Fiction’s Fearless Females: Shmi Skywalker

Young Anakin Skywalker turns and runs back to his mother, telling her that “I just can’t do it mom.” Offered the chance to flee his life of slavery on Tatooine, to travel the galaxy and become a Jedi under the tutelage of Master Qui-Gon Jinn, the 9-year-old boy has a reasonable moment of doubt. He has only ever known this life with Shmi, his mother. As an audience we know very little of their life prior to meeting them in The Phantom Menace, only small bits that are often short on details. Anakin and Shmi used to be the property of Gardulla the Hutt and are now owned by the junk dealer Watto. Shmi has taught Anakin to care for others who are in need, and she says he has no greed. Anakin is the only human who can fly a podracer, having incredible reflexes that are uncommon for a human. We learn these and other facts, but they remain superficial, lacking any depth to better understand the trajectory of the life Shmi and Anakin have lived together. When Anakin says he does not want to leave, and his mother never-the-less insists “don’t look back,” we are otherwise lacking any meaningful understanding of what looking back truly means.

Except, there is one very important piece of information that we did learn that something that is stunning and adds incredible depth to both characters. At one point, Master Jinn enquires about the boy’s father, wondering who he was. To this, Shmi offers something startling. “There was no father,” she tells the Jedi Master, “I carried him [Anakin], I gave birth, I raised him, I can’t explain what happened.” In other words, Anakin is quite literally a miracle.

Qui-Gon Jinn takes this information and runs with it, taking a blood sample from Anakin that evening, a sample which confirms what he already suspected, that the boy has a unique and powerful relationship to the Force. Curiously, though, Qui-Gon takes no further interest in Shmi other than briefly wanting to free her from slavery along with Anakin, something he is unable to accomplish. Once Anakin is freed, with plans set in motion for the boy to join the Jedi, Qui-Gon will also ask Shmi if she will be alright, but this is a question that Shmi has little time to contemplate. Her son has been set free, he can now leave the arid sands of Tatooine for a better life, something she could not offer him.

It is unsurprising that Qui-Gon’s focus becomes freeing Anakin. Afterall, The Phantom Menace is a story about the discovery of Anakin, the “One who will bring balance to the Force,” and his first steps on the journey to becoming Darth Vader. The Star Wars saga which creator George Lucas crafted by adding the Prequel Trilogy is the story of Anakin Skywalker, of his fall to Darkness and his redemption, but this story is not possible without Anakin’s mother. She is the linchpin, the one character who was needed to establish his inevitable importance. All of the other characters, the events, the details, all of it could be different, could be changed for us to arrive at Anakin’s downfall. Shmi, however, is central to Anakin’s story. Even though she occupies a mere sliver in the great canon of Star Wars, she never-the-less plays one of the most critical roles.

Miraculous births are fundamental to establishing the importance of religious figures, and virgin births are incredibly common across a wide spectrum of religious traditions. Jesus is the most obvious and well-known example, born to the Virgin Mary, but he is not the only one. In one Aztec story, Quetzalcoatl was born to the virgin. A legend about the Muslim poet Kabir describes that he was born to a virgin Hindu. The list goes on and on (just google it). Thus, what Shmi describes to Qui-Gon Jinn follows this archetype, establishing Anakin’s special importance as a religious figure.

However, with Anakin as the focus of this miraculous information, Shmi becomes lost in the background. For a long time, I took Shmi for granted, never stopping to consider that her agency and voice in the matter is hidden behind the veil of Anakin’s importance. She could not explain what happened, we are but neither is she given the chance to explain whether she even wanted a child, not to mention any other reactions/emotions she felt when she learned a fetus was developing within her. As a man, I have no clue what it must feel like for a woman to discover that she is pregnant. I am incapable of understanding this experience, all I can do is listen and learn about what is undoubtedly a very personal and varied reaction from one woman to the next.

On this point, I am not suggesting George Lucas should have put words into Shmi’s mouth on this topic in The Phantom Menace. That could have just made things far more awkward. I do think, however, that Shmi Skywalker deserves to have her story told in a much more dynamic way that elevates her agency and voice regarding a pregnancy that was imposed on her, not chosen by her. We should not assume that just because Shmi could not “explain what happened” that this implies a passive acceptance of the pregnancy on her part. Instead, what she honestly tells Qui-Gon Jinn should be the jumping off point for a deeper dive into her lived experience, for this particular aspect of her story to be written by a woman or women in such a way that elevates her to the same level of importance as Anakin.

