While the prequels track Anakin’s growth from childhood to late adolescence to early adulthood, they similarly track Padmé Amidala through various times of her life. Of all of the saga’s characters to date, there really isn’t anyone whose roles varied as much as Padmé’s did, which track with her growth from girlhood to becoming a young woman, a wife, then a mother.
(Before anyone says, “What about Leia?” it is my observation that while she is one of the few characters seen from birth up through old age, her role onscreen largely remains the same. In ROTJ, she has not yet married or had any children. In TFA, she is an estranged wife and the mother of a grown son who’s out on his own and menacing the galaxy, and she ends the movie a widow. In any case her status as any of those things matter less than basically being CEO of the Resistance.)
When we first meet her, she is a 14-year-old monarch whose manner, speech, and dress create a persona that seems otherworldly, unattainable. It’s as though she has taken on the personality of a goddess, something above ordinary mortal beings. George Lucas has done the mysterious unattainable woman thing before, by the way. It was an entire subplot in “American Graffiti,” with Suzanne Sommers the mysterious woman in white one of the guys in the movie had been trying to pursue. It was also initially Leia in ANH, the holographic form of an unknown pretty girl in white practically beckoning Luke into action. The original casting call for Padmé Amidala mentioned the ideal candidate having a burgeoning but not super obvious sensuality. Whatever that is, it’s pretty obvious the Naboo do everything possible to hide it in their monarchs. Padmé’s budding sexuality isn’t apparent at all in costumes designed to hide her body. Her beauty is transformed into something other than human with all of the ceremonial makeup.
It’s pretty clear that Queen Amidala’s life is nothing like that of any 14-year-olds we might know in our own world. She bears a responsibility most adults would chafe at and there are no school dances, slumber parties, or crushing on boys in her world. In one of the now non-canon comics from several years ago, and referenced again in “Darth Plagueis,” Padmé bids farewell to a boy who was interested in her the second she becomes Princess of Theed, knowing that part of her life was on hold for the next several years. Padmé’s description of a former boyfriend or crush Palo makes it clear that was all over before she even became Princess of Theed. (Though Padmé takes delight in using it to tease Anakin in AOTC.) I can tell you that 14 is a weird age for a girl. You are too old for the kid stuff of even two years beforehand, yet in many ways you still feel “too young” for a lot of things. Some 14-year-old girls look 22, others still look 11. Some girls at that age don’t wear makeup or aren’t allowed to, while others cake it on like there’s no tomorrow (I think in many ways, Amidala’s makeup is meant to disguise her humanity AND mask her youth). You can’t drive yet. R-rated movies are still kind of a no-no (of course, parental methods may vary). You and your friends are still blushing and giggling over the smutty scenes in various paperbacks. Older boys appeal but you also feel a little out of your league with one. Some of your peers develop the strange obsession with sexy clothes. Some of your peers are dating and openly making out with their boyfriends in the hallway, while others aren’t as interested or can’t. It does make you wonder how Padmé the human being was weathering all of this, even with her dedication, grooming, and training. Maybe behind the scenes she and her handmaidens occasionally went to the mall or sneaked out to see a concert or something.
As TPM progresses and the young queen is on the run, she ironically has to disguise herself as her true self, Padmé. She is free of the elaborate gowns, impossible hairdos, and kabuki-like makeup. It is quite intentional that it is in this state she first meets Anakin. The young boy doesn’t see a queen far above his station or a goddess to be worshipped and feared, but a friendly pretty girl who in spite of her humble dress is nothing like the slaves and hardscrabble types who seem to populate Mos Espa. I will also note that Padmé at that age isn’t so “womanly” in appearance that Anakin thinks of her as way too old for him. In any case, Anakin meets the real Padmé and that is who he is attached to for pretty much the rest of his life.
When the events of AOTC roll around, Padmé is a decade older and a senator on Coruscant. Padmé’s beauty is no longer transformed with makeup though she still uses ceremonial gowns and elaborate hairstyles. The persona she seems to project on Coruscant is that of youth and beauty while remaining all-business. It is entirely possible she’s discovered her looks could at least be disarming while dealing with diplomatic issues but she doesn’t want to give off the wrong signals either. The film doesn’t address whether Padmé has had any relationships since her tenure as queen ended but while Padmé is still unattached, based on comments in cut scenes and other sources, the idea of settling down and having children is on her mind. The Clone Wars series introduced a former beau, Rush Clovis. Beyond that, I’ll be honest; it’s difficult to figure out Padmé’s experience with men. On the one hand, she can seem naïve about things that her daughter Leia would probably see coming 150 parsecs away. Whatever experience she does have, it’s probably very limited. I doubt she’d had a serious love affair with anyone, not even Clovis. I think for Padmé, it’s duty first and on top of that, she seems to be the sort who has a very specific idea of who the right one is for her and has in her mind specific rules of dealing with things like courtship. It’s probably hard for her to find a man who is truly interested in her and not after something she could do for him, assuming life on Coruscant is like “House of Cards” or something. On the other hand, Padmé seems to be an accomplished flirt and is just worldly enough to figure out the implications of her own actions and Anakin’s. Whatever experience she does have, it’s likely more than Anakin’s.
