Here at Comic Years, we are pretty big fans of all things Star Wars. Recently we have been digging into character profiles for villains like Darth Vader, and exploring planets like Coruscant. In a new series, I will profile the women from Star Wars canon. Today we take a look at one of the most important women of Star Wars, and possibly the one who gets the shortest shrift. Let’s take a look at the life and legacy of Padmé Amidala; Queen of Naboo, respected senator, mother of Luke and Leia, and the tragic love of Anakin Skywalker.
Image via Lucasfilm
Padmé Amidala: The Child Queen of Star Wars
We first meet the character of Padmé (played by Natalie Portman) in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Our first glimpse of her as Queen is a red herring. We learn that Padmé has a legion of faithful handmaidens who all resemble her and can act as decoy when needed. The handmaidens and her relationship with them are central to the E.K. Johnston books about her. (The Queen’s Shdaow and the forthcoming The Queen’s Peril.) This type of lifestyle is a heavy weight for any ruler to bear and Padmé does so at a very young age. She became Queen of Naboo at age 14, when she is still very much a child.
According to canon, the people of Naboo often elect young women as their rulers ‘believing they possess a form of pure, childlike wisdom that adults lack.’ Padmé is certainly wise for her young age, but her naivete is still evident in The Phantom Menace. She struggles to do what is best for her people, but she is clearly in over her head. Over the course of the prequel era, Padmé does grow into a confident leader and diplomat. But there is no disputing that her choices – both good and bad – haunt the legacy of Star Wars.
The Mistakes of Queen Amidala
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It is in The Phantom Menace that Padmé makes a mistake that will have repercussions for the entirety of the Star Wars saga. Palpatine manipulates her into clearing the way that allows for his rise to power in the Galactic Senate. Padmé does this in an attempt to help her people. She has no way of knowing that this is the first step towards the rise of the Empire.
Watching Padmé in The Phantom Menace, it is clear that she longs for a life outside of the trappings of royalty. From an early age Padmé was taught to self-sacrifice. She put the good of her people above herself and all other things. This may explain why she makes foolish choices later in her life for love and a secret kind of freedom. Padmé never had much of a chance to live her own life, on her own terms. This is a quality she shares with Anakin Skywalker.
The Senator Fighting For Human Rights
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones finds Padmé Amidala in some of her most formidable and vulnerable moments. With her life in danger once again, she reunites with Anakin Skywalker as he becomes her bodyguard. The fact that the pairing is Chancellor Palpatine’s idea makes it all the more sinister. It is in this film that we see more of Padmé as a person, beneath the facade of being civil servant.
As a Senator, she dedicates her life to peace and justice. She is a champion of the people, staunchly anti-war, and still trying to do what is right. We also know from The Queen’s Shadow that the hallmark of her political life is an anti-slavery campaign, including actively rescuing them. From what we’ve learned about Padmé’s life between the two films, we can assume it was a lonely one. She is constantly surrounded by people, but distant from all of them. A queen-turned-senator cannot afford many personal attachments, much like a Jedi knight.
Blinded By Love In Attack of the Clones
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It seems inevitable that Padmé and Anakin would fall in love. Here are two young people who have spent their entire lives avoiding personal entanglements, for the sake of a greater good. In the official novelization of the film, Padmé’s sister tells her: “You’re so tied up in your responsibilities that you don’t give any weight to your desires.”
Indeed, Padmé spends the majority of the film trying to suppress her own feelings and ignore Anakin’s obvious advances. For all of her intelligence and wisdom, she chooses to ignore the greater warning of his murder of the Tuskens on Tatooine. The Jedi are allowed to dispatch justice across the galaxy, so him killing a group of raiders who attack a settlement is not entirely unexpected. Yet, no Jedi would ever kill defenseless civilians. Her love for Anakin blinds her to his obvious issues and the growing darkness inside of him. In the end, she gives in to her feelings when she believes they are both about to die. There is no reason to deny herself any longer. When she survives, her feelings cannot be bottled up again. So, they begin to live a series of lies.
Living A Double Life
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From her early days as Queen of Naboo, Padmé was clearly accustomed to living a sort of double life. She spent so much of her time as Queen masquerading as a handmaiden. She had to actively deceive others to protect herself and her people’s interests. So, it is hardly surprising that she married Anakin in secret, accepting a new kind of double life with him.
