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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCF chapter.

Author’s Note: Just a disclaimer before I begin, because I know how serious the Star Wars fandom takes their canonicity: everything discussed in this article is purely theoretical and from a woman’s point of view. While I’m sadly not George Lucas nor do I have the power to change the ending of a movie that came out 15 years ago, I can discuss it and give different perspectives on the fate of a beloved character, and at no point do I intend to shove my thoughts and opinions down your throat.

The women of Star Wars deserve better.

In 2015, mere weeks before the release of his movie The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams received a lot of flack after telling Good Morning America that he always considered Star Wars a “boys thing.” Having simply misspoken on Abrams’ part, his comments were perceived as incredibly sexist by the franchise’s sizable fan base. I’m sure that there are and have been a number of die-hard Star Wars fans out there who fully believe that Star Wars is God’s (or George Lucas’, as it were) gift to man and that any and every new female character is introduced purely to ruin the fun. But what does that even mean? “Boys thing?” Who’s in charge of determining what girls and boys can or cannot enjoy? As a film major, I must not be a very good one, because I was shockingly unaware that movies were gender-specific. Star Wars is a movie in SPACE! What’s so manly about space?

I guess if you look at the Skywalker saga as a whole, it’s ultimately not about women at all, but about the tragedy of the character of Darth Vader — how he came to be and his legacy after his death. However, in telling the tragedy of Darth Vader, we meet a fair share of female characters. The way I see it, if you’re going to introduce a character — especially a female one within a male majority — they should be useful, strong, serve one or many purposes, move the story forward, and if they must, die a noble, honorable death. 

For the longest time, it seemed like Princess Leia (played by the late Carrie Fisher) was the only female human character, not only in the Star Wars franchise, but in the entire fictional Star Wars universe. She was a princess turned general…one of the first characters we ever meet, in the very first scene of the first movie. The greatest thing about her, for me, is that even though she finds love, it was never her sole motivation or goal. Leia Organa is arguably one of the greatest characters, female or otherwise, of all time. However, it’s her mother, Padmé Amidala (played by Natalie Portman), who holds the title of my favorite Star Wars character.

16 years after the original Star Wars trilogy, the prequel Star Wars trilogy was released. Here we first meet Padmé Amidala, the teenage Queen of the planet Naboo, and later senator. Just like her daughter Leia, Padmé is a woman of royal and political authority and she rules with democratic power. She meets Jedi Knight-in-training, Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen), and they are later secretly married. Like I mentioned earlier in the article, the story of Star Wars is the story of the tragedy of Darth Vader. Padmé’s role in the films is pivotal, as Anakin’s fear of her inherent death later becomes a driving force (for lack of a better term) to his turn to the Dark Side and becoming Vader (spoiler alert). 

It begins after Padmé tells him that she’s pregnant. Anakin begins having nightmarish visions of Padmé dying in childbirth. The evil Emperor Palpatine, AKA evil Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, manipulates Anakin’s fears by telling him that the Dark Side of The Force holds the power to save Padmé, and Anakin becomes his apprentice. Padmé finds out from Anakin’s master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, that Anakin — now Vader — has killed everyone in the Jedi Temple, including children. Shocked by this news, Padmé and Obi-Wan travel to the volcanic planet of Mustafar and beg Vader to abandon the Dark Side. Vader insists that they can take down Palpatine and rule the galaxy together. Upon seeing Obi-Wan with Padmé, Vader accuses Padmé of betrayal and Force-chokes her into unconsciousness. In an iconic and most-quoted scene in the movie, Obi-Wan defeats Vader in an epic lightsaber battle. He brings Padmé to Polis Massa, a secret asteroid base. While physically healthy, the medical droid delivering Padmé and Anakin’s twins (Luke and Leia) informs Obi-Wan that Padmé is said to have just “lost her will to live.” Padmé insists to Obi-Wan that she knows “there is still good in him,” referring to Vader, and she prophetically dies shortly after.

The circumstances of Padmé’s death are the cause of much dissension, as I’ve recently found out. I always viewed Padmé’s ending through rose-tinted glasses, in a hopelessly romantic way — she loved him so much, and when he turned to the Dark Side, she was so heartbroken that she died. I mean, if you’re that in love, who wouldn’t, right? Despite it being the canonically-correct ending, there’s still something unsettling about it to me. As I’ve grown in my knowledge of film and my strength as a fellow woman, I’ve taken off those rose-tinted glasses and viewed her death in a different light.

Even though the story is about him, Padmé was more than just “Anakin’s wife.” She was not a weak or dependent woman. She was a strong, selfless woman, always at the forefront of the needs of her people and willing to fight for them and for democracy…a headstrong leader from the very beginning. She believed in her husband and never gave up hope until her dying breath. This is shown and proven over the course of 3 movies, and I have a hard time accepting the fact that she just gave up and “lost her will to live” because of her devotion to a man; and one with a CVS receipt-long list of red flags, at that!

