Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy: Shmi’s Death

Last time I talked about one of the most pivotal scenes in the prequel trilogy, when Anakin leaves Shmi in TPM. Things come full circle and not in a good way in AOTC, when Anakin returns to Tatooine after he is plagued by nightmares of his mother in trouble. He and Padme ultimately discover that Shmi was taken captive by Sand People, and Anakin goes off alone to rescue her.

Anakin reunites with Shmi in a Tusken Raider camp, but he is horrified at what he sees. She has been brutalized, she is weak, and she is dying. Again, not a big splashy special effects scene or an action sequence, but one of the most emotional and intriguing scenes in the saga. (In fact, I thought the entire sequence beginning with Anakin’s departure from the Lars household to Shmi’s funeral was brilliant. But I’ll get to all of those another time.) The scene is staged like a reverse Pieta, with Anakin cradling his broken, dying mother rather than the other way around. The only light comes from a fire, casting light and shadows, as darkness is about to overtake Anakin (a fan once noted that whenever anything significant happens to Anakin, there’s fire present). The shot is perfectly framed too, but then Lucas excels at framing shots. As for the performances, I thought Hayden hit this out of the park. Even though he didn’t play Anakin in TPM, you can see all over his face and by the way he speaks, that Anakin is reverting to his nine-year-old self, begging Shmi to stay with him even though he knows she’s not going to make it. (Which is underscored by John Williams’s use of “Anakin’s Theme” from TPM.) Pernilla August does a great job here too; I think I’ve read somewhere that she improvised some of her dialogue. In spite of her horrible final days, Shmi takes joy in the fact that she got to see her son one more time (“now I am complete”), grown up and a Jedi. Again, it’s something Anakin completely ignores because of his sorrow, which quickly becomes his wrath. Williams’s score turns from being sorrowful to something reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s “Psycho” score as a mourning Anakin looks up with pure rage in his eyes. And well, we know what happens next.

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6 Responses to “Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy: Shmi’s Death”

  1. Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

    I am not proud to admit that the first time I saw this, Shmi’s dying slump reminded me humorously of Madonna’s death scene from Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy film.

    After twelve years worth of rewatching, I feel nothing but grief for both Shmi’s life and Anakin’s innocence. It really is a well-acted and we’ll-staged sequence.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      When I was watching the third Matrix flick, I cracked up at the end of Trinity’s death scene because her head hit the floor with an audible “thunk.” I half-expected Carrie-Anne Moss to go, “Ow!”

  2. Forcechild Says:

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly. Hayden’s performance was excellent, showing Anakin’s slow building rage at his mother’s death, then exacting his revenge and killing the entire encampment of Sandpeople, woman and children included – his dark side completely unhindered. I loved the way Lucas added Qui-Gon’s voice in the background screaming out to Anakin. It solidified the entire scene.

    • peacetrainjedi Says:

      Yeah, the added Qui-Gon voice in the background and the accompanying scene with Yoda and Windu really enhanced the moment.

  3. ladylavinia1932 Says:

    I think this is one of the best scenes from the saga and hinted so in my review of AOTC.

  4. lovelucas Says:

    Performances are really on point and also the interaction of Hayden and Pernilla… The emotional transformation of Hayden/Anakin going from fear, to hope, to a whisper of happiness as his mother voices pride and love, to aching compassion and hurt to the worst loss you can experience to mindless rage and revenge. One of Hayden’s very best scenes. It’s also revelatory of how the Tuskens use brutality and torture

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