Defending Padmé Yet Again

Last night I read part two of series on Fangirl blog about Padmé, co-written by Tricia and a fan ficcer friend of hers Lex.

Because that stupid Captcha thing often doesn’t work for me, I couldn’t post a response. So I’ll post it here and on SWPAS. I have more pixels to spare here anyway.

First, go and read “The Perils of Padmé: The Short Life and Fast Times of a Tragic Heroine” at Saga Journal, my first defense of Padmé’s character. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, if I do say so myself. I scrawled it while sitting on a sweltering beach in Cabo July 2005.

Now to directly address the Fangirl post.

What inspired it in the first place was Tricia wondering why Padmé and Leia are often left off of various pop culture “greatest strong female characters ever” lists.

First off, I have to take issue with the whole concept of “strong female character.” I’ve come to find it tired, annoying, and very limited in scope as is often the case of anything having to do with pop feminism. What it’s come to mean in 2012 is an 80-pound girl in a catsuit who can flatten a man twice her height and mass with some fancy kung fu kicks, never does anything remotely feminine except look effortlessly sexy, and rarely shows any vulnerability besides the usual stupid haunting secret. She can’t have any traditional views or behavior whatsoever (see T.V. Tropes’s “Real Women Don’t Wear Dresses”).

I think the question ought to be whether you have a GOOD female character. Somebody you either love or love to hate. Somebody memorable. Somebody who has a genuine place in the story.

The primary reason why Padmé and Leia are ignored is that the average list is written by the same kind of people who despise Lucas and hate Star Wars. It also bears noting that neither one, as good characters as they are, is the main character of the story.

Now Lex and Tricia seem to take issue with two things concerning Padmé. One is the scene where Padmé’s shirt is torn by the nexu. Tricia thought it was gratuitous and it cheapens Padmé’s character. On one level, it hearkens back to B-monster movies from the ‘50s, where either in the film or in the poster art there’s a woman in torn clothing being attacked or carried off by some strange beast. Of course it was a ploy to get the attention of 13-year-old boys thrilled by the prospect of scary monsters and babes showing a little skin. It’s the sort of image that makes feminists spit nails. But it’s beyond a cheap excuse to show off Padmé’s superior abs or to remind the 13-year-old boys watching the film that she does not wear a bra.

Some years back on one of those TFN discussion threads that were pretty good for a while, a fan noted that each of the monsters the characters face has something to do with his struggles or journey through the film. The bull-like reek attacks Anakin, who like the reek, charges forward, driven by his anger. Obi-Wan keeps dodging the acklay, avoiding the truth of what’s right out in front of him. And the cat-like nexu, with its large mouth and teeth, rips off Padmé’s shirt; she’s spent half of the film playing come here/go ‘way with Anakin and now she can’t avoid her inevitable deflowering.

Even if you discount that theory, my guess is to show the stakes Padmé faces, especially as someone who does not have any Force powers. If she survives a battle that kills scores of Jedi and trained clone troopers, a politician/diplomat has to take more than a hangnail in order to show her peril as well as her ability to engage in battle. In spite of the nexu attack and in spite of falling out of a ship, she still manages to get back on her feet. I think it’s a little unfair to say, “Well, there goes my respect for her” just because of a little torn cloth. Besides, fangirls got their eye candy with shirtless Anakin. It’s a fair trade off.

The other issue is the way Padmé died, specifically “she lost the will to live.” Maybe it is hard to accept a heroine who lived and sacrificed for others for so long but couldn’t live for her kids. Lucas is unabashedly old-fashioned and 100 years ago, nobody would have batted an eye at the same scenario occurring in a novel. But today, especially among fannish types, everybody wants a real-world CSI explanation. As a fandom friend said to another, “You’re so French in your thinking.” (No offense to actual French in the audience.) Or as David Lynch once said, everybody expects art to make sense even if they readily accept life doesn’t make sense.

