The more hate this scene gets, the more I love it.
First of all, I must reiterate for the five thousandth time that Attack of the Clones is a truly gorgeous film. The aesthetics are stunning and every scene in the Lake Country of Naboo is soft and lush and beautiful — and decidedly and determinedly romantic. I see The Phantom Menace as Padmé’s film and Revenge of the Sith as Anakin’s; between them is Attack of the Clones, dedicated to their love story. And the first scene “by the lake in Naboo” (more on that later) is a significant turning point: their first kiss.
Frame by Frame
It begins with Anakin’s courtly behavior helping Padmé out of her color coordinated gondala (whichever production designer decided her boat should match her dress is my hero). He one thousand percent learned that from watching Obi-Wan, who does it with ease.
And that’s important. Obi-Wan is a master of courtly love, of the presentation of romance, but not the reality of one. Anakin can mimic the gestures but gets tripped up on the communication of emotion. Obi-Wan isn’t any good at communicating with Anakin, never mind teaching him how to woo a girl. And it doesn’t matter to Obi-Wan because attachments — aka meaningful relationships — are discouraged.
The music swells, the lake glistens, and Padmé lights up talking about her love of the water. She’s glowing, a literal rainbow. Look at her erect posture and the way her gown floats around her. Anakin looks hunched and drab. Padmé is confident, Anakin is awkward. Padmé is open, Anakin is not sure how to be.
But he tries. He tries to explain how he’s feeling. He’s self-conscious. And he’s really bad at it, because he has no experience with this and no real exposure. But he tries.
And Padmé, who is the only audience who matters, listens. She doesn’t make fun of his words or his delivery. She watches and she listens. Encouraged, Anakin starts to explore. Watch his fingers:
Padmé glances away but she doesn’t say ‘stop’, the way she did in the earlier packing scene. Nor does she move away. In fact, in glancing away Anakin’s eyes are drawn away from their fingers—
And to her exposed back, “soft and smooth” like the rest of Naboo. Brushing her fingers went well so he tries brushing her back. See how his eyes are watching for her reaction? He’s giving her opportunities to pull away, to tell him to stop with words or gestures. She turns back to meet his gaze.
And finds an intensity level off the scale. You can see Darth Vader in this look.
I understand why she finds these looks uncomfortable. It’s overwhelming to realize you are the center of someone’s galaxy. And she knows Jedi don’t have relationships. But at the lakeside Padmé does not pull away or ask him to stop. Instead she meets his gaze.
And again Anakin is encouraged. He flashes an adorable smile.
And he moves in for the kiss.
And Padmé accepts it. Padmé gives in to the attraction and responds with her own intensity.
But her mind catches up with her body and then she stops it. Look at their fingers again, at the fidgeting that precedes her sudden turn.
She stammers that “we shouldn’t have done that.”
And she shuts down. She closes up and doesn’t look at him and poor Anakin has no comprehension of what happened.
He apologizes and then we get the reaction shots that make the scene for me.
Look at this poor confused child! And he’s right! He read her signals correctly!
In the final shot there is space between them and Padmé’s relaxed posture has reverted to her normal presentation.
This whole scene is a gift. It’s visually beautiful, it uses their love theme to great effect, and it’s one of Padmé’s most arresting outfits. We see Anakin run a gamut of emotions and we see Padmé struggle with her own. And in context “I don’t like sand” is a powerful speech.
I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.
What he’s really saying is: I don’t like Tatooine. I don’t like slavery. I don’t like my past. I don’t like how people see me. I don’t like who I am. I like you. I like Naboo. Here even sand is soft. Here everything is easy. I wish I belonged here. I want to belong here. With you.
Years later Padmé has her own awkward line delivery:
Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love. No politics, no plotting, no war.
I bring this up because we get three scenes “by the lake on Naboo” and none of them includes an embrace.
Of course the audience is not privy to every single interaction between the characters and it’s very easy to imagine the missing scene. Certainly after the wedding ceremony there would be a good deal of physical intimacy. But by that point the war had begun which makes her words even more of a romanticization of reality than they already were. Padmé also wants to return to Naboo and her lakeside home to give birth. These two requests indicate she, too, has come to regard this place as idyllic and safe and separate from all the mess.
It is a false sense of security, but a true sense of connection and affection and that echoes throughout the story.