A brief history of Mara Jade’s catsuit – and why I’m sick of it

Every Star Wars character has an iconic outfit or two. (Or twenty. Hey, Padme.) Obi-Wan has his Jedi robes, Han Solo has his bloodstripe pants and vest, Boba Fett has his armor. Hell, even Chewbacca has his bandolier.

When it comes to Expanded Universe characters – at least those that derive from books, as opposed to more visual mediums like games or comics – things get a little trickier. Authors generally don’t go for detailed descriptions of clothing, so it’s usually pretty up in the air… At least until someone gets on a book cover, or makes an appearance in a comic book. Which is how Mara Jade got the black leather catsuit that has become – like it or not – her trademark.

In late 1995, Dark Horse began publishing an adaption of Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir the the Empire. And in the first issue, the catsuit appeared. While I’d hesitate to call it much of a sexualization – yes, it was tight, but nothing else about artists Olivier Vatine and Fred Blanchard really screams ‘sex kitten.’ Their Mara, like the Mara in the book, clearly isn’t there to seduce anyone. (Though how does one explain her inclination for sleeve guns when she has no sleeves?) In any case, the catsuit remained Mara’s default outfit through the three Thrawn trilogy adaptions.

When Dark Horse produced a Mara mini-series, By the Emperor’s Hand, in 1998, the catsuit followed – on most of Kilian Plunkett’s covers, at least.

But what really put the catsuit on the map was Star Wars Insider #47, which introduced model Shannon Baksa (now McRandle) as the flesh-and-blood Mara Jade. Baksa was outfitted for Mara’s Decipher card in – what else? – the leather catsuit.

And so it’s been ever since. On book covers, there was a little variety – Mara wore a green outfit on the cover of Vision of the Future, a brown top for her NJO cover appearances – Edge of Victory II: Rebirth and Force Heretic I: Remnant. But the catsuit kept coming back – it appeared on some of the Union covers and, in perhaps one of the most facepalm-worthy moments, the cover of Sacrifice (where… you know.)

Which brings us to the merchandise. Hasbro has produced two distinct Mara figures so far – the first in 1998, and another as part of a two-pack with Luke in 2007. Both were based on the Heir to the Empire comic adaptions – both wear the catsuit. (As did a 2006 minibust.) Virtually every bit of official Mara Jade merchandise has the character in the catsuit. (Exception: Micro Machines.)

It’s the same principal, really, as the whole Slave Leia thing. Sure the costume is sexy, but is that really all there is the character? Does Lucasfilm think that the only way we’ll recognize a redhead as Mara Jade is if she’s dressed in shiny  leather and smuggling beach balls on her chest?

Well, yes. The leather bit, anyway.

Because it’s her trademark. It’s what identifies the character as Mara Jade to the casual fans, who – never forget – vastly outnumber us.

And it is, unfortunately, not going to go away any time soon.

I’m fairly sure the beach ball breasts are optional, as it happens to any and all female characters around these parts, including Leia. (As sexy as Slave Leia may be, Carrie Fisher was not sporting anything near double-Ds in Return of the Jedi, but that’s never stopped artists. But, most importantly, there are plenty of instantly recognizable, non-sexualized costuming options for Leia.) All part of the fun of being a part of a presumably male-dominated fandom.

Wearing a ‘sexy’ costume does not immediately mean a character has to be sexualized. To pick a recent example, take a look at Scarlett Johansson and Colbie Smulders in The Avengers. (No, this is not a casting session, just an example. Stand down.) They both wear tight jumpsuits, but the costumes are presented as merely utilitarian. No ass shots, no lingering looks down the zipper… They are there to do a job. (And many of the dudes are wearing outfits just as form-fitting.) Contrast that with say, Megan Fox in Transformers. The character may have a role as more than the Hot Chick, it’s pretty clear what Michael Bay wants you to notice there – and it’s not her car skills. (Let’s not forget the character’s straight-up-the-jean shorts introduction shot from Transformers 2, either.) No, The Avengers wasn’t perfect, but it was at least a step in the right direction when it comes to summer blockbusters. And, in Mara’s case, we have the paperback cover of Choices of One. Yes, she’s in a jumpsuit, but it has sleeves – something kind of necessary when one is known for hiding a gun under the things – and she’s pretty and all, but the image doesn’t scream ‘I’M SEXY AND WILL BE SEXY IN THIS BOOK.’

The issue with Mara is that the character could look like anyone.  And, yes, they did ‘cast’ Shannon McRandle all those years ago, but they don’t always use her image. Mara can, and has, looked like whoever the artist(s) want to paint her as… So the jumpsuit remains. It’s the quick and easy shortcut that immediately says “Mara Jade,” so the causal fans don’t confuse her with some of the other Jedi redheads floating around.

