As iconic as X-Wings and lightsabers, the hairstyles of Leia continue to enchant and baffle.
And of those, the most well-known is without a doubt ‘the buns’. Ridiculous in a way, even for a film as outlandish as Star Wars, yet it’s hard to imagine Leia without them. But how’d they come to be? Let’s go to our man on the street:
“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. Then it took such hits and became such a thing.” [George Lucas, 1]
Case solved. Right?
Objection, prosecution is leading the jury!
Let’s take a look at what the Mexican revolutionaries, ‘el adelitas’, generally looked like back in the 1910’s:
Nary a bun amongst the lot. Drat!
Which if you stop to think about it for a second, makes sense. When would revolutionaries find the time to put your hair up in two ridiculous buns, which are impossible, even with modern state-of-the-art hair product technology to carry for any length of time, if indeed you manage to tame your hair enough to play along to begin with. Especially given that you’re walking tens, if not hundreds of kilometers a day, carrying weapons, food, equipment and so on and so forth. Oh. And fighting a war.
There’s another image that pops up here and there in relation to Leia’s hair, sometimes cited as one of Pancho Villa’s wives. It is in fact A Hopiland Beauty (from Arizona) by renown native american photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis. I happen to know, because I have a print of his, of the same girl, from a different angle, on my wall. And yes, it does bear some resemblance to the buns, and given that Padme wears a hairstyle almost exactly like it in Episode II, one can’t be faulted for thinking that there might be a connection there.
But once you sever the connection between the photo and Lucas’ Pancho Villa statement and take a closer look at how the hair is actually done, it’s quite obvious that the likelihood of that connection being slim. This isn’t to say that this hairstyle didn’t originate where Lucas says it did. It may have; though I have been unable to find any evidence to support that statement, and the alternatives simply sound much more likely, given Lucas’s use of movies and comics as his primary sources of influence.
There are two options that spring most prominently to mind. The first is the least likely, namely The Dambusters, in which the professor’s wife, in the very beginning of the film, sports a pair of unmistakable buns. The Dambusters of course played a major part in the conceptualization of the climactic Battle of Yavin, and so there’s no denying that Lucas had seen it, and probably many times over.
Another possibility is that of Dr. Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl, though I merely bring it up for the sake of being completionist, because even though Lucas was an avowed comic book nerd, I never got the impression that he would have read Batgirl. But, anything is possible.
No, if I were a betting man, I would put my money not on high-brow, ethnic and multi-cultural influences for Star Wars, but on adventure movies and pulp comics, preferably in the sci-fi genre. And it just so happens that there a perfect candidate that fits that description to a tee:
Queen Fria, ruler of Frigia (the ice world that inspired Hoth) of the Flash Gordon comic, as drawn by its creator, Alex Raymond in 1939, for The Ice Kingdom of Mongo. And here it’s worth noting that Fria – whose name isn’t dissimilar to Leia – also has a third, even larger bun, on the back of her blond head, but beyond that the similarity is quite striking, and more in line with Lucas’s influences in general, than obscure Mexican revolutionary women’s unlikely hair.