wait to get your sweaty clothes off. A relatable moment, other than the whole running-away-from-an-alien part. It's in such contrast with the Ripley we have seen throughout the film; the masculine styling of her uniform has been discarded for a brief moment of femininity.

But the threat remains, and Ripley ends up in the hiding place of the most famous Final Girl. The spacesuit closet is her sanctuary. And even though Ripley wasn’t part of that discussion—the focus was earthbound slashers—Ripley’s Alien styling does fit that particular model. It is essentially the space version of jeans and tee. As with those other women, she doesn’t take everything off. Her underwear is functional rather than titillating.

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It can’t be denied that, as with Leia's gold bikini, there is an aspect of sexualizing Ripley while she is in danger. It is a short-lived moment, though, as Ripley slowly inches her body into a spacesuit to execute a daring plan for survival. These scenes can be read in a number of different ways; where some will see empowerment, others will see unnecessary gratuity. One reaction is to roll your eyes, another is to embrace the sexuality of the costume choices. You can feel multiple things, even when these reactions are at conflict with each other.

Either way, in Return of the Jedi and Alien Princess Leia and Ellen Ripley spend a good portion in battle attire. Whether it is a green belted poncho or standard work-issue coveralls, both women are ready to take on the Empire and a terrifying alien species. This isn’t a fashion show, but it is hard to deny the enduring style power of Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver.