It’s no secret that we at Tosche Station dislike Mara Jade’s catsuit. The reasons are many: it’s a symbol of sexism and objectification of female characters; it’s not what she’s described as wearing in the Thrawn Trilogy; we hate seeing her in the same outfit all the damn time. My dislike–even hatred–of the catsuit comes down to one simple matter.
It’s not practical.
I’ve never cosplayed as Mara, so I can’t comment to what it’s like to move around in a black leather catsuit. But I do know several avid cosplayers, and they’ve all commented on how ridiculous it is for Mara Jade–Emperor’s Hand, Jedi, and smuggler–to wear such a restrictive outfit. Ever worn a leather jacket? It doesn’t allow for great ease of movement. So why on Earth would Mara Jade, queen of practicality, choose to wear such a thing?
She wouldn’t. And therein lies the problem.
Because the first time she’s depicted in a major source–the Thrawn Trilogy comic adaptation–she’s wearing the catsuit. Dunc from Club Jade has already done a great job explaining the history of the catsuit and why so many fans are so annoyed with it. Basically, she wears the catsuit for the entire comic series, and so that became her default outfit. Even though she wears other clothing in illustrations and the Vision of the Future cover–not to mention the flight suit she’s wearing on the cover of The Last Command–Mara Jade and catsuit soon became synonymous. The connection was solidified when Shannon Baksa (now McRandle) was pictured in the catsuit on the Decipher trading cards and Star Wars Insider.
All because one comic decided that it made the most sense for a female smuggler to wear a catsuit.
Let’s look at other smugglers in the galaxy. When we first meet Han Solo, he’s wearing bloodstripe pants, a white shirt, and a black vest. Pretty simple, easy to move around in, nondescript. Talon Karrde, another smuggler and Mara’s boss, is often depicted in pants and a jacket (which does have a fur collar, but I can forgive that because it’s Karrde). Another female smuggler, Mirax Terrik, is either shown wearing in a blue flight suit during the Rogue Squadron books, or her outfit of beige pants, white shirt, and black jacket in the Rogue Squadron comics.
I’ve cosplayed as Mirax from the comics several times. My costume is even approved by the Rebel Legion. It’s pretty simple as Star Wars costumes go, but it’s still not that comfortable. That’s mostly because of the thigh holster, which constantly bangs against my leg while walking, and makes it difficult to sit down. I either have to shift the gun to my hip or take off the belt. It looks awesome, but it’s completely impractical. I can deal with this because many other Star Wars characters are shown with thigh holsters, including Han Solo.
Other than the holster, the costume isn’t that bad. The leggings are fine, if not something I’d normally choose to wear, but the white long-sleeved shirt and black jacket can get very hot. (As I’m often cold inside convention centers, this isn’t normally a problem.) Also, whoever designed that costume has never tried to wear a t-shirt tucked into leggings. It’s not flattering or comfortable.
Still, Mirax’s costume makes sense for her. It’s simple and fitting of a smuggler. And you know what? She’s still attractive! Male fans (and female fans, too) think she’s good-looking! There’s no reason Mara Jade couldn’t wear a similar outfit and still appeal to the traditional young male demographic. There’s no reason she shouldn’t have been wearing similar clothing to Mirax or Han or Karrde in the Heir to the Empire comic. I will never understand that creative choice.
Thankfully, Mara’s not always in the castuit. Let’s look at the By the Emperor’s Hand trade paperback. While she’s depicted in the catsuit on several of the covers, her outfits in the interior pages consist of nondescript clothing that would make sense for an undercover agent to wear. She can blend in with her surroundings. She can move around easily. All things she can’t do while wearing a black leather catsuit. In Allegiance and Choice of One she’s wearing a suit of armor, which makes sense because she’s fighting alongside stormtroopers. It’s a badass outfit, and portrays her as the strong character she is. If I can’t get an image or figure of her wearing Jedi robes, I’d love for this to become her standard outfit. (Her Universe has already made a t-shirt showing Mara in this look.) Mara’s been in other outfits on the New Jedi Order Japanese covers, and there’s a much nicer version of the catsuit she wears on the Japanese cover of the Swarm War, as well as in the Essential Guide to Warfare. She’s also shown wearing a jacket and pants combination on another page of Warfare, where she’s fighting a Yuuzhan Vong.
So why do I, and other fans, keep harping on our dislike of the catsuit? Because we keep having reasons to do so, especially when it comes to how she’s depicted in other media. In official artwork, book covers (yes, I’m looking at you, Sacrifice), action figures–you name it, she’s usually wearing the catsuit. Because as Dunc explained, it’s her trademark. I understand why it’s done, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The new Mara Jade Skywalker action figure (which I voted for in a fan poll specifically because I thought she might finally be shown wearing Jedi robes) and Mara Jade Kotobukiya figure are just two more nails in the coffin.
I know Mara isn’t the only character’s whose outfit errs on the side of impracticality. I will never understand why characters like Ahsoka Tano and Aayla Secura don’t wear regular Jedi robes. I will never understand the infatuation with Princess Leia’s gold bikini. I will never understand why tons of other female characters across many fandoms have to wear skimpy outfits and heels and have their hair whipping around during intense action sequences.
I also realize this isn’t exclusive to female characters. Male characters wear impractical clothes all the time, just because it looks good. But can’t there be a happy medium? Can’t costumes look good and be practical? And while we’re at it, can’t Black Widow please tie her hair back before the Battle of New York? (Long hair whipping around is another pet peeve that comes from years of dance and playing sports as a kid.)
All I want is for characters, especially female characters, to wear clothing that makes sense. To be practical. It has never made sense to me why someone would think a female smuggler should wear a leather catsuit, but that’s what we got. And for the same reason that Han Solo still shows up in his trademark vest and pants, we’re going to keep getting Mara in the catsuit until someone finally listens to us and realizes how dumb that outfit is for her to wear.