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Princess Leia is probably one of the first names that pop into your head when the Star Wars franchise comes up. She is strong and has some of the best lines in A New Hope alone. She grew into one of the essential characters in the original trilogy and went on to make a massive mark in the sequels, as well. Played by the late Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia is also one of the most recognizable characters, especially thanks to her iconic space buns that only appeared in Episode IV. But where did the inspiration for Leia’s hairstyle come from?

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford on the set of 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.'
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford on the set of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

George Lucas said Mexican revolutionaries inspired Princess Leia’s hair

According to the BBC in 2016, George Lucas told Time in 2002 that the inspiration for Princess Leia’s buns came from Mexican revolutionaries. 

“I went with a kind of south-western Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico,” Lucas said.

Fisher had told the BBC in 1977 when the first movie came out that “George didn’t want a damsel in distress.” This was why she had such an odd, out-of-this-world hairstyle.

“[He] didn’t want your stereotypical princess — he wanted a fighter, he wanted someone who was independent,” Fisher said.

However, Tabea Linhard, who wrote Fearless Women in the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, told the BBC that Leia’s hair wasn’t historically accurate.

“As much as I would like to say that Princess Leia’s hairstyle was based on the ‘soldaderas’ from the Mexican Revolution, this was probably not the case,” she said. “If you take a look at photos from the period, you see women with long braids, some wear hats, on occasion, they cover their hair with a shawl.”

Leia’s hairstyle still might have indigenous roots

So Princess Leia’s hair isn’t innately Mexican. But it’s possible Lucas got the area mixed up. Indigenous women in Arizona did have similar hairdos to Leia.

Kendra Van Cleave of Frock Flicks, a website that reviews costume accuracy, told the BBC that the “squash blossom” style was something women of the Hopi tribe in Arizona wore. “This consists of two side arrangements which aren’t actually buns — they’re more loops of hair,” Van Cleave said. 

“The hair is parted in the centre, then wrapped around a U-shaped ‘hair bow’ made of wood,” she said. “The hair is wrapped in a figure of eight pattern, then tied at the middle and spread out to create the two semi-circles.”

CNN also reported that the Japanese Shimada hairstyle might have influenced Leia’s look, too. So while it’s not entirely clear where Princess Leia got her hairstyle, it’s safe to say it came from a mixture of cultures and styles. 

Carrie Fisher’s legacy lives on through Princess Leia and her big hair buns

A Princess Leia sign at a 2018 women's march in Los Angeles
A Princess Leia sign at a 2018 women’s march in Los Angeles | Sarah Morris/Getty Images

Regardless of where her hair came from, the impact Leia and her buns have had on pop culture is immense. She only wore her hair like that in one film, but it’s what everyone wears to recreate her look. There is a reason we call two hair buns “space buns” now.

As Fisher’s daughter and actress Billie Lourd wrote in an essay for Time in 2019, Fisher didn’t like the buns. But she also couldn’t wait for her daughter to don them in the sequel trilogy. 

“Even though she complained for years about how the iconic Leia buns ‘further widened my already wide face,’ she desperately wanted me to carry on the face-widening family tradition,” Lourd wrote. “Some people carry on their family name; some people carry on holiday traditions — I was going to carry on the family hairstyle.

Lourd played Lieutenant Connix in Episodes VII-IX. When Fisher died in 2016, Lourd wrote that she gained a new responsibility when it came to Star Wars and Princess Leia’s legacy. 

“And I inherited this weird, intimidating thing called her legacy,” she said. “Suddenly I was in charge of what would come of her books, her movies, and a bunch of other overwhelming things. I was now the keeper of Leia.”

That legacy is far-reaching, with a significant impact on women’s rights and female empowerment. Fisher would undoubtedly be proud of where her “face-widening” space buns reached.