'Star Wars' characters' costumes reflect shift from power to romance

Star Wars
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Changes in costume in the female leads—Padmé and Leia—in Star Wars Episodes I through VI parallel shifts in the characters' positions of power, a study published in the open access journal Fashion and Textiles suggests. These changes in costume and status seem to be linked to the progression of the characters' romantic relationships, and take focus away from their roles as political leaders, and towards more passive roles as romantic partners, according to researchers Mary C. King and Jessica L. Ridgway from the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship at Florida State University.

King, the lead author of the study, said: "For years, Star Wars has been praised in popular media for its portrayal of strong and independent female characters, but it has also received criticism for how Padmé's and Leia's positions of power fade as their relationships evolve. We argue that this shift from women in power to subjects of the male characters' affections is evident in costume and hairstyle changes throughout the films."

The authors argue that Padmé and Leia are examples of how costume and hairstyle can diminish the positions of power that female characters hold and instead contribute to their objectification by drawing attention to their bodies—a phenomenon referred to as the 'male gaze'.

Mary C. King said: "Objectification is obvious with costumes like Leia's gold bikini or Padmé's black leather corset dress. There is a level of sexualization with these costumes that is distinct and clear. What was most surprising for us is just how prevalent objectification is in Star Wars, even in the most subtle ways, such as bringing color into a costume, or hairstyles becoming less severe once romance starts being introduced."

The authors observed that Padmé's costumes in Episode I, when she holds substantial political power as Queen Amidala, depict her as fully clothed, revealing almost no skin, with dresses that hide the shape of her figure. Her hair is either tightly wound or covered. The authors suggest that the costume was designed to remind the audience of Padme's political status—a leadership role in which she is acknowledged and respected—by emphasizing her imposing presence. The subsequent loss of power in later episodes and the greater emphasis on romance are associated with increased visibility of skin, higher body definition and softer hairstyles.

Similarly, Leia holds a position of authority in Star Wars Episode IV, which the authors argue is associated with a costume that leaves only her face and hands exposed, and a tightly wound hairstyle. Again, more revealing costumes and softer hairstyles emerge as the trilogy progresses, albeit in subtler ways than for Padmé.

Mary C. King said: "We are seeing frequent discussions on gender inequality across society, including in the media. In film, women are frequently objectified both through their roles and their costumes. Yet, films also have the opportunity to send a message that a woman does not need to reveal or change physical aspects of her body, or have her position of power diminished, in order to be appealing to other characters or to a viewing audience. Given the Star Wars films' large audience—69% of adults in the United States have seen the films, according to a YouGov poll—it seems important to investigate their portrayal of women."

To examine the possible objectification of the lead female characters Padmé and Leia in the first six Star Wars films, the researchers carried out a qualitative content analysis of the trilogies' audio and visual content, with particular attention to whether the characters held a formal leadership position, their relationship status, and how this may be reflected in their costumes. Qualitative content analysis is a research method for the subjective interpretation of written, audio and visual content through the identification of themes or patterns. The authors coded each costume worn by the characters according to three criteria—body definition, skin visibility and hair style. The codes were chosen based on existing concepts of what is part of a character's costume, how costume may draw attention to physical appearance, and sexual objectification in relation to skin visibility.

The analysis focuses solely on the theatrical releases of the first two live action Star Wars trilogies and does not take into consideration the character development in other Star Wars stories, such as the animated series.

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More information: Costume evolution during the development of romantic relationships and its impact on the positions of power in the Star Wars prequel and original trilogies Mary C. King and Jessica L. Ridgway Fashion and Textiles 2019 DOI: 10.1186/s40691-018-0167-8 , https://fashionandtextiles.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40691-018-0167-8
Provided by BioMed Central
Citation: 'Star Wars' characters' costumes reflect shift from power to romance (2019, February 25) retrieved 18 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-02-star-wars-characters-costumes-shift.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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User comments

Feb 27, 2019
SW a film with characters that tell a story, and fashion is part of the story telling.
Part of the story of SW is the relationship between its characters.
In films that include relationships, especially between men and women, romance is a frequent development because of it's audience allure.
Part of the essence of romance is sexuality.
Sexuality is, among other things, manifested by body presentation, i.e. physique, skin, and fashion.
Is this objectification?

Feb 27, 2019
Male bad. Female good. Must empower female. Must neuter male.

Feb 27, 2019
"'Star Wars' characters' costumes reflect shift from power to romance"

-while marvel costumes are shifting from romance to power. Compare capt marvel from the comics with brie larsens uniform. And note also the negative reviews. Which btw may be the attempt to kill the franchise.

Politics and superheroes dont mix.

Feb 28, 2019
you boys are a hoot!
All so serious as if you were discussing a gospel Morality Play.
What a buncha goobers.

SW is entertainment. The writers, director & artists only intentions were to create a comicbook style entertainment
& make a passel of money doing so.

You are the ones trying to pretend that this Saturday Matinee flick is political theater. Watching it let's you pretend that you are capable of being a hero.

Meanwhile, the original SW fans grew up.
The older audience's tastes matured & they were being influenced by the more artistic forms of pornography.

Sex sells & the collaborators for the SW franchises made a whole lot more money. Enforcing their opinions of what their audience was unwilling to admit they now wanted in entertainment.

Or at least some of them did, Obviously not the perpetual boys club preceding. They continue as an passive audience that they can play at being the hero & pretend they are heterosexual.

-cont'd -

Feb 28, 2019
- cont'd -

The real question being dodged by cowardly misogynists?

The real question being dodged by fervent Feminist activists?

The Real Question:
Is there a paying audience, large enough to guarantee a substantial ROI over the costs of producing new SW movies?

A movie with a storyline where the hero is blatantly female? She rescues not only her male leads but saves the day for the Galaxy?

Without having to burn her at the stake for witchcraft?

The advantage of a Liberal Arts education is to learn the long sordid History of Mankind's evil proclivity for crushing Womenkind's Herstory.

There have been many Women leaders across the World.
& too many of them were betrayed by their "loyal" male followers, so easily seduced by her enemies.
& you wonder why women accuse us men of thinking with our penises?

So, the Real Question is?
Is there an audience?
Is there a profit-to-be-made?
The business of Business is business. Even the Entertainment business!

Feb 28, 2019
p.s. Wasn't it Samuel Clemens who said "That the difference between dogs & men?
Dogs are capable of expressing gratitude!"

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