Princess Leia, the Gold Bikini, and Teaching Morality to my Kindergartner

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Despite never having seen Return of the Jedi, my 5-year-old loves all things Star Wars. While perusing an “easy reader” from the library, he came across a photo of Princess Leia chained up to Jabba the Hutt. A firestorm of questions erupted from his mind and mouth:
“Why is Princess Leia wearing these chains? Why does Jabba the Hutt have her? What is he doing to her? How did he capture her? Is he hurting her? Does she escape? What’s going on in this picture? Why is she wearing those clothes? Where is her blaster?” ….and on and on.

Spurred from a source I didn’t initiate, what followed was an enlightening, age-appropriate, 2-hour-long conversation with my son that covered organized crime, slavery, human trafficking, sexual objectification of women, consent, clothing and more. It was the perfect marriage between a topic he’s very interested in (Star Wars) with important concepts I’m very interested in teaching him (equality, morality, and social justice.)

If you have a little Star Wars fan in your home and have never discussed any of these topics with them, you could use this scene as a discussion prompt. Here are some questions, language and topics you could use.

  • “Does anything about this scene make you feel uncomfortable?”  then listen for which topics trigger their initial response and start there.

Organized Crime, Jabba as Crime Lord: Jabba the Hutt was the leader of many crimes, and not things like stealing from a store or cheating on his income taxes — bad crimes like murder and kidnapping. Some crimes he did himself, others he paid people to do, or forced them to do for him. There was nothing good in him or about him. He committed crimes because he wanted to control other people and he wanted to be powerful. He also wanted money. There are still people alive today who do the same thing that Jabba did, and they are dangerous criminals who hurt lots of people.   Moral: obsessions with money, power, or exerting control over others will turn you into an ugly slug. 

Human trafficking, kidnapping, slavery: crimes that bad people, like Jabba, commit to use their power to control other people. Jabba paid money to buy Han Solo’s body trapped in carbonite so that he could display it like a trophy in his house. But it’s not okay to buy people! People are not property! When Leia comes to rescue Han, Jabba traps her, chains her up and forces her to be his slave. He controls what she does, what she eats, and what she wears. Sadly, there are still people today who trap and keep other people as their slaves.  Moral: It’s not okay to use your power or influence to force another person to be your slave, or to use money to buy people in any way.   

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Consent for physical touch: We always need to ask if it’s okay with a person before we hug, kiss, wrestle, touch, or tickle them. Does it look like Princess Leia wants Jabba to hug and kiss her? She’s pulling her body away and making a yucky face. When Jabba puts chains around her body, he yanks her this way or that way, whichever he wants. That made it so Leia couldn’t choose how she wanted her body to be touched, and everyone is supposed to decide for their own bodies. Touching another person’s body without their permission is not good, but it still happens to a lot of different people. We have to make sure that we always ask before touching and listen to the answer we’re told. We must make other people hear our answers, too.  Moral: we never use our power to control another person’s body, and it’s not okay for anyone else to touch our bodies if we don’t want them to. We have to say “yes” to the touches we want and “no” for the touches we don’t want. 

Clothing: If Princess Leia were going to the beach with Luke and Han Solo, she might decide to wear a bikini, maybe even one like this. As long as she was the one choosing which clothes she wanted to put on her own body, that’s fine. The problem with this picture is that she’s wearing a bikini because Jabba (George Lucas) forced her to do it. All of her other outfits in the movie are the ones she chose — uniforms, disguises — clothes that helped her be successful at the work she was doing. When Jabba forced her to wear the clothes he picked out for her, you can tell by her face and the way she’s holding her body that she was uncomfortable and unhappy.  Moral: It’s not okay to tell another person what clothes to wear, even if we don’t like their choices. 

Sexual Objectification, object of sexual fantasy: When Jabba picked a bikini for Leia to wear instead of something more comfortable like a robe, it was because he wanted to look at her body without clothes on without her permission. Since she was chained up, she couldn’t stop him from looking at her or touching her, and she couldn’t change her clothes. Moral: It’s not okay to look at or touch another person’s body when their clothes are off without their permission.

Self-Defense: since Leia was a prisoner being held against her will, she did whatever she could to get free. When Jabba wasn’t paying attention, she used the chains to choke him so she could escape. If anyone ever tries to hurt your body, or make you their slave, or make you eat or drink something that will hurt you, or kidnap you, or touch your body in ways you don’t like, you can do whatever you can (run, scream, kick, fight, yell, punch, sneak away) to escape and be free. Leia was brave and strong and killed Jabba to escape! You will always be safe with me, and I will always help and rescue you. Moral: it’s okay to to fight back or run away if someone dangerous is hurting your body or your spirit. 

As a parent and teacher, sometimes having conversations with kids about heavy topics like objectification, consent and human trafficking makes me feel uneasy and inadequate, but these are not topics to be avoided — we must teach them early and often!  Using a child-friendly vocabulary and putting the themes in a familiar context (Star Wars) can make it feel easier to relate to the kids at their level.

What did you internalize about this scene as a child or teen? What discussions have you had with kids or teens about these themes? 

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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9 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    This. Is. Awesome. What a terrific, terrific lesson on consent, objectification, and using power to hurt others. I am seriously going to plan a huge FHE around this and use every one of your points. Brilliant!!!! now I just have to find the right clips of the movie on You Tube. Hope they are there!

  2. Emily U says:

    This is great! Important lessons, explained really well.

  3. Jason K. says:

    Marvelously done. I wish I’d had someone talk me through this when I was younger, and do it as clearly as you just did. I learned the wrong lessons from this scene, and now I have to un-learn them.

  4. Virginia Burnett says:

    Beautifully said. Thank you for your insights and for raising a boy who understands about respecting ALL people. <3

  5. Olea says:

    Awesome lesson, and as a teacher at heart, I also love how this can be used to spark discussion and learning in groups of children, with them each at their own level.

    Caroline, I love your idea about using this as the basis for an FHE lesson!

  6. Melissa says:

    This is so well thought out. Thank you for sharing your insights! My kids love star wars, so this is a very tangible lesson plan for them. I particularly liked how you taught your son that it is OK to say no, and to fight to be safe. We have talked to our boys a lot about this, you don’t have to just go along with things that may be bad, dangerous, or anything that makes you uncomfortable. You don’t even have to hug people you don’t want to, even if they are elderly family members. And the reverse too, you must never touch someone else’s body if they don’t want you to, or try to get them to do things they don’t feel good about.

    I always got the heebie-jeebies as a kid watching this scene. I think the sexual undertones are not lost on even young children, in their innocent way. I was taught that women are supposed to cover their bodies, and so the fact that she is chained and most of her body is showing against her will made it clear to me something scandalous was going on.

  7. Becca says:

    Thank you for this! I have been trying to articulate my thoughts and feelings about this, and now I know how to have an age-appropriate discussion with my kids. I realized that, as a kid, I never identified with Princess Leia – despite the fact that she was a strong, intelligent, capable leader. If someone had explained to me that the sexualization of her body against her will was wrong, I might have been able to see her as a role model. Instead, I saw the way men looked at her (in the film, and later as a teen amongst other teens) and I thought that what was important about Leia was her body. And since I never felt I was gold bikini-level attractive, I internalized that as shame. George Lucas undid so much positive feminist work with this one, fetishized scene. What a bust.

  1. December 27, 2016

    […] Princess Leia, the Gold Bikini, and Teaching Morality to my Kindergartner by Violadiva […]

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