Minor spoilers for Queen’s Peril ahead.
Within the tragedy that is the prequels, and with its specific focus on Anakin and the Jedi, it is quite easy to forget or underestimate characters who are not Force-sensitives. Which, by the way, is exactly how Padmé Amidala Nebarrie would want it to be.
Padmé is the conscience of the prequels, and E.K. Johnston’s two additions to her story, Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow have proven that she is also the consummate hero of said time as well. That starts with her not wanting to be a hero at all. She serves for other people, not for her own glorification or ego, and this humility comes to define her. Amongst her handmaidens, whom she has complete control over, she sees herself as equal. In Queen’s Shadow, Sabé makes this clear in saying, “It’s a complicated relationship. She can order me to my death, and I will go. And she knows it. We’ve worked hard to maintain a balance we will never truly have.” Padmé respects the weight or her role, and what that role asks others to do.
Part of being a hero entails that one also becomes a role model and leader, which Padmé does with grace and excellence. She is never “better” than anyone else, despite titles that deem her so. In the role of handmaiden, she cleans a droid. Throughout The Clone Wars series, she is constantly leading from the front, whether that be bringing a motion to the Senate or going on a mission that puts her life in jeopardy. The root of this is in her humility but extends out to her bravery and belief that all people have good in them (a trait she would pass on to her son and daughter).
Consider the course of her life for one moment. At eight years old (basically in 3rd grade), she becomes a member of the junior legislative assembly. At 14 (approximately a freshmen in high school), an entire world trusted her to be their leader, and when the Trade Federation invaded their home no one batted an eye following her lead. She then goes on to be a senator and moral compass for the Republic at 18. Most people don’t have their own moral compass figured out at 18, and she has the entire galaxy on her shoulders. These years, from six to 18, are extremely important for cognitive development, particularly for the transition from concrete to abstract thinking. It is a time where peers and environment can shape who you are. However, for Padmé it is the reverse. She is the one changing the lives of others.
This faith in people is another defining characteristic. The clearest instance of this is with Anakin. Knowing that he has turned to the dark side, killed younglings, and even tried to choke the life out of her, her dying words are, “There’s good in him. I know.” It is that hope that is passed to Leia, helping her make it through the most hopeless of situations, and it is that faith that she passes to Luke, who redeems Darth Vader. George Lucas masterfully makes the connection between the two through their similar dialogue, attesting to the fact that the Anakin buried deep inside of Vader recognizes Padmé in Luke. Even in death, she makes the people she cares for better, and thus the galaxy.
Nonetheless, when Padmé is wrong or thinks she might be, she is willing to analyze and admit those flaws. In Queen’s Peril, readers get an inside look into Padmé’s thinking during her time on Tatooine, most importantly during the time she spends with Anakin in Watto’s shop. Here she faces slavery she didn’t even know exists, in a strange place that is about as far from Naboo as one can get. As she is trying to wrap her head around this strange new reality, she begins to recognize the privilege life has allotted her and commits herself to be better at identifying the needs of others through their lens instead of her own. After her time as queen, when she becomes a senator, she becomes dedicated to fighting slavery and representing the people of the entire Republic, not just Naboo.
As the Clone War wages on, Padmé is reflective about if the benefit of the war outweighs its cost. From the beginning of the war, Padmé was against militarizing the Republic, and she continues to push back against the creation of more clone troopers the longer the war goes on. She can do this because she recognizes the humanity in people. She does not demonize nor accost people who have different beliefs; she learns from them. In “Heroes on Both Sides,” Padmé takes Ahsoka to Raxus to meet with Mina Bonteri, a Separatist, to try to bring the war to a peaceful end. Unfortunately, she does not succeed, but this moment is critical in Ahsoka’s development, making her less “aggressive negotiations” first and more considerate of others’ views.
As Palpatine secretly rots the Republic from within, a select few begin to see the cracks in the blast doors. Padmé is, of course, one of them. In Revenge of the Sith, she even asks Anakin, “Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?” While this is quickly dismissed as treason by her husband, it is critical to understand possibly the most important trait of Padmé’s herodom. Be she queen, senator, or handmaiden, Padmé is always considering the ideas of others, their point of view, and if she is a part of the problem. This begins with the Gungans, continues through the war, and is present when she confronts Anakin on Mustafar, saying, “You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”
Padmé’s path, however, is one we should all aspire to follow. She may not be a hero in the blowing up the Death Star, save the galaxy fashion that we are all attracted to, but she is a hero in a way we can be. She is humble, aware, honest, faithful, and most importantly loving. May she rest in peace knowing this love, through Luke and Leia, saved the galaxy.