The Phantom Menace: A Queen’s Victory

Obi-Wan Kenobi may have overcome the epic new darksider Darth Maul in the finale of The Phantom Menace with one of the most powerful songs in the history of film playing in the background, but I think it’s safe to say that the true victory of the first installment of the Star Wars saga is unequivocally Padme Amidala’s. With her unerring bravery, compassion, intellect, determination, and lack of self-sabotaging ego, Padme goes from a young Queen under attack to a bold ruler who negotiates and fights both on and off the battlefield to secure the safety of both herself and her world’s peoples. Even with the accompaniment of two of the order’s most capable Jedi sent to assist her, it is Padme who ultimately formulates the plan to end the Trade Federation’s unlawful occupation of Naboo and while doing so, mend the tattered relations with the other Sentient race of Naboo, the Gungans.

In a series that is so dominated by masculine heroes and ideals, I think it’s incredibly impactful and telling that the prequels begin the origin of the Skywalker saga with the victory of a woman, a Queen. I have no issue with Luke as the main hero in the originals, he’s the one I’ve rooted for my whole life, the man I emulated and hoped to be like. Leia was strong and fierce and amazing, but she is sometimes overshadowed by her twin brother and even that rascal who won her heart: Han Solo. The victories, even the typically more feminine emotional ones, were mostly male accomplishments. So when the first great battle of the new trilogy was won by a girl about my age, let me tell you, it made me feel so powerful, so capable of anything.

“I will sign no treaty Senator. My fate will be no different to that of our people.” — Queen Amidala

And what made it even more impactful was witnessing Padme’s frailty, her fear and hesitation, because not only did it humanize her, but it made her so much more real. Leia was ALWAYS the baddest b*tch in the galaxy and she knew it, but it was nice and important to see the perceived weakness grow into the strength that saves the day.

Over the course of the film, we are visually bombarded with similar scenes of Padme trying to stand her ground and make life or death decisions while her councilmen, pilots, head of security, Jedi ambassadors, senators, and even the lackluster Supreme Chancellor all vie to make their opinion her decision.

Even after being whisked away by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Padme is lost and noticeably alone amongst her troupe of male saviors, but she doesn’t let that fear keep her from acting. (Yes, she has her handmaidens by her side some of the way – and yes, they are hella epic – but onscreen we don’t get too much of them.) She refuses to be left behind while Qui-Gon scouts Mos Espa for supplies to fix their ship, and it is her determination to see the world for herself and her curiosity of life outside of her own limited view that leads her to understand the issues of the galaxy at large – which later impacts her decision to remain in the political arena once her term as Queen has ended. She meets with people who have no voice, people who have no choice in their own lives… it’s not surprising that afterward she becomes one of the loudest voices in the room.

“I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!” — Queen Amidala

It’s here that Padme meets the only other impactful woman in The Phantom Menace: Shmi Skywalker. Shmi is a slave and an only mother raising an extremely gifted young son on a planet where she is considered cattle to be bought and sold, won and lost to the highest bidder. She easily could have been portrayed as bitter, a spiteful shrew how hates the galaxy for doing her wrong, but instead we’re given a powerful, peaceful woman who sees the evils thrown her way and stands tall with pride and compassion. I have more to say about Shmi, but that’s for another post…suffice it to say, we see a noticeable difference in Padme after she encounters the Mother of the Skywalker line.

“The Republic doesn’t exist out here. We must survive on our own.” — Shmi Skywalker

The Padme that emerges from Tattooine is more grounded, surer of herself and the actions she must take. She still doesn’t know how to right the wrongs of the Trade Federation, but now she sees the plight of others outside of herself and her people…which in time leads her to Jar-Jar and the hidden strength of the Gungan army. Padme’s decision to appeal to the Gungans showcases the greatest lesson she’s learned since leaving her home-planet: that great evil can be conquered not only by force, but by intelligence and compassion. It is her humility and lack of ego, something she learned to put aside on Tattooine, that convinces the Gungans to help her, and it is only with their combined efforts that they free their planet.

“I ask you to help us… no, I beg you to help us.” — Queen Amidala

This is Padme’s greatest victory: a battle for justice and peace hard-won by brute force and intellect, her compassion for life as well as her passion for her planet, her selflessness as a woman, and her power as a Queen. A true middle-ground, a shade of gray, placed here in the first movie as an example of what can come of later is others follow in her footsteps. I can only hope to see her legacy live on in her grandson, another leader who has the greatest lesson to learn and everything that matters to either win…or lose.

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The Phantom Menace: The Reign Of A Queen


“I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war.”  — Queen Amidala

I remember being in awe of Padme Amidala the moment she appeared onscreen in The Phantom Menace. She was — for lack of a better word — just epic.

Like everyone else in the packed theater, I didn’t know she was actually Leia’s mom, but between her unforgettable fashion and her unwavering bravery, I knew I had found a new Star Wars woman to look up to and I was captivated.  She was only a few years older than me (back in 1999) yet she seemed so much older and wiser than my lackluster nine-year old self. Padme was fearless, steady, intelligent, and elegant — pretty much everything I ever wanted to be. When she first appeared onscreen before the Trade Federation she was unflinching and unbreakable; she refused to accept defeat, and instead held her head high as she fought against the illegal invasion of her home-world. Simply put: she was a badass. I mean it’s no wonder Leia was such a spitfire princess and rebellion-leader!

Even on Naboo amongst her own council Padme stands stalwart and alone amidst a sea of men, each telling her what he thinks she should do, vying for her attention, and forcefully declaring their opinion to be the only valid one. Visually, it’s a powerful scene and as a woman it’s even more so because it would have been so easy to have her listen to one of them, to have her admit defeat, and then wait to be rescued by the heroic Jedi knights. But instead we see her hold her ground, frightened and alone as she is, she stands up for her own point of view — expressing herself elegantly but forcefully. And most importantly, we see this determined young Queen actively decide her own fate.

It is Padme’s choice to leave Naboo and appeal for help abroad, it is her choice to follow Qui-Gon into the desert-swept town of Mos Espa, and then to step before the galactic Senate and speak the truth that no one else wanted to hear. And when no help was offered from said Senate, it was Padme’s choice to humble herself before the other occupants of Naboo and ask for their assistance securing the planet. Every step of the way, for good or for ill, Padme is an active participant in her life, she doesn’t shirk decision-making or side-step taking the first step. She evaluates situations as they arise and she alters her course to ensure that her people and her planet are cared-for to the best of her abilities. She is no figurehead Queen. Padme is a battle-tested monarch, a woman born to rule and brave enough to do it.

With a blaster in hand and a razor-sharp intellect, Padme Amidala is one hell of a role-model for the prequel-era generation – or any generation at that. She makes mistakes like everyone else around her, she wrestles with fear and sorrow, and struggles to beat back political oppression and manipulation but through everything thrown her way, she never stops believing in herself or the power that inherently resides within her. She even stands up to my favorite Jedi: Qui-Gon Jinn when she believes his judgement to be skewed. and if that’s not self-assurance and bravery I don’t know what is. She is a woman I proudly modeled myself after then and now, and when I think of the prequel trilogy it is her iconic lines that run through my head, her wisdom that shapes the way I see the story. Her life may have been unexpectedly short, but it’s impact stretched to the far reaches of the galaxy and her strength, determination, and bravery were nevermore present than here, right from the beginning in The Phantom Menace.

 

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Blood and Ivory (A Padme Poem)

 

I was a Queen once,
In a game of chess.
Pale, milky-white ivory
Shaped and rounded
In the mold of my foremothers,
Unchanged after a millennia.

Demure, silent, cold, reserved,
I was hidden behind pawns,
Protected by knights,
And sacrificed by a King,
A King who should have loved me.
Why didn’t he love me?

I was a Queen once,
With blood on my ivory hands.
Dark as rubies, red as wine,
It dripped from my throat,
And splashed on the marbled stones.
Why couldn’t he love me?

 

I wrote this poem several years ago and recently rediscovered it while playing around on my computer. It originally had nothing to do with Star Wars, it was just a story that needed telling, but as I reread it this time, Padme’s face came to mind. I couldn’t help but think of her bravery, her fiery determination, her ability to love wholeheartedly, and ultimately the tragedy of her short life and the lasting impact it had on the entirety of that galaxy far, far away.

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