It was 2003 and I sat in the backseat of my aunt and uncle’s minivan watching Attack of the Clones with my cousins. The movie played on the car’s DVD player, making the action smaller than normal. I’d seen the movie before and at this point in the story, Padme and Anakin are trying not to get killed in the droid factory on Geonosis. I was transfixed on Padme. While not yet able to articulate why, I paid the most attention to female characters. And I did like Star Wars, but there weren’t that many ladies.
Most of my Star Wars related knowledge came from playing with my obsessed cousins. Boy/Girl fraternal twins were always Luke and Leia, their villain loving little brother, Darth Vader. I would be…Princess Leia’s friend. She had to have friends, right? As Padme ducked to safety on the tiny screen, I thought of a question to ask my cousin about her. In our games, we all talked about how Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and the evil Darth Vader their father, but what about their mother? What was she up to? He was the expert on the franchise. Surely, he would be able to answer it.
“So what does Padme do in the old movies?”
“She’s not in them.”
“She’s probably gonna die in the next movie.”
I felt indignant on Padme’s behalf. She was so important in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, how could she just die to never be mentioned again? At ten years old I already knew it was bullshit.
May 19, 2019 is the twentieth anniversary of The Phantom Menace, a Star Wars film that remains contentious today. It’s not amazing, but I for one don’t hate it. Most of it I find enjoyable, especially when I can mute Jar Jar (No offence intended to Mr. Best). It’s also twenty years since Natalie Portman’s Padme Naberrie Amidala was introduced to audiences. And I have said, and will continue to say, that she deserved far better than what she got.
I had the very weird privilege of seeing Star Wars in chronological order. My dad insisted that my sister and I wait to see the original trilogy all the way through after the then untitled third prequel film. I didn’t mind. We were a Star Trek family. I was far more interested and attached to the characters of those shows. Then Revenge of the Sith came out. After quickly watching the original trilogy, I was hooked. Add together the fixated attention of a preteen girl and the loneliness I felt, it was safe to say I was obsessed. I watched the movies over and over, and read any Star Wars related material I could get my hands on (I was very annoying—just ask my family). One facet that my younger self focused on was imagining all the different ways Padme could have survived. Dying of a broken heart was dumb! Why didn’t she try to stay alive for her children? Why couldn’t she have just fallen in love with Obi-Wan instead? Eventually, my girlhood obsession with Star Wars faded, but my love for the characters and the universe continued.
One facet that my younger self focused on was imagining all the different ways Padme could have survived. Dying of a broken heart was dumb! Why didn’t she try to stay alive for her children? Why couldn’t she have just fallen in love with Obi-Wan instead?
It’s always an interesting experience to revisit things you loved as a kid as an adult. Usually, it’s sexual jokes that went over your head at six. When I rewatch Padme’s story now, I find that it disturbs me more deeply and in different ways than when I was young. I’m relieved that the current conversation about her has acknowledged that Padme was in an abusive relationship.
Taking a step back for a moment, one of the aspects of Padme as Queen Amidala that I liked is that she is surrounded by feminine power. Everywhere she goes, her handmaidens go with her. They are explicitly stated to do more than just her hair and make-up. The young women are her bodyguards. Her double Sabe is ready to die to protect her queen. Queen Amidala’s handmaidens are a fascinating concept that we should have spent more time with in The Phantom Menace instead of more Jar Jar scenes.
But as the films go on Padme is removed from her feminine support network. Attack of the Clones is better at it than Revenge of the Sith. Padme has good relationships with the doomed Corde, and her closest handmaiden, Dorme. The two women are less than the many she had as queen, but it makes sense for a senator. More importantly, Padme’s interactions with Corde and Dorme are far deeper than the ones in The Phantom Menace. Padme grieves Corde’s tragic death, and later she and Dorme share their fears with one another. Then Padme has to go and fall in love with Anakin. Her handmaidens are not important for the rest of the film.
Like anyone with common sense, I am not a fan of the romance in the prequels. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it has to happen because Luke and Leia need to exist. But I still don’t like it. I think Hayden Christensen did the best he could do with the dialogue George Lucas wrote, and he is good at emoting. It still doesn’t prevent Padme and Anakin’s marriage being one of the unhealthiest in pop culture. The pair exhibit many characteristics of abusive relationships. Whether this is intentional or not, Padme becomes far more socially isolated the longer her relationship goes on. She goes from being surrounded by handmaidens, to her one loyal living one, to being stuck in the middle of the lake country with a hormonal teenager.
It is in Revenge of the Sith that Padme is alone. Much of her plot is cut for time. Honestly, I think most people wouldn’t have minded a three-hour version of the film. Her scenes founding what will become the Rebel Alliance with Mon Mothma and Bail Organa can be discovered among the deleted scenes. It would have been nice to see Padme taking action instead of largely waiting around her apartment for Anakin to stop by.
The pair exhibit many characteristics of abusive relationships. Whether this is intentional or not, Padme becomes far more socially isolated the longer her relationship goes on. She goes from being surrounded by handmaidens, to her one loyal living one, to being stuck in the middle of the lake country with a hormonal teenager.
Padme does have a handmaiden in Revenge of the Sith, Motee. But she only appears in the background of a senate scene—blink and you’ll miss her. Hell, I had to look up her name on Wookieepedia (According to the site, Motee is also in a romantic relationship with another handmaiden, Elle.) Motee even knows that her mistress is married to a Jedi. And unlike every woman who brings a friend along during a difficult breakup, Padme goes to Mustafar believing she is alone.
Then in one of the most fucked up scenes in Star Wars, Anakin force chokes Padme. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, strangulation is “a significant predictor for future lethal violence.” While it’s said in Revenge of the Sith that Padme dies of a broken heart, later the Star Wars Legends canon novel, Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadow, says she died due to trachea damage and a broken hyoid bone. Force choking or not, this is what often kills real world victims of strangulation. This is the moment that freaks me out more as an adult. Now I know more people who were victims of intimate partner violence, even dying from it.
Padme is far more than just Luke and Leia’s mother, unfortunately, that’s all she gets turned into. Her ultimate purpose is to have babies and die, so her children can go where they need to be at the start of A New Hope. A woman who starts out as a champion of good, a political player motivated by altruism, is reduced to her working uterus. So much of this is due to her being a prequel character, where her story has to eventually fit into a certain place, but it’s still insulting. Characters have to matter for stories to be engaging, timeline be damned. We come to care for Padme and it’s saddening to watch her agency get slowly stripped away. Anakin gets to go to the dark side, but he still has the chance for a moment of redemption by saving his son. Padme never gets that. I sincerely hope that she gets name-dropped in The Rise of Skywalker, but I doubt it.
No matter what, Padme Amidala continues to be one of my favorite Star Wars characters. I love her strong sense of justice, her outfits, and how she never stops fighting. She is a fitting mother to Luke and Leia, and even if she is never named in the original trilogy, her legacy continues in her children. These days, I play a lot of Lego Star Wars. My geriatric laptop can’t handle more complex games. I can set up the playable characters so I can have Padme and Leia work together in the levels. So somewhere, in some universe, everything can be alright.