The Genius of the Star Wars Prequels
With The Force Awakens recently released (you might have heard?) naturally we at Chez Maier had to have an extended recap of the previous films. Yes, ALL of them.
Now, I have never been ashamed of the fact that I really like The Phantom Menace, because Padmé and Sabé are fierce. But if I’m honest, my memory of Attack of the Clones was a little hazy, and all I remembered was that awesome moment when Padmé is the first one to escape her chains in the arena, and swing-kicks a giant space-liger.
As I was watching it for the first time since its cinema release in 2002, the long-forgotten romance subplot came back to me in all the harrowing detail I missed when I was a twelve-year-old. And then I made that face that I make when I see something awful, where the left side of my mouth starts to slide down my face. And then I did that thing I do where I come up with elaborate headcanon to explain why things that suck don’t actually suck, but are rather secretly brilliant.
And so I present to you, my humble explanation for the romance subplot that was about as sizzling and full of life as the wet patch on the mattress: Anakin was Jedi Mind Tricking Padmé the whole time.
The Phantom Menace, or One-Sided Love at First Sight
OK, say what you want about The Phantom Menace, but Padmé was awesome. She was handy with a blaster, politically and tactically savvy and knew the value of a fierce girl posse. She also showed that she wasn’t above doing menial chores when posing as a handmaiden (seriously, I didn’t see Eirté, Rabé or Saché scrubbing R2-D2 down, did you?) and handled the harsh climate of Tattooine without bitching once.
Then she meets Anakin, and seems quite fond of him, what with tucking him into bed and such. Because of their age difference, it would seem that she sees him as a sort of surrogate brother figure, but Padmé is a lot more mature than her age. She rules a planet, and has to think about the welfare of billions of people, so from her perspective, she is trying to step in to replace Anakin’s mother Shmi, who was left in slavery back on Tatooine. Tucking him in, accepting his little carved bit of wood on a string with the same smile you see on parents who’ve been handed a crayon drawing of the family, points more to her feeling like a surrogate mother than anything else.
Attack of the Clones, or The Friendzone and How to Escape It
Anakin and Padmé meet again, after an approximate decade of Jedi school and political ladder-climbing respectively. Padmé is a senator (as she may have mentioned once or twice) and Anakin is a horny teenage boy. What sells this theory for me is that when they meet, Padmé clearly still think of him as a kid. Now, we must remember that floppy-haired boy-band-looking boys were to women in 2002 what man-buns and beards are to women in 2015, and by those standards Hayden Christensen was something of a heartthrob back in those days. But does she gaze upon him with the lusty eyes of a career woman who’s out to Get Some? Does she eyebang the man-candy with a gleam in her eyes that says “HOT DAMN”? She does not. She beams at him with the line every child hears at every family event until they hit thirty.
And then it gets weird. Padmé goes from nipping his sultry ideas in the bud…
…to being Force-fed fruit (cuter than it sounds)…
…picnicking and frolicking -LITERALLY frolicking!- in some Naboo field…
…saying THIS bullshit…
…and sneaking kisses in the middle of their gladiatorial execution.
What possessed Galactic Senator Padmé Amidala to emotionally regress to the emotional level of a sheltered teenager in less than a week?
I’m pretty sure Anakin didn’t mean to mind trick her. I mean, a one-off attempt likely wouldn’t work on her, since as we all know, JMTs only work on the weak-minded. That said, Anakin is generally agreed to be at the Evil Space Jesus power level, and with him acting as Padmé’s bodyguard, she’s getting a near-constant level of exposure to his Force-fueled teenage monologue of “LOVEMELOVEMELOVEME”. Like radiation, only somehow more sickening.
It starts off subtle, at first, but the signs of her mental deterioration are there. All women, of any galaxy, especially senators and ESPECIALLY especially senators who look like Natalie Portman, know how to rebuff a suitor. There are any number of ways she could have turned him down, from gently reminding him of his Jedi vows to telling him she thinks of him like a son to just a flat-out refusal. However, for the second act of the movie you’d be forgiven for thinking that “I’m a senator” are the only words in Padmé’s vocabulary.
Padmé -much like the drunk friend who has left her shoes in the bar and is struggling against everyone in the office, three cab drivers and a doorman to get back in there to get them- is fighting against this mental and emotional turbulence by clinging to the most important thing in her life. She’s an experienced and accomplished politician, so the cry of “Nuuuuuu igorra get m’shoooooooooooes” is replaced with “I’m a senator”, but the delivery is more or less the same: repeated with less and less conviction over the course of an hour, followed by a series of decisions which inevitably lead to two kids with a deadbeat asshole of a dad.
