Officially, I’m a part of the Original Trilogy generation. My first exposure was Return of the Jedi and I have vivid memories of watching it as a small child. I also have vivid memories of playacting Han and Leia’s pilot daughter as a tween and voraciously reading the then-sequel-now-Legends-books. I was a young adult by the time The Phantom Menace premiered. But still the prequels are ‘my Star Wars‘.
I love everything the mainstream OT generation hated in the prequel trilogy. I love the vague unreality of their vibrant colors and CGI cities. I love the revelation that Skywalker is a matrilineal line. I love cherub Anakin and whiny Anakin and most of all hot mess express Anakin. I love the love story, the beautiful tragic love story. I love the performances. I love young Boba Fett, the war’s first orphan. I love Threepio’s origin and Artoo’s built in jet pack. I love Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber. I love the politics; I will never stop asking for a recut of Episodes II and III with the political subplot restored.
And I love Padmé.
I first encountered Natalie Portman as thirteen year old Marty in Beautiful Girls. It is a mostly forgettable film, with a very tired premise about women who settle for men willing to show them the bare minimum of respect, and Marty is involved in a creepy flirtation with a much older man. But Natalie’s performance is utterly charming. When she was cast as Padmé, I recognized her as Marty and thought it brilliant.
“I will not condone an action that will lead us to war.”Queen Amidala, Star Wars Episode I
This was Padmé’s introduction, at the ten minute mark in The Phantom Menace. Young, but poised, certain, and intimidating in her regalia. It’s a perfect line to introduce the film and her character. The prequels were always intended to be a tragedy, the beginning of the war in the stars that defines the series. That reality casts a shadow over Padmé’s words. They are headed to war no matter what she does.
Throughout her story, Padmé’s life is constantly in danger. She is introduced as a hostage and a pawn. Qui-Gon dismisses her, Palpatine manipulates her, Valorum refuses her. But when she realizes neither the Jedi nor the Republic will act to save her planet she comes up with a plan to do it herself. She finds an army, convinces them to fight with her, designs a battle strategy and implements it. And they win.
“You are an idealist,” Bonteri said. “That’s not a bad thing.”
“I know,” Padmé said. “I have worked very hard at it.”Queen’s Shadow, E.K. Johnston
Despite her skills on the battlefield, Padmé is a diplomat. She wants to capture the Viceroy, not kill him. She staunchly opposes the creation of an army. She asks Palpatine to step down. Padmé believes in the system, in democracy and diplomacy and compromise, and she devotes her life to upholding the ideals of the Republic.
But she also believes in individuals, and that each one can make a difference. She listens to Jar Jar and respects the Gungan leadership. She reaches out to her Separatist friend, Mina Bonteri, to open negotiations. She befriends Satine Kryze despite Mandalore’s neutrality. She asks Anakin to bring her concerns to the Chancellor and she encourages her friends in the Senate to open up to the Jedi. Padmé, more than anyone else, tries to build bridges of communication and create coalitions.
And she is kind. She looks after people: Jar Jar, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka. She leads with compassion, always.
Padmé’s faith in the system and in the people she cares about is a flaw as well as a strength. She is blind to corruption. And like Anakin, she makes reckless decisions based in emotion.
Padmé was destined to be my favorite character. “Beautiful, kind, but sad.” Brave, driven, compassionate, naive, idealistic, doomed — fated to fail, but she never, never, never stops trying.