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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."

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: A single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As Producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

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