I’ve felt that few people seem to understand Padmé’s perspective and maybe, as the Fangirl post suggests, putting some of those excised scenes back in AOTC or ROTS might clarify it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if Clone Wars or the expanded universe presents Padmé’s symbiotic relationship with Anakin, because I think it’s key to why she succumbs to her broken heart. Star Wars characters are as much symbolic and archetypal as anything else, but fandom is full of people who want literal explanations.

It is disappointing that in the conclusion, they seem to kick Padmé to the curb as some sort of mistake. In the comments, one of the authors says a character like her shouldn’t die due to some “weakness” but everyone who perishes in tragedy does so out of some kind of vulnerability. (See my essay linked above.) It’s also unfair to compare her with Leia, because Leia never experiences the kind of deeply personal betrayal Padmé encounters. Maybe Leia is made of sterner stuff, maybe she isn’t. But the enemy blows up Alderaan, not Han or Luke. Han never chokes her in a rage.

It would be nice if fans could keep an open mind with a character instead of expecting her to fit in a narrow mold.

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28 Responses to “Defending Padmé Yet Again”

  1. tatooinesand Says:

    These are really good points!

    And I’m not sure I like the pop culture concept of “strong female character”, too. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing that Padme and Leia are often left off of those lists.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with the last line, “It would be nice if fans could keep an open mind with a character instead of expecting her to fit in a narrow mold.” Great line!

    It can be applied to most prequel characters, but Padme seems to be dismissed more readily than others.

  2. PrinceOfNaboo Says:

    I acutally think Padmé was very strong when she died.
    I mean, there was nothing she could offer her two babies. With Padmé alive, the kids would have to live in constant fear of Vader and the Empire. They would have searched and ultimately found them.
    Padmé gave Leia und Luke the chance to have a proper childhood with her death.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      Well, yeah. Vader and Padmé IMHO could never stay away from each other and that would have put the twins in danger. I wrote a fan fic where Padmé realizes as she is dying she could never be a part of Luke and Leia’s life.

  3. Adam D. Bram Says:

    Lucas explained the “Lost the Will to Live” business by explaining the medical droids were crap and the Force Choke damaged her in a way they couldn’t identify.

    Granted, this should have been made clearer in the film, but at least its an explaination.

  4. tatooinesand Says:

    > Granted, this should have been made clearer in the film, but at least its an explaination.

    I think, not everything “should have been made clearer in the film”, if not for any other reason, then for the reason that in this case the films would be much longer and slower.

    Perhaps, this particular aspect *should* have been made clearer. Though, on the other hand, this is far from the only aspect fans are concerned and confused about.

    And I like this explanation! Thank you! I didn’t know about it.

  5. Eddie Says:

    “The Perils of Padme” is great, so lucid and very illuminating. It’s one of those things that you read and almost instantly take for granted because it rings so true.

    You’re spot-on about the concept of the “strong female character” as defined by all those geek™ sites; after reading your paragraph, I couldn’t help but think of River Tam from Firefly/Serenity…she’s the most egregious (and celebrated) of that type of character, and the fanboy drool over her is obnoxious–she’s the least interesting thing about that whole franchise. I think tatooinesand is right, Padme and Leia are better left off of those cliche-ridden lists.

    Reading this last night was interesting, because when I watched TPM3D again yesterday, I was really focusing on Padme, and how strongly she holds her own against EVERYBODY in that movie–not just men, but adult men in positions of power, like Qui-Gon and Palpatine…such an interesting and strong character, female or not.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      I hadn’t seen TPM in a while and while watching the film again recently, it stood out to me that Padmé had more testicular fortitude in the latter part of the film than just about every other character. She wasn’t only brave, it was her idea to form an alliance with the Gungans and try to retake Naboo herself, and she actually got involved in the battle. She literally retook her own castle while Anakin went out to slay the dragon.

      • Paul F. McDonald Says:

        And the scene in the throne room … “And now Viceroy, we will discuss a new treaty.” Badass.

        And yes, the “Perils of Padme” is great. I took the liberty of printing it out to have on hand. Awesome.