Once Anakin has battered down this defence, things start to get sickeningly twee. Why?
Anakin has no idea what adult relationships are like.
For the first nine years of his life, he was raised by a single mother, and I don’t suppose there were many happy couples around to draw romantic inspiration from. For the next ten years, he was raised by a group of celibates, spending most of his time having a one-on-one with Obi-Wan (which, incidentally, is the name of Obi-Wan’s late-night talk show) who, even if he were inclined to go against the Jedi teachings of abstinence, doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who’s comfortable talking about sex and stuff.
Anakin probably has some awareness of what romance entails, otherwise we’d be in for a (potentially much more entertaining) courting subplot in which he awkwardly shouts “I FEEL AT YOU” while thrusting into her bewildered face a bloodied tauntaun pelt and a card saying “but srs, r u an angel tho”. His idea of romance is one based on poorly-written stories, from the terrible attempts at tender words, to the “ooh I’m hurt, play nurse for me” shenanigans at the picnic. He’s influencing the relationship with no idea of what that means, turning a respectable sci-fi franchise into a baffling montage of perfume ads and the covers of Mills & Boon novels.
After their first kiss and immediate marriage, it appears that Padmé is very much in love with Anakin. Well, I say “appears”; she doesn’t look all that happy at their wedding. I would even go so far as to say that she has the same face on at her wedding as she does at her funeral.
Revenge of the Sith, or Stand By Your Man Even When He Straight-Up Murders a Whole Bunch of Younglings
Continuing on from her not-even-faking-any-joy at her wedding, Padmé breaks the news to Anakin that she is pregnant. She says this with the same inflection that one would tell one’s husband “The shark bite got infected” or “The important thing is that Fluffy died quickly.”
Padmé is still a senator, but where in the previous movies she always seemed to be doing something when we saw her (even if it was just demonstrating her ability to pack a weekend’s worth of outfits that Lady Gaga can only dream of into one tiny suitcase) now she’s like a little dolly on the shelf, waiting motionless until someone reminds her she’s a person again. Her whole life depends on Anakin.
Here she is, sitting quietly and waiting for Anakin…
And here she is, standing by the window and waiting for Anakin…
Padmé asks the same question to every visitor (few as they are) she receives: “Where’s Anakin?”. Like a ghost, or some mad aunt locked in the attic of a Victorian novel. “Is Anakin alright?”.
There’s a bit more of the nauseatingness that passes for sweet talk in the Amidala-Skywalker house…
…but it seems like Anakin’s heart isn’t really in it any more, being consumed with the quest to save Padmé from a possible death in childbirth using the Dark Side powers. I personally would sort out a discreet midwife, get her some decent antenatal care, and maybe if I was feeling really generous, I might sort out some sort of medical scan so we could identify any possible complications ahead of time. But Anakin is, as we’ve seen, not a man who counters problems with practical solutions. Anakin shuns the path of least resistance for the path of most drama.
We all know an Anakin, right? Right.
Her personality does show a brief flicker in this movie, which I think is worth mentioning because it’s the last time we really get to see her: in the Senate, when Palpatine enforces martial law.
Away from Anakin’s influence, and emboldened by being back in her element (somewhere Anakin has never been seen to accompany her) she regains some shred of herself. So when Obi-Wan visits to give her the “your bae is evil” speech, even though she says she doesn’t believe him, you can see she does.
Which, via a trip to Mustafar and a force-choking from that guy who was determined NOT to kill her…
…leads us to Padmé “losing the will to live”. There’s also an argument to be made that Padmé’s death was actually a totally meta reflection on the mental state of the audience, but that’s for another time, perhaps.
But it’s not just a convenient plot device that snatches Padmé away from us far too soon. As we’ve seen, Padmé has been mind-tricked into a relationship spanning at least a few years, rendering her catatonic when not around the apparent love of her life. When Anakin finally succumbs to the power and funky headgear of the Dark Side, he becomes, like all Sith, incapable of real love. And I don’t think it would be too much of a leap to say that on Mustafar, Anakin’s love for Padmé turned into hate.
Without Anakin’s love to give her life purpose, Padmé has literally nothing to live for. And feeling the love that’s been projected into her entire being for years turn to hate must feel like breathing razor blades. There’s nothing left that she can live for, not even her children. Anakin’s love -or rough approximation of it- was so insinuated in her mind that without it, she physically can’t exist any more.
She hangs on just long enough to name her kids and blindly defend Anakin one last time, and then she dies. Leaving us with nothing but two kids, enough dresses to clothe the population of Coruscant, and the shittest “NO” in the galaxy.