What can we do? Nothing but make our displeasure known, the same thing we’ve been doing for years. Yes, the cheesecake art happens – no one hires Adam Hughes to do a picture of a lady and expects he won’t present her as a total ‘babe.’ It’s one of the things he’s known for.  But what we can say is that that picture shouldn’t be THE Mara image. There’s nothing wrong with a cheesecake image… But it shouldn’t be the first image one thinks of when we say “Mara Jade.” It shouldn’t be the go-to for Hasbro or Sideshow when they say “We’re going to make a Mara Jade figure.”

What I’m sick of is not the cheesecake, or even the catsuit itself, but the ubiquitousness of the cheesecake and the catsuit, and how they go hand in hand. A character like Mara doesn’t have a fanbase of women – like Club Jade, like many of our readers – just because she’s ‘a hottie.’ The character is more than the hot piece that Luke Skywalker gets to shag. Some of the art and merchandise needs to reflect that, because hormone-addled fanboys aren’t the only ones around here with cash.

30 thoughts on “A brief history of Mara Jade’s catsuit – and why I’m sick of it

  1. Nanci

    Yes, she’s in a jumpsuit, but it has sleeves – something kind of necessary when one is known for hiding a gun under the things – and she’s pretty and all, but the image doesn’t scream ‘I’M SEXY AND WILL BE SEXY IN THIS BOOK.’

    My brain broke trying to imagine her saying this.

    Excellent article. For me, it’s always been more of a “this is not something Mara Jade would wear” as opposed to “this is a sexy outfit that offends me”. I don’t mind sexy outfits, but the Mara Jade I first “met” in HttE would not wear a leather sleeveless catsuit – whether she’s being Emperor’s Hand or smuggler or Jedi. It’s not practical, and Mara is known for being exactly that. (Hell, even Lumiya got sleeves.)

    And I don’t necessarily mind it all the time – I love the Japanese cover of Survivor’s Quest – but it depends on the image. Mara on the Japanese SQ cover is fit, doesn’t have huge beach ball breasts, and looks the way I’d imagine Mara to look like. The Adam Hughes image, on the other hand…well, she has auburn hair.

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  2. Annalee

    Here’s my issue with the Adam Hughes piece (or at least one of them): Her chest is bigger than her hips.

    I, um, *am* sporting double-Ds, and only because it’s hard to get larger cup sizes in mainstream stores. Even when I’m wearing a massively-padded bra (so we’re talking Fs now), my hips are still bigger than my chest.

    Cheesecake is one thing, but that’s just bad anatomy.

    I actually really like the Choices of One cover. It looks like, you know, armor. I’d cosplay that. But I also think a lot of cool things could be done with the green outfit she’s occasionally portrayed in.

    Reply
  3. Dunc Post author

    Nanci: The Adam Hughes image, on the other hand…well, she has auburn hair.

    Historically, this was a huge issue for CJ, but now, I just kind of shrug. Everyone makes her hair too dark, but it’s become the lesser of two many evils.

    It’s not practical, and Mara is known for being exactly that.

    Yup. What about a black leather jumpsuit says ‘blend in to the crowd?’ The hair is attention-getting enough – and that actually comes up in HttE!

    Annalee: Here’s my issue with the Adam Hughes piece (or at least one of them): Her chest is bigger than her hips.

    That one goes back to the general comic/comic-adjacent industry’s love of unrealistic proportions, really…

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  5. Annalee

    That one goes back to the general comic/comic-adjacent industry’s love of unrealistic proportions, really…

    I know that, and yet something about this one in particular falls hard into the uncanny valley for me. I mean, it’s no Rob Liefeld, but it looks like her catsuit actually has balloons in it.

    Also, I just. Laser sword. I know Jedi robes don’t offer much protection from that either, but if I was swinging one of those things around, I would want some sleeves.

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  6. Victoria

    One of my biggest problems with the catsuit and any form of’ “cheesecake” art is the complete lack of attention to anatomy. The Choices of One cover is one of my favorites because it pays attention to what a proportioned fit female should look like (mostly). As a biology/anatomy student it reallllly irks me when they completely forget that “hey, lungs need to go here. And internal organs. And muscles and ribs and bones!” XD

    Imo, the Japanese NJO covers are my absolute favorite depictions of Mara (and any of the NJO characters frankly). They have variety, she doesn’t look like Shannon (while a beautiful woman, she just isn’t my mental image of Mara) and they don’t have the catsuit!! :D :D And if they do, they’re not sexualized – they have variety and they seem more practical.