And that is the thing that I believe needs to be emphasized. Shmi Skywalker is just as important as Anakin precisely because she is, at the very least and in my opinion, an equal partner in the balancing of the Force. Like Anakin, Shmi Skywalker is also a miracle, she is the Divine Mother, and it is long past time that her story, her agency, and her voice are amplified.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in its fourth year!  Yay!  The series runs for the month of March and along with myself feature pieces by Nancy and Kathleen from Graphic Novelty2, Kalie from Just Dread-full, Michael from My Comic Relief.  Be sure to follow each of these blogs and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:

Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy

Ellie and Sandie

Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Beverly Crusher & Deanna Troi

9 comments

  1. Amen! It is staggering how little Shmi is discussed in both the canon of Star Wars stories and the casual and scholarly discussion of the saga. As you said, she is the Divine Mother. She is the ‘Theotokos,’ or the God-bearer, to use a Christian name for Mary. Without her there is no savior, there is no story.

    Your piece also makes me wonder about Shmi’s relationship to the Force. The Force gives her a child – how that transpired/was she “consulted” at all, as Mary was, we don’t know – and then nine years later, the “will of the Force” takes her child from her. Her beautiful boy is whisked off to serve a monastic order and she never knows if he’s alive or dead. In no way, shape, or form could that have been easy for her, especially with the hint of “divine will” around it all. The best her relationship with the Force could be described would most likely be “complicated.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have thought a lot about this comment and what I might respond with. Initially, my gut told me to focus in on the word “complicated” because I like how you use it. It feels exactly right to describe Shmi and her relationship with the Force. But then, the more I thought about it, the more my mind went to a different word, one I just wrote: relationship.

      My question is this: how do we define or describe a relationship with the Force? Does Star Wars provide us with a relational framework that we can use to think about what it means to be in relation with the Force and then, in turn, to then better understand why that relationship is, in Shmi’s case, so complicated?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm….this is a really great question. It makes me think of Augustine, you know, “What do I love when I love my God?” We get a lot about the Force as an energy field created by all living things that binds the galaxy together. We hear about the will of the Force. And we see how the Jedi use it. We even see a more general sense of “Force worship,” for lack of a better word, in ‘Rogue One.’ But I don’t know that we see much discussion about how the Force relates to creation in ways other than the Jedi and Sith.

        Perhaps Star Wars needs their own version of Augustine to ponder, “What do I love when I love the Force?” to help bring us some clarity. I can say I absolutely would preorder their ‘Confession in Thirteen Holocrons’ or whatever they’d call it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There were so many missed opportunities with Shmi. She is an enigma, forced into a martyr role, so as to represent Anakin’s descent towards the Dark Side. She made sacrifice after sacrifice for Anakin, and willingly sends him off to the Jedi Order- just for her story to ignobly end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello there, I think Shmi should be more recognised too, unfortunately George Lucas and the Star Wars storywriters sometimes “pigeon-holed” certain characters, events and actions, using them as vehicles to just move the story on. There have been many instances where something just happened that helped a character in the film or they meet a “random” person and that occurrence was considered a lucky event. A lot of these “events” are now credited to the “Will of the Force” but Shmi being the mother of the Chosen One needs to be revisited I feel. Great article, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! I am glad you agree that Shmi deserves more attention. I like your point regarding random or lucky events just being lumped under the “Will of the Force” as this seems to be the “get out of jail” card they like to use as an explanation without explanation. There are A LOT of instances like that, and while I don’t necessarily think each and everyone needs explanation, I absolutely believe Shmi deserves it. She is just far too important and relevant to Anakin’s story to be ignored. Which is why I plan to write some more about her soon. I have some pretty wild thoughts about her significance, so I’ll be sure to let ya know when I put them up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had a guest writer on my blog who wrote about star wars conspiracy theories and she wrote one all about Qui-Gon and Shmi’s hidden relationship. It’s pretty great, you should check it out. It’s an oldie but goodie.

    Liked by 1 person

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