Love and Star Wars: The Tragedy of Anakin and Padme
Love and Star Wars: The Tragedy of Anakin and Padme
The Star Wars prequels have long been a source of controversy among Star Wars fans. Some absolutely despise them, some love them, and others fall somewhere between the two extremes. My own relationship with the prequels has taken many detours over the years with me ultimately coming to the realization that there is (at least for me) more going on in the prequels that they’re often given credit for. I honestly believe George Lucas knew what he was doing when making these movies. He had a vision. It may not have been a vision that every fan shared or wanted, but it was the story Lucas set out to tell.
It would take far too long (this article is going to be long enough) to address every criticism that has been aimed at the Star Wars prequels, but for the purpose of this article I want to focus on one aspect that has been repeatedly mocked by fans: the romance of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala as depicted in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Many fans point to what they call “wooden performances” and “cheesy dialogue” when describing the love affair of Anakin and Padme. No, it wasn’t the love/hate opposites attract romance filled with witty banter and a chase through an asteroid field like with Han and Leia in the original trilogy’s Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which is perhaps more like what fans expected.
No, George Lucas was going for something different here. He was going back into his fondness for myth and literary tradition with his depiction of Anakin and Padme. The romance between the former queen and current senator of Naboo and the young Jedi knight-in-training hearkens back to a different time in our own history just as the prequels are meant to do for a galaxy far, far away.
Anakin’s and Padme’s romance is a more formal, ritualized, and stylized depiction of love known as “courtly love,” an antiquated form of romance in which a young man (often a knight) pursues an often older lady of high rank and station. This fits Anakin and Padme exactly. Padme is the older and more experienced one. She clearly has the power in the relationship. Anakin acts as the young knight pursuing his lady love.
In 1883, writer Gaston Paris described courtly love as follows:
“The lover accepts the independence of his mistress and tries to make himself worthy of her by acting bravely and honorably (nobly) and by doing whatever deeds she might desire, subjecting himself to a series of tests (ordeals) to prove to her his ardor and commitment.”
This stylized and formal form of romance is exactly what George Lucas was trying to depict in Attack of the Clones. Everything from the dialogue, the setting, to the visuals were carefully selected to fit this literary tradition of courtly love that I’m afraid was lost on much of the modern audience. George Lucas himself says in his commentary of the movie, “It’s intended to be overly dramatic, even overly operatic.” The tragic and forbidden love affair of Anakin and Padme is told in the same tradition as other tragic couples with forbidden loves like Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, and of course Romeo and Juliet.
The first time Anakin and Padme lay eyes on each other in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace a prepubescent Anakin Skywalker greets the young queen of Naboo with the words, “Are you an angel?” Anakin goes on to state that these “angels’” natural home is the moons of Iego, in other words in the heavens. Already Lucas was planting the seeds for the kind of romance this couple would come to have.
For poets and lovers of the middle ages it was a common theme to compare an idealized female figure to the divine. Anakin’s line in The Phantom Menace hearkens back to Shakespeare’s own Romeo and Juliet as the love-struck Romeo speaks of his own lady love:
“O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven”
Of course at this point Anakin is still a little boy who will ultimately transfer many of his feelings over his lost mother to Padme who starts as more of a surrogate mother figure to the Tatooine slave boy. This is classic Greek tragedy with shades of a full-blown Oedipal Complex. The weirdness will continue into the original trilogy as brother and sister Luke and Leia share a kiss while still ignorant of their kinship.
But let’s get back to Attack of the Clones and the courtly love of Anakin and Padme as adults.
First of all in the tradition of courtly love it is important to note that the man is the one in pursuit. He is attempting to woo and seduce the woman. The woman often acts coy and rejects or protests many of the man’s early attempts at seduction. In courtly love it is the man and not the woman who goes mad with love. Anakin says to Padme, “You are asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do.”
Anakin’s “I don’t like sand…” speech has often been mocked by fans. It may seem kind of goofy to modern audiences, but it is a throwback to the poetic nature of the type of romance being depicted in Attack of the Clones with its use of imagery and lyrical quality. The speech is ended with the couple’s first forbidden kiss which Padme breaks off in protest proclaiming, “No. I shouldn’t have done that” in traditional courtly love fashion.
It’s important that Anakin’s and Padme’s love be a forbidden one. Lucas illustrates the forbidden nature of this romance quite fell through symbolism and imagery. Anakin and Padme spend much of their time in the lush natural paradise of Naboo, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.
This forbidden aspect of their love is best symbolized when Anakin uses the Force to float a piece of fruit over to Padme who takes a bite from it. This is again reminiscent of the Garden of Eden and Eve’s offering of the forbidden fruit to Adam. Since this is a case of courtly love the roles are reversed with the man being in the role of the tempter and seducer, so it is Anakin who offers “forbidden fruit” to Padme.
In her work A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, author Barbara Tuchman outlines the stages of courtly love. All of which are perfectly executed in Attack of the Clones with Anakin and Padme as I will attempt to show.
ATTRACTION TO THE LADY, USUALLY VIA EYES/GLANCE
When Padme covers the security cameras in her bedroom, Anakin cites the reason to Obi-Wan as “I don’t think she liked me watching her.”
In the scene where Anakin and Padme are alone for the first time in Episode II, Anakin begins casting meaningful looks at Padme to which Padme says, “Please don’t look at me like that. It makes me feel uncomfortable.” The lady’s initial rejection and putting off of her young suitor also fits the literary tradition of courtly love. As Padme walks away, Anakin again takes the opportunity to leer at the young senator.
