Who Created Princess Leia’s Aesthetic?
Did Ralph Bakshi Create the Look for Princess Leia?
Star Wars is one of the most iconic films in American history. This is due to both great storytelling and the timeless costumes. And as with all great works, fans are always curious about the origins of their favorite works, and Star Wars is no exception. Whether it’s drawing links between Star Wars and other sci-fi works like Dune or Perry Rhodan, or other inspirations such as Seven Samurai, it is easy for one to see that George Lucas’s sci-fi epic was not created in a vacuum. However, one of the most iconic looks of the first film (now episode IV), Star Wars: A New Hope, is Princess Leia’s hair. And as such, it has been the subject of much speculation since the film was released. The goal of this article is not to rehash old articles or detract from how others interpret Star Wars through their cultural lens. But rather, it is an attempt to ponder the actual origins of Princess Leia’s look and offer new evidence as to its providence.
One can imagine the surprise felt when I first watched the documentary, Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation, in the special features of the 2004 DVD release of Wizards. Yet, there it was staring right at me. It is the concept art for Elinore, the female protagonist of Wizards. Looking at the first image shown, it is very easy to see the similarities between the two characters’ looks. And as the interview continues, the idea that George Lucas may have asked Bakshi for the design or simply lifted it from him only becomes more apparent.
The first evidence for the intermingling of the Star Wars and Wizards universes is that both films were released by 20thCentury Fox in 1977. Then we are presented with Bakshi discussing the similarity between each film's original title, as Wizards was originally titled War Wizards. (1) in the interview Bakshi explains that, “Lucas asked me a big favor. He said, ‘alright Ralph, we can’t both go out with War Wizards and Star Wars. It doesn’t sound right. So, he asked me whether or not I could drop war, and give it to him. So, I said alright George. Let me think about it. So, I go back to the office. And I’m thinking about it. Wizards, War Wizards, Wizards. Wizards, Wizards, Wizards nice, nice.” (2) Then there is the time that both directors were coming up short in their film budgets.
While many are right to assume that George Lucas made most of his money off of Star Wars from the film’s popularity, that is not true. Ralph Bakshi gives us a little insight into the origin of Lucas’s during his interview in The Wizard of Animation. As Bakshi explains, “so, I’m two years and $50,000 over, due to union increases. Sitting in the same room, the same office is George Lucas. He says I need 2 to 3million dollars to finish Star Wars. But he says, look I’m going to renegotiate the back end. The reason Lucas owns as much as he does on Star Wars is because he renegotiated the back end.” And owns he most certainly does.
As Abanti Bose notes in their May 2021 article, How did George Lucas make a fortune out of Star Wars, “After the first film, George owned 100% of the rights to the entire franchise. ‘The next five Star Wars movies would go on to earn an additional $3.5 billion at the box office. In total, the Star Wars empire has sold $4 billion worth of DVDs and VHS, $3 billion worth of video games, $2 billion worth of books. George Lucas had earned himself an impressive $3.3 billion net worth by 2012.” (3) The dominance of Star Wars merchandise was so apparent that it is a punchline in the 1987 parody movie, Spaceballs. However, back in the 1970s, neither director had any idea how well their films would do. But back to the question at hand.
Many articles claim that Mexican Revolutionary or traditional Hopi women’s fashion inspired Princess Leia’s hair. While many of these articles are compelling and do seem to provide a plausible explanation, they do only focus on the aspect of Leia’s hair. And that is where the concept art for Elinore from Wizards undermines this presumption. As you can see in the following photos, not only are Leia’s emblematic buns present, but one drawing has her positioned similar to when she is putting her message into R2D2. And then there’s the last and most significant drawing. This is a full-body drawing of Elinore, wearing a disc-lined belt that if one did not know any better, would think was concept art for Leia. However, we do know better.
As Flora Drury notes in her article, The story behind Princess Leia's hairstyle, “according to Brandon Alinger, the author of Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, the buns do not even appear in any of the concept artwork done for Leia in the preparation of the film.” (4) So, where then does the idea that Mexican revolutionaries or Hopi women inspired Leia’s buns come from? Well, it comes from a 2002 Time interview where Lucas tells Time reporter Jess Cagle, “In the 1977 film, I was working very hard to create something different that wasn't fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico.” (5) Is this true? Is this faulty memory? Or was it chaff? It is hard to know, barring Bakshi or Lucas coming forward with more insights.
The reality is that Lucas’s comments from this article lit the spark for dozens of articles echoing this idea. And while there does appear to be some conjectural evidence for this based on turn-of-the-century photographs, it is not nearly as compelling as the Elinore concept art from Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation.
As a fan of both filmmakers, it is my sincere hope that the exchange of ideas was from two great storytellers collaborating, rather than one taking from the other.
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For more Star Wars and Wizards crossover stories, see the article below:
Other works by this author:
1. Ralph Bakshi, Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation, Wizards, 20th Century Fox. 1977, 2004
2. Ralph Bakshi, Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation, Wizards, 20th Century Fox. 1977, 2004
3. Abanti Bose, How did George Lucas make a fortune out of Star Wars, iPleaders. May 23, 2021
4. Flora Drury, The story behind Princess Leia's hairstyle, BBC News. December 28, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38452953
5. Jess Cagle, So, What's the Deal with Leia's Hair?, Time. April 21, 2002. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,232499,00.html
A few articles that inspired this work: