The Padmé That Wasn’t There
How E.K. Johnston took a flat Padmé Amidala and added some dimension to the only major female character in the Prequel Trilogy.
When watching the Prequel films and paying attention to Padmé’s characterization, and then reading E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Trilogy, it is an almost surreal experience. It is not an exaggeration to say that, aside from the name, the Padmé in the films and the Padmé in the novels is a completely different person.
A large part of this disconnect is thanks to George Lucas’s lacking script of anything meaningful for the heroine. Additionally, the studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox cut out most of Padmé’s backstory in Attack of the Clones, ensuring that the main female character (and one of few with speaking lines) in the Prequel Trilogy was one-dimensional.
Dave Filoni and his animation team somewhat tried to rectify this. Filoni’s The Clone Wars series added more Padmé content, but it always revolved around Anakin. Even novels like Thrawn Alliances, which heavily featured Padmé on a mission on Batuu involved Anakin and their relationship.
It was not until E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow was announced in 2018 that there was a sign of potential life in Padmé’s world outside of Anakin Skywalker. The focus of Queen’s Shadow was not just on Padmé but on her handmaidens and their lives following Queen Amidala’s transition to Senator Amidala.
Queen’s Peril, a prequel to Queen’s Shadow, was released in 2020, and the final installment of the trilogy, Queen’s Hope, was released this year in April.
Queen’s Shadow is at the top for the story and character development. A large portion of Queen’s Peril overlaps with The Phantom Menace, so the later part of the novel is tied to those events and the focus is less on the handmaidens. And Queen’s Hope is a closing chapter for Padmé and her relationships with her handmaiden as she secretly marries Anakin.
But even with its flaws, The Queen’s Trilogy is the best roadmap and reference for Padmé fans who want more from the character than her connection with the Jedi.
And the existence of a team of similarly aged girls that have to be around Padmé almost every moment of the day is a unique gateway into informing her character without spending the entire novel in her POV.
Three books, three reasons why The Queen’s Trilogy gives a complete picture of the life of Padmé Amidala:
Queen’s Shadow: Padmé Observes, Learns, and Adapts
Starting the trilogy in the middle of Padmé’s career with Queen’s Shadow was genius as it immediately put the character in a situation of change and conflict. Having Padmé move from the structured, comfortable politics of Naboo to navigating the chaotic ineptness of the Galactic Senate is the equivalent of throwing a beginner into the deep end of the pool and yelling “swim!” And it makes for a gripping read as Padmé slowly figures out how to play the game of Galactic politics. By the time we see her in Attack of the Clones, she appears confident in her political prowess, so Queen’s Shadow is a nice reminder that Padmé had to learn and figure things out. But she also had the help of her handmaidens, who were her eyes and ears.
Like in the real world a politician does not operate on an island, especially a high-profile one. There is an entire team of staff that shape an image of a political candidate. For Padmé, her handmaidens are her staff- if the staff were a secret weapon. No one outside of Naboo seems to understand the extent of their jobs, which is by design. Particularly with Sabé, who covered as Queen Amidala when needed.
And Padmé and her team bring that strategy with her to the Galactic Senate. With new handmaidens, Dormé, Versé, and Cordé (her new decoy), Padmé experiences some culture shock with the process of the Senate. Proposals in the Senate move too quickly for meaningful discussion before they are voted on and it is overwhelming for the freshman Senator.
It is during this time when she meets the established Senator, Mina Bonteri, who gives her the most useful advice:
“Senator Amidala, I think you’ll do all right here,” she said. She sounded sincere. “But I will tell you a secret: you can do all the reading you want, believe in all the truths you think the galaxy has to offer, but the real work of the Senate is done at parties like these. A conscience vote is a wonderful thing, but allies are far better.”
Johnston, E. K.. Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow. Disney Book Group.
And watching The Clone Wars arcs focused on Padmé, you can see her effectiveness using this strategy as a more senior Senator. Padmé goes on to form an alliance with Senator Bail Organa (and to a lesser extent, Mon Mothma), but her most valuable lesson comes from this conversation with Mina Bonteri.
Queen’s Peril: Padmé Makes Female Friends
“Padmé smiled and looked at Tsabin. Her first handmaiden. In the two weeks since the election, they had spent nearly every moment together, though most people hadn’t been entirely aware of Tsabin’s presence. She had offered opinions on a variety of matters, and Padmé was already coming to rely on Tsabin’s good sense to temper her own idealism. They were friends, or they were on their way to friendship. And they were learning to navigate the power imbalance between them.”
Johnston, E. K.. Queen’s Peril. Disney Book Group.
In the Prequel films, Padmé does not have friends, and the scenes that she does have involving her family were cut from the theatrical release. She barely has friends in The Clone Wars. In the books, this is explained by her position as Queen and Padmé’s stringent Head of Security, Captain Quarsh Panaka. Panaka interviews and brings in all of Padmé’s handmaidens, most of who look similar to her but all of who have special skillsets:
Handmaiden role: the wardrobe mistress
Skillset: master of artistry and deceit, including forgery and slicing
Handmaiden role: communications
Skillset: engineer and scientist
Handmaiden role: liaison with palace staff
Skillset: a weaver of functional garments
Handmaiden role: the page
Skillset: a strategic political genius
Handmaiden role: everyone’s assistant
Skillset: the mimicry
The handmaidens’ role to the Queen of Naboo varies, depending on the particular Queen, but they are generally a mix between an entourage and the Dora Milaje. If George Lucas had more vision for his female characters, they could have been as popular as the Dora Milaje. They are not just advisors to the Queen consort, but also are trained fighters and are the last defense in protection for the Queen.
Sabé spends the most time with Padmé out of any handmaiden because she is her decoy. Sabé is the first handmaiden to be brought in by Panaka and immediately undercuts him in service to Padmé, claiming the handmaidens should be loyal to the Queen and not the Head of Security. In Queen’s Peril, we see this role come to fruition during the events of The Phantom Menace, with valuable learnings from both girls along the way.
During a particular instance when Sabé is acting as Queen, one of her love interests mistakes the handmaiden Padmé for Sabé and tries to kiss her. Padmé recoils, and it causes a rift between her and Sabé, who feels that if she is spending the time and effort to keep up appearances for the Queen, Padmé should do the same.
It is a precursor of what is to come between the two and the unavoidable power dynamic that exists. But, for this instance, it is a lesson learned. Padmé learns how to take on the role of handmaiden and Sabé learns how to play Queen.
Throughout the three novels, the relationship between Padmé and her handmaidens solidifies, then begins to fracture as Padmé becomes more secretive about her personal life.
Queen’s Hope: Padmé Choses Herself, For Better or Worse.
“Padmé pushed down the guilt and sadness she was feeling and focused on the good things. She was safe. The Battle of Geonosis had been won, even if the cost had been high. Anakin Skywalker loved her.
And tomorrow she was getting married.”
Johnston, E. K.. Queen’s Peril. Disney Book Group.
By the third novel, Padmé’s relationship with her handmaidens (former and current) has changed. For the current handmaidens, Ellé and Moteé, they take on more of a senatorial aide role and do not act as Padmé’s decoy. Part of this is because everyone is still reeling from the loss of Cordé and Versé (both were killed in Attack of the Clones), but part of it is also so Padmé can have a part of her life that is truly private. She keeps her marriage a secret from her former handmaidens initially (although most of them find out). And most of the handmaidens have moved on successfully and meaningfully: Saché and Yané are married and are fostering a group of kids orphaned by a ecological disaster, Rabé is a renown musician, Eirtaé is engineering food for restaurants and has exhibits, and Sabé and her partner Tonra are working on Tatooine to disrupt the slave trade.
Padmé feels guilty not confiding in her friends about her marriage to Anakin but also cherishes that this part of her life is hers. This guilt/secret comes to a head when Sabé finds out in the worst way. Having gone back to Coruscant to cover for Padmé while she is on a secret mission at the beginning of the Clone Wars, Sabé is disturbed in her sleep and almost Force-choked when Anakin senses she is not his wife. When Sabé learns Padmé married Anakin without telling her, the former handmaiden realizes that their friendship has changed. The marriage, the politics, and Coruscant has changed Padmé.
And so, Sabé tells Padmé that she cannot be her decoy moving forward and to not ask her again. Sabé, once dedicated and fiercely loyal to Padmé, is on her own path doing work meaningful to her. Padmé has chosen herself, and so must Sabé.
There is a sad foreshadowing, specifically in Queen’s Hope, that Padmé believes there is time to rebuild the relationship with her friends, that there will be time to enjoy her marriage with Anakin and build her own family. We know from Revenge of the Sith that there is very little time left for the Senator, but thanks to E.K. Johnston, we get to read an important part of her short life.
Originally published at https://creditsandcanon.com on May 26, 2022.