The Last Thing I Loved: Star Wars and the Slave Leia Bikini
Anna Kaye-Rogers gushes about the impact of Star Wars in her life.
I have been a Star Wars fan longer than I’ve had memories. Star Wars has always been a part of me — the way bad vision and asthma and a squeaky voice have. My aunt says I was a terror for memorizing most of Return of the Jedi. I would demand adults to “play Star Wars” with me, giving them the roles I didn’t want, correcting them if they paraphrased rather than directly quoted. I would line up my assortment of stuffed animals in front of the big TV box and rewatch the Leonard Maltin introduced VHS until the gray static became a part of the movie, too — not just when fast-forwarding.
I could have watched Luke Skywalker discover the Jedi all day. With our similar background and big dreams, his hypnotizing, blue eyes and windswept blond hair, it was no surprise that Luke was my first love. Flying beside him as an X-Wing pilot was my first dream job. I went as Leia and Padme for Halloween a combined five times. I didn’t have friends during my summers. One summer, I watched Attack of the Clones on DVD every day. At my eighth-grade graduation party, I broke someone’s finger in a lightsaber duel.
I had never been athletic. I dropped soccer in second grade when I was diagnosed with asthma, or when I started wearing glasses — both happened the same year. As puberty leveled up my peers, I was left behind. Forever awkward and unable to make baskets on the team my dad coached, I quickly ruled out competitive sports. Track left me winded. I could cheer, but my knees and elbows went every which way, skeletal-looking next to my tanner and healthier peers. I couldn’t make the dance team. When I started theater in college, my scoliosis and duck-feet had gotten so bad the director had the cast start applauding whenever I could make my toes point forward.
But when I swung my plastic lightsaber — the kind that you flicked your wrist to extend the chunky sections in bright colors — I didn’t think about how gangly and ungraceful I was; I thought about how the saber was an elegant weapon from a more civilized age. I chalked up the driveway, inventing catwalks and platforms. Blue boxes and squares covered the cement, but in my head I could see the chrome and gunmetal gray of the Death Star. My imaginary playground was two stories. I would pause, mid-sprint across the concrete, to announce to no one in particular I had done a flip to reach the second story of my creation. When the buses drove by, I would hide in my garage.
I had a starting pose — one that I could spin into overly practiced combinations. I fought invisible villains, ignoring the loneliness and awkwardness and miserableness of being the only kid in a class of 24 who didn’t have birthday parties, whose parents never showed up to the PTA. I had no one, so I cut out the characters in the Visual Dictionary to hang on my walls. Dad wasn’t a Star Wars fan; it wasn’t something we could bond over. Mom wasn’t much of one, either, though I didn’t question how we owned the VHS copies until much later.
Technically Attack of the Clones was the scene of my first date. I invited a boy from class, a fellow nerd and outcast, but our ride (my dad) sat between us. That was fine. I was there for Anakin Skywalker. I was the one who checked out every Expanded Universe novel we had in our Catholic school’s tiny library. The other girls began wearing makeup and shopping at teen stores, while I taught myself how to braid my own hair to look like a Padawan. I pulled up the hood on the oversized sweatshirt meant to hide my figure and pretended I was a Jedi.
In high school, my membership in the Rebel Alliance was less noticeable. The prequels had received terrible reviews and had been declared unpopular, so when we watched The Phantom Menace in Spanish class, I pretended it was just another movie day, and not that I had memorized the movie in English. There were no movies coming out, I had no cable to watch Clone Wars, and the new neighbors would never be friends with me if they saw me swinging a lightsaber outside. I continued to wave my hands in front of the automatic door during the weekly grocery shopping, but the lack of Star Wars in my life was probably for the best.
Without Star Wars, the fears I had suppressed surfaced — just as Yoda predicted in The Phantom Menace, “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate.” With my fear of heights, bad vision, and propensity for nosebleeds during flights, even if we achieved X-Wing technology in my lifetime, I would never be able to fly it. The Sith seemed more realistic and attainable than the Jedi, and actually getting Force powers was more likely than getting a date to prom. I thought about packing my lightsabers to go to college: Vader’s grip in red for my left-handed fighting, Yoda’s grip in green for my two-handed fighting. I left them for my brother, but I don’t think he ever used them. He didn’t need my friends; he had managed to make real ones.
