This year for Mother’s Day, I decided to spend the day having a Star Wars Marathon because I was much too busy to dedicate the time to the movies on May the 4th. I generally insist on watching everything in chronological order. This left me starting my day with just shy of seven hours of prequels, and I’ll not be the first to admit that they are not my favorite films. Fortunately, there are some fairly interesting interactions in Episodes I through III to ease the sting. I particularly found myself watching the ways in which the mothers in Star Wars interact with the story and what benefits their stories give to the overall plot.
Mothers and fathers are treated quite differently in the Star Wars films. Fathers, and father figures, are individuals that must be lived up to. They are heroes and villains with definite lines in the sand and are adamant regarding specific accomplishments their sons meet. Mothers are only useful until the universe is through with them. While it could have been a simple choice made without intent, I think that it’s much more likely that Star Wars gave significant literary weight to the life and death of its moms. This stems from the theme that the men in Star Wars are the ones with something to overcome. We all understand the redemption story of Darth Daddy in the original trilogy. Take into consideration that the trilogies are generations of Skywalkers repeating the same crisis of conscience, and either triumphing or failing. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I think this is why Star Wars appears to treat moms so badly. They have to. There isn’t room for moms to be there for their boys. They have to find their own way.
The first mother we see in the Star Wars universe is in The Phantom Menace. We don’t see Shmi Skywalker initially, though she is talked of. She is quickly overshadowed by C3PO and Jar Jar Binks in her first scenes. Her general composure is of someone resigned to her life, yet still wanting more for her child. When she sees a way out for her son, she doesn’t question if it’s best, or show any outward sadness for her loss. It’s as if she even knows this story isn’t about her. This is interesting because she’s basically a Star Wars Virgin Mary. She has every reason to have some agency, to be capable of changing the story. It’s possible that her only real purpose is to be there for Anakin until he is ready to move on, then she has no place in the narrative. She serves it far better by motivating Anakin in death. Shmi actually had the best life Lucas could have written for her. She was freed. She was married to a man she cared for and raised a stepson that loved her enough to risk his own life raising her grandson years later. Her death was instrumental to moving the story forward. Anakin didn’t see any of that. He only saw his own pain and acted on it. Being away from his mother forced him to stand on his own and try to prove himself to the rest of the galaxy.
Moms in Star Wars are viewed through the eyes of their children. They are a literary device for us to see their children struggle with attachments, love, and loss. Showing us moms in different generations helps us to see when men fail to overcome their feelings and fall to the darkside. The loss of a parent is a standard hero—and villain—archetype, and many of the things we love to hate about Star Wars are its predictable patterns. It’s worth exploring how fathers affected mothers in the film, purely because you cannot truly unpack one without the other. Anakin was intense and driven by passion which is similar to his wife, but with some fatal differences: Anakin is focused on himself and how the universe affects him. Padme, on the other hand, is focused on how she can affect the galaxy. To create the Chosen One, or the perfect hero, the loss of a parent is fairly essential. Losing Padme permanently creates an interesting dynamic for Luke to navigate because his father will ultimately expect something of him.This is particularly important when remembering Padme and what she could have done for her children had she survived.
Padme is a superstar in the first two prequels. She has so much strength and control over the galaxy and the direction of the story… right up until she is visibly pregnant. Once Padme becomes pregnant, she loses her agency and becomes a vessel. It seems even in galaxies far, far away, women can lose themselves when becoming mothers. Like Shmi, her life after birth could not carry on because she had too much presence. She would have been a very good mother. She was a kind, empathetic human who, from a very young age, was not just a diplomat but a mother figure to her planet. Had she lived, we may have had a very different Luke & Leia. Padmé serves the story better by motivating Luke to find his place. He would never have looked to the stars and wanted to run away from his provincial life. Let’s cue up the musical orchestra here because we all know that Disney bought Star Wars for the dead mothers.
Star Wars, to me, is about balance. The prequels are about the beginning of the end, and they are dark. They are male centric and father focused. As the movies progress we see that change. I don’t think a push for greater diversity is the only reason we are now seeing more women in the galaxy. I hope it’s because Star Wars has a plan. I hope it’s because they are going to bring balance to the Force. And I hope that the Skywalker moms are going to have more agency and control in helping these boys figure it out this time around. Shmi and Padme died for a purpose, to move the story forward and we all thank them for their service and sacrifice. Just because Star Wars follows some East of Eden generational flaw doesn’t mean we are doomed to repeat it this time around. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Mama Leia in The Last Jedi. We know that Carrie will not have a place in IX. As far as we know, this will be the last we see of a mother-son relationship coming in December. We will be watching to see if she breaks the cycle. These parental narrative techniques have served us well the last 40 years, but I think it’s time we moved on to a different type of hero, and villain. I think Star Wars is ready for that change.
Alex (@WarriorQueenBee) has many opinions on Star Wars, to the great dismay of her children and spouse. When she’s not running her small business she can be found making ‘that’s what she said’ jokes at inappropriate times.