A Brief History of Princess Leia’s Buns

Actress Debbie Reynolds once warned her daughter, Carrie Fisher, to be careful of roles that required “any weird hairdo.” Fortunately Fisher didn’t heed her mother’s advice, and chose to star as Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, a badass diplomat-turned-rebel leader who sports one of the most iconic “weird hairdos” in cinematic history.

How did George Lucas come up with Princess Leia’s buns?

Well, like a lot of the rich Star Wars mythology, he pinched them from somewhere else.

PAGING PANCHO VILLA

In 2002, Lucas told TIME Magazine that he 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 ... The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico.”

Which sounds like a well-considered explanation—except that finding examples of Princess Leia-style buns from turn-of-the-century Mexico on the heads of revolutionaries is really hard, as Kitbashed’s Michael Heilemann discovered when he began investigating Lucas’ claims.

Traditional Mexican hairstyles of the time tended more toward large braids piled atop the head, or the poufy Edwardian styles worn by women all over Western culture; Leia’s buns are big and poufy, but they’re not especially Edwardian, nor are they at all braids. “Which if you stop to think about it for a second, makes sense,” writes Heilemann. “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.”

TWO BUNS, ONE STONE

Another possible inspiration for Leia's buns, one far more ancient than “turn-of-the-century Mexico,” is Spain’s Lady of Elche. The Lady, carved from delicate limestone, is the bust of a supposed Iberian princess (or priestess) some 2,500 years old; in addition to her intricate necklaces, she wears an elaborate headdress that looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon stuck to either side of her head. Did Lucas find his inspiration for both the Falcon and Leia’s hair in one trip to Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum?

SQUASH BLOSSOMS IN BLOOM

A more likely candidate for Lucas’ inspiration might be the young Native America women of the Hopi nation of the southwest United States (near Pancho Villa’s stomping grounds), who wore their hair in what were called “squash blossom whorls.” The whorls, which were achieved by coiling very long pieces of hair around flexible wooden forms, were typically worn by recently pubescent women as a symbol of fertility (though men were also known to wear the buns during religious dances). But even those buns don’t quite look exactly like the cinnamon rolls Princess Leia would later sport, as they seem to stick out too far from the head.

PARKING IN THE COOTIE GARAGE

Fast-forward 20 years, however, and you get something that’s a little bit closer: in those deeply relieved, freewheeling years following World War I, women—young women, particularly—who didn’t elect to lop off their hair still had myriad choices as to how to style it. This included, but was certainly not limited to, the “earphone” style, in which two braids were coiled into buns at either side of the head, usually over the ears, which made them resemble the headphones telegraph and telephone operators wore at the time (hence the name). Less charmingly, they were also sometimes referred to as “cootie garages” on account of the fact that they were supposed to be little shelters for lice. By the middle of the 1920s, the look was all but over (probably with the help of that unfortunate nickname), fully ceding the way to the bob which by then, in all its many incarnations—the Dutch Boy, the daring Eton Crop, Marcel waves—had been embraced by virtually everyone, from young flappers to older women.

BUNS IN SPACE

Though Leia’s style of bun laid fairly dormant over the next 50 or so years, Heilemann points out that it did get a bit of play in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, the remarkable true story of the RAF’s “bouncing bombs” of WWII; in the movie, they were worn on the head of scientist Barnes Wallis’ wife. Lucas, Heilmann claims, undoubtedly would have seen the film, given that it inspired the Star Wars’ Battle of Yavin, one of the first Rebel victories, and the one in which the first Death Star is destroyed. Since then, the hairstyle has largely remained the province of the sci-fi genre, with Heilmann pointing to Queen Fria of Flash Gordon fame as yet another precursor to Leia’s do.

Of course, once Fisher donned the buns in 1977 for Star Wars, it was all over; today it’s nearly impossible to not equate side buns with Princess Leia (Ariana Grande’s flirtation with “space buns,” which all sorts of mistaken headlines tried to relate to Leia’s buns, notwithstanding).

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOUR HAIRSTYLIST

Star Wars fans will note that the buns, though Leia’s most iconic look, are by no means her only outré hairstyle. Skepchick does an admirable job of not only chronicling Leia’s many hairstyles (which, despite Lucas’ claims, are definitely at least influenced by the times from which they came), but also pointing out just how difficult each one would be to achieve for real, un-Forced hair without a team of hair and make-up wizards—not to mention painful! Fisher famously hated Leia’s doughnut-like hairstyle, which took two hours to style every day.

While Fisher has confirmed that she will appear in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she has also sworn that she won’t be bringing her buns. “The buns are tired now, so no you’re not going to have the futuristic buns,” she told the crowd at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, before teasing that: “We have an alternate thing that I think you'll be into—that is not the metal bikini, I promise."

How Much Would It Cost to Insure Star Wars’s Millennium Falcon?

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

In the Star Wars movies, we learn that Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon in a card game against Lando Calrissian. That sounds like a good deal—until you consider the cost of insuring one of the fastest starships in the galaxy. Ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20, 2019, InsuretheGap.com has estimated the annual insurance payments for the Millennium Falcon.

To calculate the interstellar vehicle's value, the insurance company considered a number of factors, including size, weight, modifications, and owner details. It concluded that Han would have had to pay $544,339 a year to fly his ship safely across the galaxy.

The occupational hazards that come with his work are the main reasons for the high number. InsuretheGap.com lists Han Solo as a smuggler and a Rebel, which means that he's more likely to use his vehicle to flee Imperial starships than take a leisurely cruise. The question remains whether Han is the type of owner who would worry about insurance in the first place, but if he were a responsible pilot, the fee he charges Luke and Obi-Wan for passage to Alderaan would only cover a fraction of the annual bill. You can check out the full breakdown in the graphic below.

Infographic showing insurance costs of Millennium Falcon.
InsuretheGap.com

The Star Wars universe is filled with spacecraft that would take an impressive amount of credits to maintain. The Death Star may be the most expensive piece of technology in the franchise. In 2016, a math professor at Dartmouth College determined that operating the structure would cost the Empire £6.2 octillion a day.

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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