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.