Story Geeks blogger and longtime Star Wars fan Ashley Pauls digs deeper into her favorite franchise with the “Women of Star Wars” blog series, taking a look at the character journeys of the major female characters in Star Wars and examining their impact on pop culture.
Defender of democracy
1. Who is Padmé, and what characteristics define her?
Padmé Amidala is a quintessential politician, and I really do mean that as a compliment. We’re often a bit skeptical of “career politicians”; we wonder how pure their motives really are. Do they actually want to help people, or do they simply crave power and influence? However, Padmé is an example of a person who really does want to use her position of power to help others and to promote democracy and peace across the galaxy.
Padmé has been involved in politics since she was young, and that passion remains strong throughout her too-short life. I still feel that Naboo’s system of government is a bit weird (does it REALLY make sense to have a government headed by a teenage monarch who is elected to office?). But setting that aside, Padmé’s time as queen, in particular her experiences during Episode I, help shape her political philosophy and cement the kind of leader she will become.
Padmé isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and she continues to push for legislation that she knows will do the most amount of good. She’s diplomatic, persuasive, and progressive. She may well have one day become Supreme Chancellor if Palpatine hadn’t taken control of the Republic and proclaimed himself emperor.
2. What are Padmé’s biggest hopes? What are her greatest fears?
Padmé’s biggest hope is that the Republic will be able to achieve lasting peace, and that the principles of democracy will be preserved for future generations. Her greatest fear is that corruption within the Republic will undermine that democracy.
In “Revenge of the Sith,” one of her key lines is the rueful, “So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause,” as Palpatine takes over the government. It’s a heartbreaking moment for Padmé, because she’s fought so hard to save the Republic and now none of that matters. Everything she has worked for is falling apart. It’s an interesting mirror of what happens to her daughter, Leia, years later when the New Republic once again collapses in the face of the First Order.
3. What is the biggest challenge that Padmé faces, and how does she overcome it?
Padmé’s biggest challenge is the bureaucracy and inertia inherent in the Republic. She wants to bring about change, but it’s hard to get the Senators to agree and to want to change in the first place. No matter how much passion or resolve she feels, it doesn’t matter if no one else cares enough to support her.
Her work is also complicated by her secret relationship with Jedi Anakin Skywalker. As a Jedi, Anakin’s relationship with her is supposed to be forbidden, and I think the weight of that secret puts more pressure on the two of them than they’re willing to acknowledge, straining their marriage. Her closeness to Anakin also maybe prevents her from seeing some of the flaws within the Jedi Order.
The tragedy of Padmé’s character is that she doesn’t necessarily get a chance to overcome the obstacles that are thrown in her way. She dies before she sees the redemption of the Republic and her husband Anakin. However, I believe Padmé’s legacy has an important impact on the rest of the saga. Her daughter, Leia, eventually carries on her work, and Anakin turns back from the dark side, saving their son, Luke.
4. What is Padmé’s biggest fault and/or moment of failure in the series, and how does she learn from it and grow as a character?
I feel like answering this question is complicated, because I don’t think the prequel trilogy fully did Padmé’s character justice. I’ll get to more about that in the next question, but I think the prequel trilogy could have fleshed out her character more, particularly her relationship with Anakin.
I think Padmé’s biggest mistake in the films is, tragically, one driven by compassion. It’s the moment in Episode II where Anakin returns from trying to rescue his mother from the Tusken Raider camp and confesses to Padmé, in a flurry of grief and rage, how he slaughtered the whole camp out of revenge. Padmé tries to comfort him in this moment, and I cannot criticize her compassion. He just lost his mother, which is deserving of pity.
However, it’s always bothered me that Padmé just glosses over the fact that he murdered an entire village of people, children included. I really feel like her character would have/should have called him out on that. If I got a chance to rewrite the script, I think I would have kept their exchange more vague, like Anakin tells her he’s done something terrible, but he doesn’t say what. She decides not to ask him, because she wants to help him and doesn’t want to push him further into the darkness. I feel this is more in line with her character.
I think Padmé fully knows she made a mistake in that moment on Tatooine, and when she does finally confront Anakin about his actions, it costs her her life. It’s so sad to me that Padmé is the one who has to pay the price for Anakin’s sins. Yet as mentioned before, her legacy lives on, and eventually her family plays a key role in restoring balance to the galaxy.
5. What about this character portrayed as female stood out? Did she break any ground or does she feel more like a compilation of female character tropes?
I really love the idea of Padmé’s character. It’s super cool to see a strong, intelligent female politician in a sci-fi series who is trying to use her power to help others. However, I feel that her portrayal in the prequel trilogy sometimes veers into trope territory. In Episode II and III, her character is largely defined by her relationship with Anakin, and especially in Episode III she feels more like a catalyst in his story than an important character in her own right.
To be clear, I don’t mind that she and Anakin’s relationship is a focal point of the prequel trilogy. I think nuanced/tragic/doomed relationships in fiction are super fascinating, regardless of whether they’re romantic in nature or not (the push and pull between Rey and Kylo’s characters is one of the best parts of the current sequel trilogy, I feel). But I wish the prequel trilogy had done a little more to deepen Padmé’s character and spent more time developing her as more than just a love interest. Actually, for as much grief as Episode I gets, Padmé’s character is pretty cool in it.
If you’ve never seen the animated series “The Clone Wars,” I highly recommend it. The show has some really excellent story arcs and does a lot to add layers to both Padmé’s and Anakin’s characters. Their relationship makes more sense and feels more real. I just wish more of that dynamic had made it into the live-action films. If Padmé is going to fall in love with Anakin despite his obvious leanings to the dark side, we need to learn more about why.
6. What does this character teach us about women in the real world? Are there lessons we can take from the screen and translate them into real life?
I think one lesson we can learn from Padmé is that while it is good to have compassion for people who are hurting, we can’t let that compassion prevent us from calling out serious wrongdoing. Padmé’s love for Anakin causes her to ignore some of his faults. Unfortunately, when she finally does confront him, it’s too late.
Although it’s important to support people who are trying to redeem themselves, we also can’t enable their destructive behavior. We can keep loving that person, but we may have to remove ourselves from the situation. Padmé can’t change Anakin; he has to make that decision for himself.
Looking for more Star Wars content? You can listen to our recent podcast on Leia’s Character Journey. Also, check out all our Star Wars content, including our popular podcasts digging into Luke Skywalker’s and Han Solo’s Character Journeys, and the concept of Reylo.
Next up in the Women of Star Wars: Rey!