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  7. Sabrina

    Definitely agree with the idea that it’s less the catsuit itself and more the impracticality of it. It just has never fit Mara’s character to me. I recognize the usefulness of having an outfit that is identifiable, but the catsuit is just so out of character to me that it always has bugged me. The green tunic on Visions of the Future has always seemed more practical to me, which is probably why it’s my preferred of her outfits.

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  8. Sarah

    Add me to the list of people who just think the catsuit is out of character. I agree, it’s impractical and Mara is practicality defined.

    The cape included in it is even worse. Capes are about as impractical as it can get. People wear them to be seen. Mara was a shadow agent not a super-villain.

    Also, it lacks pockets and I have difficulty imagining Mara without pockets.

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  10. jawajames

    Sarah: i totally agree that it is impractical in general (except when crawling in vents). especially a shiny catsuit. because if you’re wearing black to stay hidden in the dark, the last thing you want is to be vinyl-reflective.

    but while capes are attention getters in our world, capes (and cloaks and wraps and ponchos) seem to be much more common in the GFFA. it’s so she can batman when she needs to. or blend in at one of Lando’s functions. and no one in the GFFA has read Watchmen to know why capes are impractical.

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  11. Eliz

    Hooray! So glad to know we are not alone on the issue of he cat suit. I have loathed it from the start as it is not something that made any sense related to her.

    The hair still annoys me. Red gold is not that hard to understand!

    Reply
  12. Sarah

    jawajames: That’s true. They do seem to be more of a presence in the GFFA and I love flow fabric as much as the next person.

    I just can’t get over my mental image of Mara working her way through the forests of Myrkr or Wayland and snagging her cape on every twig.

    And the jedi wear cloaks but they take them off to duel for the most part because they get in the way.

    Reply
  13. kataja

    I echo the points here (!!!) and want to add that long loose hair is insanely impractical too! Especially with lightsabers around! I’ll always love By the Emperor’s Hand (not the covers) for letting her sport ponytails! And Zahn for mentioning her hair being tied in Allegiance. I doubt Mara will ever be known for her hairstyles as Leia, but it could be cool to see a hairdo on her that could be practical, smart – AND recognizable!

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  18. Jack Colby

    Great article. I am a guy, but I also find the Mara catsuit to be way overdone. I was introduced to her in the novels not the comics, and never would have imagined her in that getup. When I saw the comics I wrote it off as typical “comic book babe-itis” which it seems most comics artists are prone to. For it to have stuck around and proliferated like it has is unfortunate. There’s really no precedent for such an outfit in the Star Wars movies (well, wasn’t at the time… Padme may have changed that a little), so it seems especially odd, but it also doesn’t seem to fit the character as I understood her. I get why it’s popular, and it’s cool if artists like AH want to draw her that way, but some alternate official representations would be very welcome.

    Pity the 2013 action figure is again going to be the Dark Horse catsuit version…

    Reply
  19. Jack Colby

    A couple more thoughts:

    People wear capes in Star Wars. It’s not a terribly practical universe. They also have walkways over open pits with no railings, and duel over them with laser swords… and capes. :)

    When someone like Adam Hughes draws a character like Mara, it should not be seen as (or judged as) an illustration for a book or something. It’s specifically cheesecake art, and that has it’s own set of rules. Exaggerated proportions, and liberties of all kinds may be taken. This is not a bad or wrong thing, it’s what is expected of that form of art.

    Not to say Mara Jade should have exaggerated proportions or a cape “for real”, just noting that there are reasons she does in some cases, and that should be kept in mind. I think the official representations need to be more appropriate, absolutely, and I especially would like to see Zahn’s version of her more visible. (What is Zahn’s opinion of her appearance as depicted in artwork, by the way?)

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  23. Wolf Baginski

    If any lady of athletic habit wants to wear a catsuit, I am not going to stop her, especially if she is carrying a lightsaber. But you are so right about the practical details. Look a bit at the fashion history, and catsuits were very different in the 1970s. I sometimes think the whole idea has been taken over by the kinky fetish crowd. A Google image search gives a better result if you search on “jumpsuit”.

    Incidentally, black is too dark a colour for hiding in shadows.

    I now have the image of Mara Jade wearing a 1970s-style jumpsuit in silk, dark-coloured with a floral pattern. Pick the right colours and it turns into camouflage, but it doesn’t look military.

    But that would be hell for the comic-book artists. I’m so sorry, NOT!

    Reply

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