One of the great tragedies of the Star Wars saga is that it is so epic and sprawling and continuously moving forward that sometimes great characters or ideas are lost in the unceasing momentum. True, this is occasionally rectified by tie-in novels, comics, or other mediums, but other times the audience is left with simply no other information or background but what their own imaginations can create. This is especially true for the Mother of the Skywalker line: Shmi Skywalker. Who is this amazing woman, what was her story? What was her life like before Anakin? Did she have any inkling of how his future would turn out? Would she have changed anything if she did? We simply just don’t know. But what we do know about this powerhouse of a woman is that she was kind, gracious, brave, and that she taught Anakin to be the best version of himself while he was in her care.
Shmi’s backstory is one I’ve wanted to hear since she arrived onscreen for the first time back in 1999. I mean, the mother of Darth Vader…it doesn’t get much more compelling than that. I still have hope that sometime in the future the full story of her life might come to light in one form or another, but just because she isn’t onscreen or visibly present for much of the saga doesn’t mean that she doesn’t play a key role in the entire future of her family line and the galaxy at large. Shmi’s interactions with both Padme and Anakin fundamentally change them and sets them on a path that brings fulfillment to not only their fated-destinies, but to their personal lives as well. Although she was just a slave on a backwater gangster-ridden desert planet, Shmi Skywalker’s influence is felt in every corner of the galaxy and continues to be present even in the time of the sequel trilogy.
“There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.” — Shmi Skywalker
As I’ve noted before, from what we can see, Shmi is given a life most would have cracked beneath. A female slave who bore a fatherless child into a world where they’re bought and sold, won and lost on the whims of villains and cutthroats… she very easily (and understandably) could have been portrayed as bitter and vindictive. A harsh presence that we as the audience would have wanted Ani taken away from and who would have made most of us go: yep, that’s why he turned out so bad. But that’s not what we’re given at all. Instead we’re presented with a strong, kind, and incredibly warm mother who only wants the best for her son and for the galaxy at large. Instead of letting the darkness in her life hold sway, she seeks out the light, seeks out the hope and the kindness and the best in people and that’s what she instills in her son. She teaches him that although the galaxy is harsh, people are still worth helping and that it is their duty to reach out a hand to their fellow people.
That is one reason why The Phantom Menace is such an integral part of the Star Wars saga, it the only time we get to see what Anakin is like without Jedi-interference. Yes, he meets Qui-Gon and sets his feet on the path the Force has designed for him, but we also see that he is just a little boy who loves his mother and who genuinely and unselfishly wants to help people because that’s the type of person he was raised to be. This Anakin is the one most people forget about, the one that was told he wasn’t good enough by a council of grown-ass men because he understood his own emotions and wasn’t afraid to admit to his fear. This is the Anakin that Shmi raised, that she instilled her core beliefs in, and it is this Anakin that we mourn we he finally loses himself to Darth Vader. Without seeing Shmi’s Anakin, Shmi’s son, Vader is just a villain without a greater purpose. It is Shmi and her influence that ultimately humanizes the man we all thought to be the greatest monster in the galaxy. And it is the callous disregarding of her influence that shows us who the actual villains really are.
Even in the face of crushing sorrow, Shmi displays nothing but quiet strength and unending love, teaching Anakin to do the same. When Qui-Gon presents him with a seemingly better life without her, she doesn’t falter, doesn’t give into jealousy or act selfishly. She lets her son go and gives him the courage to leave her without looking back. And because of her example and her belief in him, Anakin can let go. It is only later, when the Jedi have instructed him to forfeit the teachings of his mother and suppress his feelings, that Anakin panics and latches on to the things he fears to lose. Even later, after facing abduction, torture, pain, and absolute primal fear, Shmi leaves the world – and Anakin – with words and expressions of love. She doesn’t rail against fate, or demand retribution or vengeance, she shows absolute joy and tells her son (with a mother’s affection) that he’s grown…and that she loves him. She leaves Anakin with one last example of how to face the greatest darkness in the world, and although it takes longer for this lesson to come to visual fruition, Anakin ultimately does the same for his son.
“Will I ever see you again?” — Anakin Skywalker
“What does your heart tell you?” — Shmi Skywalker
“I hope so. Yes… I guess.” –Anakin
“Then we will see each other again.” — Shmi
. . .
“Now, be brave, and don’t look back. Don’t look back.” — Shmi
Likewise, her influence on Padme is equally notable and equally long-lasting. Before arriving on Tattooine, Padme Amidala was a Queen in title, but as a person she was uncertain about her voice and how to use the great responsibility and power she had been given. Although intelligent and eager, she is untested and doesn’t know how to harness her power. In the larger scope of things, she is incredibly unknowledgeable about the actual lives and conditions of people outside her own world. She has no concept that the Senate might be powerless in certain places and doesn’t realize that the horrors and atrocities she thinks are things of the past in her privileged world, are alive and rampant on others.
“The Republic doesn’t exist out here. We must survive on our own.” — Shmi Skywalker
It is only after she meets Shmi and Anakin and experiences – even if for only a short time – the desolate, seemingly impossible, and hopeless nature of their lives, that she starts to truly assert herself. She finds her voice and uses it to win back her planet’s freedom and unite its broken populace. She goes on in the next two films to become one of the loudest voices in the Senate, demanding change and is even targeted with death-threats because she refuses to back down and remain unheard. Shmi gave Padme an honest view into a life she never could have known on her own world, and Padme spends the rest of her life being a voice for people like Shmi who otherwise wouldn’t have one to be heard.
Shmi’s example of kindness and resilience echo on through the galaxy through her son and his wife and later by their children. And as we saw in the closing moments of The Last Jedi, Luke and Leia have far-reaching influences of their own, and that influence of hope and kindness just further spreads their grandmother’s teaching across the vastness of space. From across the galaxy, spanning time and death itself, one slave’s influence and light reaches another slave and brings with it hope.
That is Shmi’s legacy. That is her gift to the galaxy and to the Star Wars saga itself: the knowledge that that even in darkness, there is light — even in hate, there is love. You decide how you see the world, you can choose to be a victim or to be a light for others in the darkness.