WORSHIP OF THE LADY FROM AFAR
From the moment we see Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones he is already tense at the thought of seeing Padme after ten years. Obi-Wan Kenobi points out that Anakin is sweating and instructs him to relax and take a deep breath.
Anakin goes on to tell Jar Jar Binks, “I’ve thought about her every day since we parted,…”
“You’re exactly as I remember you in my dreams,” Anakin tells Padme, indicating that he has indeed dreamed and longed for her from afar.
DECLARATION OF PASSIONATE DEVOTION
A number of times throughout Attack of the Clones, Anakin states his passionate devotion to Padme.
“From the moment I met you all those years ago not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of you,” Anakin tells Padme.
Anakin makes his devotion and passion clear when he says to Padme, “What can I do? I will do anything you ask.”
VIRTUOUS WOOING WITH OATHS OF VIRTUE AND ETERNAL FEALTY
Anakin makes a number of promises or oaths to Padme throughout Attack of the Clones.
Anakin immediately promises to find those responsible for trying to assassinate Padme although he is chastised by Obi-Wan for it because Anakin is exceeding the Jedi Council’s mandate and isn’t minding his place.
In a chivalrous moment, Anakin paraphrases a bit of the Jedi Code, the virtuous oaths the Jedi are meant to follow, and turns it to his advantage in his wooing of Padme.
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love is central to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.”
Anakin later makes another promise or oath to Padme. “I will be the most powerful Jedi ever! I promise you. I will even learn to stop people from dying.”
MOANS OF APPROACHING DEATH FROM UNSATISFIED DESIRE AND OTHER PHYSICAL MANIFESTATIONS OF LOVESICKNESS.
One of Anakin’s most impassioned speeches of courtly love demonstrates just how lovesick he has become. He implies just how much he is physically suffering and can’t live without the source of his desire.
“…now that I’m with you again I’m in agony. The closer I get to you the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you…I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating…hoping that that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul…tormenting me.
“If you are suffering as much as I am, please, tell me.”
HEROIC DEEDS OF VALOR WHICH WIN THE LADY’S HEART
Anakin’s first heroic deed is saving Padme from another assassination attempt as a pair of serpent-like creatures are slipped into her bedroom while she is sleeping. I believe this was also Lucas paying a bit of homage to the ancient mythology he loves with the two serpent-like creatures that Anakin kills being much like the serpents that a young Hercules killed which were also part of an assassination attempt.
Anakin next becomes Padme’s personal security escort, her bodyguard, charged with protecting her very life.
Anakin then takes Padme on an adventure to rescue another woman he loves, his mother who tragically dies, a heroic deed that surely impressed Padme and intensified her feelings for the young Jedi knight-in-training.
Next Anakin slaughters a bunch of Sandpeople in anger over his mother’s death and confesses it to Padme. This might be a strange way to win a lady’s heart, but it fits perfectly with the type of story Lucas was trying to tell. The slaying of one’s enemies has long been used in literature and myth as a method of impressing a woman and proving one’s masculinity. Not to mention in our modern parlance this act of wanton destruction instantly catapulted Anakin into “dangerous bad boy” territory.
Attraction to such men seems to run in the family as years later Princess Leia would lose her heart to a scoundrel by the name of Han Solo.
Following the events on Tatooine, Anakin again takes Padme on another heroic adventure, this time to rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet Geonosis. Even at this point Padme is still calling the shots as she is the one who makes the decision for them both to go after Obi-Wan. Padme even instructs her knightly suitor to “follow my lead.”
CONSUMMATION OF THE SECRET LOVE
The consummation comes with Padme at last admitting her love for Anakin as they share what they think may be a final kiss as they’re pulled into the arena on Geonosis and then culminates in the secret wedding ceremony on Naboo.
ENDLESS ADVENTURES AND SUBTERFUGE AVOIDING DETECTION
As we move into the next installment in the prequels, Revenge of the Sith, we see that Anakin and Padme are still keeping their relationship a secret hidden in the shadows including Anakin’s identity as the father of Padme’s unborn offspring.
Of course in following this literary tradition of courtly love one should also keep in mind that Anakin’s and Padme’s forbidden love is a tragedy with terrible consequences. Just as the forbidden love between Lancelot and Guinevere in the Arthurian legends brought about the fall of Camelot, so too does the forbidden love of Anakin and Padme lead to the fall of the Galactic Republic.
This tragic courtly romance ends when Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader while Padme dies in childbirth after losing the “will to live” following having her heart broken by Anakin turned Vader. This last bit has met with a lot of criticism by Star Wars fans. I think it is important to remember that for all of its science-fiction dressings, Star Wars is myth and fairy tale more than anything else. Padme essentially dying of a broken heart is consistent with other such tales. Isolde dies of a broken heart after losing her Tristan. The Lady Elaine, another of Sir Lancelot’s romantic conquests, is also described as dying of a broken heart.
Padme choosing to die rather than live without Anakin could be construed as a form of suicide in the tradition of Juliet choosing to end her life by plunging a dagger into her own heart rather than go on living without Romeo. Anakin committed a form of suicide as well. With Padme dead he figuratively “murdered” (as Obi-Wan would later put it to Luke in A New Hope) Anakin Skywalker and embraced his new life as Darth Vader.
As Shakespeare might have put it,
“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Padme and her Anakin.”
Yeah, I know it doesn’t rhyme. Tragic, isn’t it?