Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Padmé Amidala, and the Lack of Focus

It’s been nearly sixteen years since The Phantom Menace first came out—sixteen years! God, I’m old—and there is no shortage of negative critiques for this movie online. But now that Episode VII has been announced, I decided it was time to go back and revisit the prequels. While the Star Wars prequels are some of my favorite movies, they are very poorly written, and that’s especially true for Episode I. The Phantom Menace could be removed from the story entirely with the series losing very little, since the movie comes across more as a prequel to the other two prequels instead of as the first part of a trilogy. Nothing much of importance happens in Episode I—Palpatine becomes chancellor and Anakin and Padmé meet during an unexplored conflict about a trade blockade—and the story also has a distinct lack of focus. It’s not until Episode II that the Clone Wars begin and our main conflict gets going.

Padme Amidala Episode INot only is Episode I’s plot all over the place, but we wind up with four potential main characters. While this is not necessarily a problem, it becomes a problem when a movie doesn’t know what it’s doing. As a result, none of these characters are particularly developed, and it’s hard to tell which character is supposed to be the main character.

Out of all four of them, though, Padmé is probably the most interesting character, and her story arc has a lot more potential that everyone else’s. She’s a young, naïve queen, fighting for the liberation of her people, while at the same time trying to reconcile this need for violence with her own personal pacifistic beliefs. Or at least, that would be the case, had her character been better written, and had she been intended to be the main character. Regardless of what the writers wanted when they wrote this episode, Padmé is more connected to the plot than any other character, and she’s also the one with clear motivations we can relate to. What this means is that The Phantom Menace is potentially the first Star Wars movie with a female lead.

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