A different theory regarding Padmé’s death that I’ve found is one that considers Emperor Palpatine, who could have stolen her life force. “Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the wise?” The act of “Transfer Essence” is a radical force technique used by the ancient Sith Lords to transfer a person’s consciousness into another body or an inanimate object to achieve immortality. It’s possible that Palpatine could have given her life over to his apprentice, Vader. The medical droid tending to Padmé and her babies tells Obi-Wan that “for reasons we can’t explain, we’re losing her. We don’t know why.” The droids in Star Wars cannot feel, interact, or understand anything about the Force unless programmed to do so, so whatever’s happening to Padmé must have had something to do with the Force (or lack thereof). This theory can be supported by the fact that Padmé dies before Darth Vader takes his first breath. Somehow, Palpatine already knows of Padmé’s fate and blames it on Vader Force-choking her. “It seems in your anger, you killed her,” he states. “She was alive! I felt her!” Vader insists. Palpatine could be lying to Vader to cover up his own actions, leading Vader to think he killed his wife for the rest of his life. Whether Palpatine actually did it himself or used his apprentice as a vessel is up to the viewer, I’d say. Not the most “strong woman-ly” ending for Padmé — more tragic to say the least, but it makes the story of Vader, and Star Wars in general, more poignant than her just losing hope and dying of a broken heart.

Padmé giving up on life doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a weak girl move. One of the most noble sacrifices a woman can make is for that of her kids, and another theory on Padmé’s death is that she did just that. She didn’t die because she was sad about Anakin, but she willingly gave her life so that their kids could live and a part of her and Anakin could always be together. In Return of the Jedi, Leia remarks that she remembers a little bit about her mother. “Just… images, really. Feelings.” This could be explained once again by the Force; the idea that Padmé’s spirit lingers with Leia, which is how she can remember her despite only seeing her once in infancy. The story of Star Wars is the story of the tragedy of Darth Vader and, if you believe this theory to be true, the end Darth Vader’s tragedy interestingly parallels the way it began. At the end of Return of the Jedi the Emperor attempts to kill Luke, and Darth Vader is hesitant to stop him, struggling to choose between his mentor or his son. Spoiler alert: he kills the Emperor (or did he?), but not without receiving a lethal shock of force lightning, only living long enough to speak with Luke one last time. Luke pleads to his father that he has to save him and Vader insists that his death is inevitable. From that scene, we can conclude that Vader knew that the Emperor’s life force was keeping him alive and Palpatine’s existence was crucial to Vader’s existence. Vader willingly and knowingly sacrifices himself for his son, just like Padmé did all those years ago. The same Force that killed Padmé brought Vader to life and took his life away.

Having hope is one of the main themes of the Star Wars franchise. Padmé never gave up hope that Anakin had good in him. The idea that she “lost her will to live” goes against every message that Star Wars teaches, and I think she deserves a better ending to her story than that. The best thing about the Star Wars films is that they make you think deeply, and that they leave the nature of certain things ambiguous and up for discussion by the viewers. You’re allowed to have different interpretations based on both the lore and how you believe the story to be. That’s what being a fan is all about, and that’s what makes them such great films. That, and their depictions of strong, diverse female characters in positions of power and authority. Star Wars is not, never has been, and never will be just a “boys thing.” I’m proud to be a Star Wars fan and I hope that other girls see themselves being represented in strong characters like Padmé Amidala.

Emily Ryan is a Spring '23 BFA Film major at the University of Central Florida and a writer for the UCF chapter of Her Campus Magazine. A proud Pacific Islander, originally from the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World: Plant City, Florida. As a former Jungle Cruise Skipper at Magic Kingdom, Emily has ample entertainment experience under her belt, from hosting her own radio show, "Emily's Playhouse" on HCC HawkRadio, to performing for two years as Trixie the Usherette, Columbia the Groupie, and Eddie the Ex-Delivery Boy in a live shadowcast production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and countless video productions, including a second place faux horror movie trailer for the Fall 2016 "813 Film Challenge" entitled, "The Other Side" and a third place music video for the Winter 2017 "813 Film Challenge" to Andra Day's 2015 song, "Rise Up". When she's not writing or going to school, you can catch Emily at her job at Rock 'N' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith or Fantasmic! down Sunset Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios! She also loves spending her free time watching shows and movies on various streaming services, making playlists on Spotify and Apple Music (Aerosmith fans rise!), getting tattoos, singing, playing her keyboard, amateur photography, engaging in a session of Dungeons & Dragons with her neighbors, cuddling her boyfriend, Tex, and of course, going to Disney World! Follow her on social media! TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@erryan1999 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGkO4fWdKEV53LXFQP1wEXA? Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/124204150?si=cb1ea93978b1453d
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