        And while I do think the Firefly stuff is getting overrated, Summer Glau is fantastic. But I was more a Sarah Connor Chronicles person anyway.

  6. Carl Says:

    I think the reason people take fault with the “lost the will to live” line is that it makes her character so extremely dependent on Anakin that it becomes almost pathetic, despite all the hurt and pain she’s going through.

    My guess as to why Padme isn’t seen as a great feminist character is akin to the reasons why Jo Grant isn’t listed as one of the great feminist Doctor Who companions. If you haven’t seen the show, Jo was a character who debuted in 1971 and started out as a total ditz, but grew throughout her three-year tenure to be an extremely strong, intelligent, and resourceful companion- even if it seemed like she was acting dumb, there was always something underlying it with a reason or purpose. And then in her final story, they essentially take her character back to square one and marry her off with some guy she meets in the episode. It takes away almost everything she stood for as a character, and since that’s the episode that sticks in people’s minds, that’s what they think with her character– negating her whole growth.

    Padme is great in Episode I and stellar in II, being extremely strong, resourceful, you name it. But she sort of loses a lot of her initiative in III, being confined mostly to her apartment and being ineffectual in the Senate (The latter of which was purposeful, though– the whole senate is supposed to be ineffectual). She does have moments of a lot of bravery and strength, but I think it’s overshadowed for a lot of people by her dependence on Anakin (As an aside- I liked ROTS a lot, but the Anakin/Padme relationship was my one flaw with it. A good movie in spite of it, but for me it’s still a problem).

    She’s a great character overall, but ROTS is what stays in most people’s minds, and (at least in my opinion) it doesn’t paint the most flattering portrait of her.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      Well, let me put it this way…Anakin basically sells his soul to Satan because he cannot live without Padmé. Why is this not “dependent” on Padmé and pathetic? Besides, this is a relationship that results in tragedy. Their love does them in and I think it makes them more human and their story more compelling.

      • Eddie Says:

        Right–Padme and Anakin’s love brings about each other’s downfall. To me, Padme is the stronger character in their relationship; she’s able to hold out longer from giving in to Anakin’s pleas and desires (and her own), and she also flatly refuses to sell *her* soul to the devil for him or any other reason–“You’re going down a path I cannot follow”.

    • Paul F. McDonald Says:

      How weird is it that I’m watching that Doctor Who episode today ….

      • Carl Says:

        Green Death? My goodness, I can never decide if I hate it or love it. On the one hand, those maggots…on the other, the butchering of one of my favorite companions and that godawful CSO. If you haven’t already, check out Phil Sandifer’s entry on the episode in his blog TARDIS Eruditorum. It’s a fascinating read.

        And concerning your question, lp? Gender roles in common society. If the movie makes the man do it for the woman, it’s chivalrous, if the woman does it for the man, it’s sexist. That’s not my opinion at all, mind you- I hate that kind of thinking . But it’s likely the reason most people choose to see it that way (me, I actually think the relationship is flawed on both sides- like I said before, it doesn’t spoil the movies for me, but it’s just a something I take issue with).

      • Paul F. McDonald Says:

        Okay, just finished the Green Death. I enjoyed it. But yeah, those effects were pretty bad, even for BBC circa 1970s …. I’m no Who expert, but I didn’t think Jo came off that bad. She was awfully clumsy, but one of those accidents helped cure her man, so it’s all good. And they did marry her off, but it wasn’t like she was going to live in the suburbs. She was going to the Amazon basin with her hippie-scientist hubby to hunt for better food sources. And as they mentioned on the special features, he was essentially another, younger version of the Doctor. Jo said that herself, so it wasn’t a big regression for me.

        And those last shots of the Doctor leaving the party and driving off alone into the sunset …. pretty poignant.