The Force Awakens premiered three hours after my boyfriend and I almost ended our relationship. I don’t remember the fight, but I remember steering us through the rough patch by refusing to go without him. The disaster was averted in time for me to wear Princess Leia buns to the premiere. My teeth chattered as the film began. I sat with my fingers covering my ears — the way I always did at the theater — with my feet up on the seat so I could see past my knees. He slammed his hand on the tops of my knees to stop me from shaking. By the end, we both cried. We cried more the next year at Rogue One (which was the better of the two). It seemed too good to be true that there would be new Star Wars movies to see each year. We were both fans who had waited years for everyone else to catch up, and now we could play the tie-in video games and discuss fan theories together. That year we had lightsaber duels at Nerd Year’s Eve. I wore Star Wars leggings and an R2-D2 scarf. There were Star Wars branded makeup and graphic tees that were finally cool to wear. We mainlined Clone Wars in its entirety in a month. During our comic-book store runs, I collected the complete Princess Leia storyline.
It wasn’t for several more breakups that I realized how deeply I’d committed to the Star Wars life. Similar to Luke, my boyfriend was blond and blue-eyed, charming yet serious, a small-town boy — who had traveled farther than I had by the time I met him — with big-city dreams. He was also several years older than I. Although he was the person I was looking for, I was slow to realize the comparison, and there was more than a little Han Solo to him. When I told him I loved him, he quoted the iconic lines. I’d never related more to Empire Strikes Back: He was stuck-up and occasionally scruffy-looking and cocky. We bickered. He addressed my Christmas presents To: Princess, From: Nerfherder. I had always loved Luke for myself, but Han was Leia’s. I worshipped the ground Carrie Fisher walked on. I never thought I’d be a better Star Wars character; I just thought we’d be best friends. I never aimed to be a better writer than she; I just wanted her to see the resemblance. When she passed, my boyfriend brought me to his room, sat me down on the bed, and held me so I could cry. I continued to cry for weeks after. I had just purchased her latest book with secret hopes to get it signed. Everyone had commented on how similar we were, down to the overdramatic teenage love poetry. Carrie was beautiful, iconically so, but she was known for her sass and her wit and her smarts. I wanted that. I could never be as pretty as The Empire Strikes Back Leia, but perhaps I could age gracefully like real-life Carrie. I could not fly the X-Wing simulator very well in Battlefront, but Leia was the worst pilot of the three (still a high bar) and still answered every call to arms. As women everywhere took up her image and her spirit in the Women’s March, the pain of her passing eased a bit. She would always be with us.
My daughter, Belle, got into Star Wars shortly after. She had all the Little Golden Book novels and access to my boyfriend’s Vader mask and lightsabers. She watched the original trilogy in a single weekend, showing the right amount of surprise that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. I live-tweeted all her reactions because kissing was “gross.” She took pictures with a Leia lookalike and quoted lines from The Force Awakens. She had other interests, but she had a Play-Doh Millennium Falcon set and an R2-D2 Bop It. She was already learning how to paint nails and wear lipgloss. I bought her whatever trendy clothes she wanted, but she wore boys’ superhero hoodies and nerd socks, too. I wanted her to have the best of everything, with Princess-Leia levels of self-esteem to match.
My mom was a lot like Princess Leia, the leader. She was confident, perfectly at home being the only woman in the room, and just as smart and authoritative. But they could both get away with it because they were usually right. Mom was not like Princess Leia, the fashion icon. She combed her hair by running her fingers through it while driving to work. She fell asleep in Snoopy sweaters from the 80s. The things I admired about her were the same reasons I loved Leia — the determination, the conviction, the drive, the passion. All traits I wanted to share, too. I thought I was content aspiring to have the same core as Leia, even if I couldn’t pull off the hairstyles.
And then, I saw it. The golden bikini. I had been looking for something special to wear, not sure what, just keeping an eye on several options that my boyfriend also enjoyed. We had different tastes, and I tended to second-guess everything. Not this time. I purchased it immediately, even paid extra for two-day shipping. Trying it on, I felt powerful. I didn’t notice my nonexistent curves, limbs without enough meat on them, or the way my hips stuck out at odd angles. It didn’t matter that I had my glasses on, or that I wasn’t wearing makeup. My hair was just down, combed, but nothing extravagant. I had never felt more beautiful. I had forgotten this had been a fantasy of mine — time and cynicism had worn me down. I convinced myself I couldn’t pull off the outfit — that I wasn’t cool enough. After two and a half years of dating, despite the uncertainty of where we were and if we would continue to be a we, I’d had no doubts when ordering. It fit me perfectly. It wasn’t what I’d been intending to purchase, or what he’d been expecting, but it was completely right. “It’s my version of wearing a Disney Princess dress to prom,” I told the girls, trying to explain that feeling and enjoying the nuance that Princess Leia was now a Disney Princess. It was a lot of nerds’ dreams to have their girlfriend wear the Slave Leia bikini, but it was my dream, too.