In public she is the respected Senator from Naboo, the “good” kind of politician. Now she was also the wife of a Jedi knight, a dangerous secret that could unravel her credibility with the Senate. Not to mention the repercussions this would have on Anakin and the Jedi Order. Unfortunately, Revenge of the Sith does not delve into this complex emotional web of secrets and lies for Padmé and Anakin. The focus instead shifts solely to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, and here is where Padmé Amidala gets the short shrift. Just as an entire section from Attack of Clones about Padmé and her family ended up cut from the film, so did most of her story during the final film in her trilogy.
The Character Assassination of Padmé Amidala
Up until Revenge of the Sith, Padmé was as a strong protagonist in the world of Star Wars as any character before or since. She grew from the young Queen into a respected politician. She was fierce and confident, with an inner strength that carried her throughout the films. We saw that she was kind, loyal, intelligent, and utterly dedicated to her duty. But Revenge of the Sith strips all of that characterization away and leaves her a timid, weepy mess. Suddenly all of her character’s importance focuses on the fact that she will soon give birth to the heroes of the original trilogy – Luke and Leia.
Star Wars canon has tried to make up for this by making Padmé (voiced by Catherine Taber) a major character in The Clone Wars who more resembles the Padmé of the previous films. Johnston’s books about the character and her handmaidens, who are more like operatives in an intelligence organization, are as well. But it doesn’t justify her near total erasure from the prequel trilogy’s final act.
Clearly, I have issues with way Padmé’s portrayal in Revenge of the Sith. But let’s try to take a look at the end of her story with an objective eye. And in order to fully understand Padmé’s integral role in the start of the Rebellion that her daughter would later lead, we must turn to some deleted scenes and supplementary material.
The Fall Of The Jedi And The Republic
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At the beginning of Revenge of the Sith Padmé tells Anakin that she is pregnant. This launches a downward spiral for his character. Terrified that she will die in childbirth (a self-fulfilling prophecy) Anakin seeks to uncover the secrets of life and death. He is the one manipulated by Palpatine in this film, much like Padmé was in The Phantom Menace.
Padmé is the driving motivation behind Anakin’s bad choices, even though she can clearly see that he is heading down a dark path. Despite his intense love for Padmé, Anakin constantly ignores her pleas and essentially abandons her during a difficult pregnancy. Anakin Skywalker was not a very good husband. (Sidenote: Is anyone actually a good spouse or parent in all of the Star Wars universe? I keep asking myself this question and the only characters I’m coming up with are poor Owen and Beru Lars who stayed together for 30 years and raised an adopted child, despite the personal risk).
Image via Lucasfilm
The Mother Of The Rebellion
The most significant moment for Padmé in Revenge of the Sith comes in a deleted scene. Joining forces with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, Padmé forms the Alliance To Restore The Republic. This alliance will become the leadership of the future Rebel Alliance after her death. Her daughter Leia will be the one to take up the torch for freedom in A New Hope, never knowing that she is continuing her mother’s legacy.
Padmé struggles to reckon with Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, while simultaneously watching the Republic that she believed in crumble around her. Padmé is perhaps the most tragic character of the entire saga. She only wanted to do what was best for the people of the Republic, but she inadvertently contributed to its downfall. In the end, she could not save democracy, nor could she save her husband, or herself.
The Tragedy of Padmé Amidala
The death of Padmé is a turning point for the entire Star Wars saga. Just to be clear, Padmé does not die of a broken heart. While the canon hasn’t confirmed this explicitly, there is a strong implication that Padmé’s death was the final blow in Palpatine’s master plan. The medical droid doesn’t know why she’s dying (because it hasn’t been programmed for Sith magic), so its assertion that she “lost the will to live” is not a diagnosis. Also, how would Palpatine know that Padmé was dead when Vader awakens? So, while still technically up for debate, there is a lot of evidence that the Emperor killed her, and he had a strong reason to do so.
Padmé alone believes that there is still good in Anakin. This belief will be echoed by her son Luke Skywalker years later in Return of the Jedi. This is a defining characteristic of Padmé’s character, and one that she clearly passed on to her children. The unyielding belief that there is good in people. This belief may often be perceived as naïveté, but it is the grounding force for so many of our heroes. It is echoed by Leia in her last attempt to reach her own son, so many years later. That spark of hope, for goodness and for the light is also what keeps Padmé’s rebellion going for so long after her death. A tragic heroine who never got her due, Padmé is the heart of the prequel trilogy and, arguably, all of Star Wars.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.