      • Carl Says:

        Oh, yeah, Jo and Doctor’s last scene nearly saves the whole episode for me, it’s so good. My problem with her in it is that making her relationship with Cliff parallel to her introduction with the Doctor pretty much sends her back to that point. Jo isn’t supposed to be as clumsy and dim-witted as she was in Terror of the Autons- if you watch her in the previous serial, Planet of the Daleks, she spends nearly the entire first episode alone exploring the planet and fending for herself. While in Green Death, she’s back to knocking things over and requiring Cliff or the Doctor to get her out of messes. The only difference between Death and Autons is that her accidents are happy ones (serendipity and all that).

        She also agrees to marry him so quickly without a second thought…questionable, to be sure, but it’s mostly just forced writing at play. Still a problem, though.

      • Paul F. McDonald Says:

        I suppose true enough … oh well, on to Sarah Jane.

      • Carl Says:

        Indeed- brilliant companion, absolutely excellent. Such a shame Sladen passed away not too long ago…

  7. ladylavinia1932 Says:

    When I first saw ROTS, I never had a problem with Padme’s death. First of all, I understood that her relationship with Anakin was based upon something that Paul MacDonald had described as “courtly love”. And dying of a broken heart is part of the myth. Also, dying of a broken heart or giving into despair is not improbable as some people want to believe. There was no need for Lucas to blame the medical droids for misdiagnosing Padme. I have come across a good number of articles of how seemingly healthy people have died after caving into despair or depression. One’s mental state does have a way of affecting that individual’s physical health. And when you consider that Padme was in her third trimester and on the verge of giving birth, experienced the fall of the Republic, learned that her husband had become a Sith Lord and was choked by said husband in a state of rage, the idea that her emotional state finally led to her demise is not that surprising.

    Besides, Padme was never an ideal character . . . at least not to me. She was flawed, even as far back as TPM. But most SW fans never seemed to realize this.

  8. M.Marshall Says:

    Not only am I a Star Wars fan, I’m a Xena fan and it sets my teeth on edge to see these so-called “strong female characters” that you perfectly described (80 lbs, catskin suit, etc.) being flaunted as the very images of female empowerment. Even Sigourney Weaver has complained about this trend.

    As for Padme’s “weakness” we should remember that women are human- not superhuman. They’re entitled to their flaws and weaknesses just as men are. Why should they have to be the “better ones”?

    • Paul F. McDonald Says:

      And how weird is it that me and mine just started watching Season One of Xena this week …..

      And along those same lines, finally saw Underworld:Awakening, and it equals awesome. I’m not sure about the female empowerment, but that is such an underrated series. With like plot twists and stories and stuff. And admittedly, a lot of blood ….

  9. tatooinesand Says:

    It’s like, GL left this point open to interpretation initially, but then seeing that it caused so much confusion, he came up with an explanation that might satisfy fans.

  10. ladylavinia1932 Says:

    I really wish he had not done that.

  11. drush76 Says:

    Has anyone read this article that compares Leia with Padme?

  12. LE Says:

    I know I’m several months late to this party, but I can’t help wanting to add something that I feel most people neglect when they talk about Padme’s death. I’ve never seen it as only, or even mostly, about Anakin. Padme sacrificed sacrificed everything from her childhood to her personal life until she reunited with Anakin to a huge chunks of time during her short marriage to the republic. She believed in it with all her heart (or at least the part not reserved for Anakin).
    The entire republic crumbles before her eyes. Then she finds out that not only has her Mentor who she helped bring to power a Sith Lord, but the entire war that has cost thousands of live and which, again, she inadvertantly helped to instigate, was a giant Xantos Gambit but this mentor to kill Jedi and Democracy. All within one or two days.
    Then her husband, the only real things she’s allowed herself to have outside of the duties she’s just found out were hallow and placed her a pawn, tells her, quite blankly, that he helped int he over throw of her beloved republic and killed the closest thing he’s had to a family (outside his own mother) and dozens of children for her. Then turns on her when she’s understandably horrified. When she’s heavily pregnant.
    Everything’s she’s ever cared about has been twisted and corrupted right under her nose — is it any wonder she’s heart broken and doesn’t think she has anything to offer to her children?

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