Sigh, I wanted to love Padme Amidala. I mean, come on, she’s the democratically-elected queen (I don’t think “queen” means the same thing in my head as it does in George Lucas’, but whatever, moot point) of a gorgeous garden planet that ends an invasion of her home and then becomes a senator in the Galactic Republic, all before she’s 18 years old. It makes me feel like a bit of a failure until I remember she’s fictional.
She’s not terrible in the first movie, in all honesty: she is capable and strong-willed (similar to her daughter) but ultimately flexible when she realizes that her 100% pacifist methods might not be effective, a trait that she continues into the second film. There, she was a powerful voice for peaceful compromise among the disparate planets, hoping to end the Clone Wars before they started, until … well, “aggressive negotiations” became a necessity. The final movie is where she just gets sidelined and all consistency of her character – which was sketchy, at best – just goes right out the window. She could have been such a champion for women characters in Star Wars, which at the time, for the most part, were princesses and dancing girls; Padme could have shown that women are strong, even when they don’t wield lightsabers or blasters, and dynamic creatures who can withstand whatever the universe throws at them (again, much like her daughter in the original trilogy). But instead, we get a weepy wife who dies when her husband breaks bad.
Now, to start things off, let’s go into her character inconsistencies, of which there are many. She may be naive in the first film, but like I said above, she wasn’t that awful a character; poorly defined and sort of blank, thanks to the script (the book is actually pretty good about expanding on her character, but you really shouldn’t have to read additional homework to understand where a character is coming from), but whatever. But then Attack of the Clones gives her a lobotomy. She engages in risky behavior for … reasons?
- travels to Tatooine, the home of gangsters who probably know about the bounty Nute Gunray has put out on her head.
- goes to rescue Obi-Wan on Geonosis with Anakin without making sure backup is on the way
- falls in love – somehow – with a violently unstable, hormonal teenager who says things like, “It’s not fair!”
Following that bizarre shift, in Revenge of the Sith, Padme – who, I remind you, is a well-liked an influential senator with a lot on the line, such as a budding rebellion, providing a voice of reason in an increasingly fractured galactic Senate, child(ren) in her womb, etc. – decides that none of that matters because her husband has turned to the Dark Side. Her entire purpose is gone, so she fucking gives up and dies. I do not believe for one second that Anakin force-choking her for a couple of seconds killed her – the writers decided that she needed to die of a broken heart, like a goddamn retelling of The Notebook but in space and now Ryan Gosling’s a psychotic killer of children. I’m sorry, this just pisses me off. There were so few prominent female characters in Star Wars that it’s that much more insulting that Lucas and Co. chose to portray her as a devolving mess of tears instead of a badass woman.
As I alluded before, Padme’s relationship with Anakin makes no sense. I’m not going to lie. I’ve not been super successful when it comes to relationships – I am a divorcee, after all – and I made some pretty shitty choices in romance when I was Padme’s age. I was young and stupid, so it wouldn’t have necessarily been that surprising that she was like, “Oooh, studly stud thinks I’m pretty …” But Padme was a high-ranking politician and had shown remarkable maturity and a lack of resentment that it was expected of her. It’s who she was: a public servant that made major decisions for large swatches of people. Maybe, if they had shown she was a little disillusioned with her position and power and, like Buffy Summers, just wanted to be a normal girl with normal girl responsibilities, I would have been a little more accepting of her choice to go all googly-eyed for Sith-To-Be. But instead, she just stares in confusion as Anakin complain that Obi-Wan is “jealous” of him and “holding him back” or merely mentions that he “makes her uncomfortable” when he leers at her. And then she just seemingly hand-waves away the fact that he legit slaughters an entire tribe of Sand People! Like, “yeah, well, you were mad. What else could you have done?” Bitch, you are a pacifist. Of course, in the same movie, just a couple of scenes later, she confesses she loves him, and once they escape a gladiator-style death match, they get married. The worst part, though, is that she is demoted to a background character in the final prequel movie. They removed so much story involving just Padme that might have salvaged that movie for me, but they decided she was a glorified living prop, hanging around solely to further her asshole husband’s descent. Everything about their story is just … awful.
In the movies, Padme could have been incredible. The Clone War series shows how strong and kickass she actually is, giving her agency and motivation. She actively works within the Senate to try and negotiate peace and promote civil, productive conversation between the Republic and the Separatists, sometimes placing her life in danger to do so. In later episodes, she sees Anakin – also much more enjoyable in Cartoon Network form – growing darker and even tells him to his face that they made a mistake to build their entire relationship on lies and deception. Like, there’s the woman I wanted to see. And it just makes her movie portrayal that much more depressing.
One of the ways I cope with the total destruction of Padme is that each movie has a different one of her decoys playing her, and the real Padme escaped the Republic-turned-Empire to live out the rest of her days on a pretty swanky beach. It’s ludicrous, I know, but it keeps me from exploding.
NOTE: So the picture I used? It’s the cover for Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston, and even though I’m usually not a huge fan of YA novels, this is surprisingly good. Highly recommended for people who love Padme and what she could have been.