In any case, a big part of Padmé’s journey in AOTC is that now she has blossomed into womanhood, is to find a lover. He, of course, turns out to be Anakin. Pads tries very hard to deny her attraction to Anakin but it’s clear even from the moment they meet again that she is attracted to him. The look on her face when she realizes she’s talking to Ani says, “Damn, that’s Anakin now?!” You can see the floating heart emojis around her head. When she tells him he’ll always be the little boy she knew on Tatooine, she was not only “friendzoning” Anakin to dispel any ideas on his part, she was trying to convince herself as well. She becomes shy around Anakin, covering up security cameras even in the middle of an assassination attempt. There’s not so-subtle symbolism of Anakin jumping on top of her bed with his lightsaber, abruptly awakening Padmé out of her slumber. They look at each other for a moment or two, then it’s back to the action. A new dimension in Padmé’s life has opened for her but it’s clear for a good chunk of the film she is conflicted.
It is a conflict she has to struggle with on the most romantic planet in the galaxy, her homeworld, as Anakin is assigned to protect her there. On the one hand, her rational self faintly attempts to set boundaries but her non-verbal signals say something else. She is willing to physically engage with Anakin, she doesn’t try to stop him from kissing her for the first time, and she flirts with him. Most telling however is her wardrobe change. Many observers think that Padmé’s revealing outfits were only meant to get Anakin’s attention but it’s not as though she went on an online shopping spree for jaw-dropping outfits while on that transport to Naboo. I think what’s going on here is that when she’s off duty, Padmé likes wearing classy but sexy clothes. Maybe after years of virginal gowns she enjoys showing off her body a little, maybe it’s a Naboo thing among unattached girls her age. What is interesting is that she reveals that aspect of herself to Anakin, when she could have easily just stuck with her senate wear or one of those standard issue utilitarian Star Wars jumpsuits. Why does she do that when her rational side insists that a relationship isn’t possible? What’s the point of teasing a 19-year-old boy who is clearly interested in her?
I think Padmé’s problem is she doesn’t know where the lines should be drawn. Deep down, she is a young woman who is comfortable with her body and with her sexuality but has for a long time put up barrier after barrier with a whole set of rules in order to protect herself. What would those senators with their Twi’lek entourages think of seeing a pretty young colleague wearing a backless gown or midriff-exposing top? She appreciates the chance to share with a man who she really is beneath the business exterior. But she is falling for Anakin and I don’t think she is sure what it means or where it should go. I think she desires intimacy with him as much as he does with her but if she were to go “all the way” with him, should it be just one time? Should they be friends with benefits? What if she gets in deeper with him? I don’t think Padmé was sure and was kind of winging it, letting things happen until Anakin had to open his mouth instead of just getting around to second or third base as Padmé probably expected. That’s when Padmé realized that Anakin was very serious about her and what all of that would mean for them. There was no way a one-night stand or even a friends with benefits thing was going to happen with him. He loved her. When Padmé tells Anakin “this is the real world, come back to it,” she is speaking as much to her own desires, thoughts, and feelings as she was to Anakin’s. A full on love affair might be what she and Anakin want but she knows what it would cost the both of them due to their roles.
Yet, Padmé cannot shove all of her feelings into a drawer and forget about them either. Padmé insists on still interacting with Anakin on a more intimate basis; she was apparently close enough to his bedroom to hear his nightmares and feels comfortable enough with him to wear a sexier nightgown than the 19th century one earlier in the movie. If you watch that scene on the balcony, Padmé, even while expressing genuine concern for Anakin, is checking him out. Watch her eyes, heh heh. She goes with him to Tatooine, offers him moral and emotional support, and helps snap him out of his grief by dragging him to Geonosis. She is practically his girlfriend in all but name.
On Geonosis, Padmé gives up and admits her feelings to Anakin. Even though she didn’t expect either one of them would live much longer, things between them change. When Padmé is in the arena, she has to beat back a huge cat-like creature with sharp teeth that tears off a significant portion of her top. It’s as though her battle with the cat creature symbolized her attempt to control her own passion for Anakin but not only does it expose her, it hurts her in the process. It seems to be a forewarning of what’s going to happen to her.
Being in a life and death situation as well as suffering injuries seem to have brought the young lovebirds even closer, because Anakin and Padmé take an even bigger step than simply becoming lovers; they get married. Padmé then transitions to another role and a new stage in her life, even though it must be kept in secret.
In ROTS, Padmé has evolved further still, as the film opens with her as wife and soon-to-be mother. (I will have a separate chapter on The Clone Wars, so I’ll get to Anakin and Padmé’s married life as depicted on the show then.) Padmé remains very much in love with Anakin and their reunion near the beginning of the film shows there is still a flame between them. But both of them know parenthood will completely change their lives. Padmé is at first fearful and unsure of how Anakin would react to news of the pregnancy. She knows she will likely have to walk from the Senate. Otherwise, she embraces impending motherhood, making plans to raise her bab(ies) on Naboo and figuring out where to set up the nursery.
Unfortunately for Padmé, this is the final season of her life. She will never experience raising her children to adulthood or look forward to grandchildren. Padmé dies young and beautiful, forever in her 20s and, from what the public sees, in her pregnant state. On a side note, one has to wonder what the people back home on Naboo thought of their senator with a mystery pregnancy. It might’ve been a shock to people who had remembered her as their quasi-divine virgin queen not so long beforehand, particularly since nobody knows she had married. Of course that all depends on how the Naboo look at these things. George Lucas had joked it was a big scandal on Naboo and the tabloids were blaming Jar Jar but it is the kind of thing that would’ve fueled years of speculation and conspiracy theories.