Fiction’s Fearless Females

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Queen Amidala

Standing behind the doors leading into the royal hanger, the Queen of Naboo, surrounded by her loyal handmaidens and advisers, must make a choice. One path will keep the teenage monarch on Naboo, with her people, risking capture and death at the hands of the invading Trade Federation. The alternative path will take her off-world, traveling with the two Jedi escorting her, running the Trade Federation blockade above her world in the hopes of reaching Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, to plead for help directly to the Senate.

“Either choice presents great danger, to us all,” the Queen says as she turns her head and looks at the handmaiden standing next to her.

“We are brave, your Highness,” the handmaiden responds, calmly speaking for herself and the other handmaidens.

To be brave is to be fearless, to stand firm and unflinching when confronting danger. Either path the Queen takes includes the risk of death, to herself and her retinue, but these handmaidens will face the risk with fearless poise standing side-by-side with their monarch.

But there is something else at play here, another layer hidden in the dialogue between a Queen and her assistant. In this scene from The Phantom Menace, the Queen we see is not the real Queen. No, she is actually a handmaiden, a loyal bodyguard charged with protecting the Queen by serving as a decoy dressed in royal attire. And the real Queen, Padmé Amidala, she is the handmaiden who has spoken.

This truth will not be revealed until later in the film when standing before the Gungan Boss Nass this handmaiden, Padmé, will confidently step forward, risking her own safety, and declare that she is Queen Amidala. Even though this revelation takes place late in the movie the gravity of the revelation reverberates through the entire film. It is possible then to add an interpretation to the statement “We are brave” by considering that Padmé, as Queen-in-disguise, is using the royal “We” when she speaks. And by viewing the term through this lens one can easily believe that Padmé Amidala is not only affirming the bravery of the handmaidens, but she is subtly but confidently affirming, as the true sovereign of the Naboo, that she is fearless.

Amidala's Reveal
Stepping forward, Padmé reveals that she is Queen Amidala.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Again and again we see Amidala model her bravery, in word and deed, simultaneously as handmaiden/Queen throughout The Phantom Menace. This is obvious when she reveals her identity to Boss Nass. Begging for help as she gets down on her knees – an act of pragmatic and diplomatic submission – Queen Amidala places herself and her party at the grace the Gungans. It pays off as her act of fearless humility convinces Boss Nass that Gungans and the Naboo can be friends and allies.

The Queen’s courage is also obvious when she and her retinue travel to the planet Tatooine.

Their vessel damaged as it ran the Trade Federation blockade surrounding Naboo, the two Jedi accompanying the royal entourage must identify a location that is free from Federation control to perform repairs. Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses a locale: the desert planet Tatooine. The head of the Queen’s guard, Captain Panaka, inquires how the Jedi know their Federation enemy is not present on the world to which Qui-Gon Jinn answers, “It’s controlled by the Hutts.” “You can’t take her royal Highness there! The Hutts are gangsters,” Panaka declares, immediately raising his concerns. Never-the-less, Tatooine, a lawless world on the fringe of the galaxy, remains their destination.

Upon landing in the desert Qui-Gon Jinn, accompanied by the astromech droid R2-D2 and the Gungan Jar Jar Binks, will head towards Mos Espa to seek out the parts they need to repair the damaged vessel. But as they head off Captain Panaka will stop them. With him is the handmaiden Padmé who remains silent as Qui-Gon and Panaka speak:

“Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you,” the Captain explains.

“No more commands from her Highness today, Captain,” Qui-Gon responds, “the spaceport is not going to be pleasant.”

“The Queen wishes it. She is curious about the planet,” Panaka retorts.

“This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon warns. “Stay close to me,” he tells the handmaiden as the group continues towards Mos Espa.

Padme joins the Group
The “handmaiden” remains silent while Captain Panaka and Qui-Gon Jinn discuss whether she should join the group.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The exchange may not seem like much but it serves a clear purpose: to account for Padmé being part of the group heading into Mos Espa. Fair enough, but narratively this should not be necessary. If the handmaiden was part of the group to begin with we would think nothing of it. She would just be someone else who is seeking the parts for the damaged hyperdrive. So why bother briefly pausing the plot to account for the handmaiden tagging along with the party? Because Padmé is no ordinary handmaiden. Armed with the knowledge that “her Highness” IS the handmaiden, this exchange is no longer a narrative curiosity but a narrative necessity, a way of demonstrating, and reinforcing, that behind the veil of “handmaiden” resides a formidable monarch who is exercising her power and displaying her strengths.

Captain Panaka, as noted, expressed his reservation to the Jedi about taking “her royal Highness” to Hutt-controlled Tatooine. While we do not see it, we can presume he shared these reservations with the Queen herself. But now, in a surprising twist, the Captain has escorted the Queen, dressed as a commoner, into the hot desert to join the repair party. Why does he do this? Because “Her Highness” has issued a “command.” She has used her authority and given an order which the Captain is duty-bound to follow.

The command she has given – for a handmaiden to join the party – is a clever trick on the part of Amidala, a way to insert herself while maintaining anonymity. This does not come without risk. Captain Panaka is not wrong that Tatooine, being controlled by galactic gangsters, is a dangerous world. Qui-Gon Jinn acknowledges this as well, admitting that “the spaceport is not going be pleasant.” The Queen does not flinch. Instead, she is putting words into action, showing “We are brave” by placing herself in an unpredictable and potentially precarious situation.

Granted, this decision does seem ill-advised. Being fearless is laudable, but it is difficult to justify being reckless. “This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon explains, a clear indication that he does not want anyone else to be put in danger, even a young handmaiden (although, for the record, I believe he knows Padmé is the Queen but that is a conversation for another time). Were something to happen to Amidala in Mos Espa – a run in with the Hutts, for example – the consequences could imperil not only her safety but the safety of the planet Naboo. So how can one justify her decision to join?

For starters, we can think about why she is joining the group. As Captain Panaka explains, the Queen “wishes” for the handmaiden to go with Qui-Gon Jinn because “she is curious about the planet.” Thus, we are explicitly told that the Queen is inquisitive, a quality which demonstrates her desire to lead effectively, gaining new insights and perspectives which will inform future decisions. Stuck on Tatooine for the time being, Queen Amidala chooses to step out of the comfort of her royal yacht so she might gain firsthand knowledge about her galaxy. Notably, this is exactly what happens when she meets Anakin Skywalker, a precocious 9-year-old boy, and is shocked by the revelation that he is a slave. The Queen was clearly under the impression that the abominable institution did not exist. In turn, after meeting Anakin’s mother Shmi, the Amidala learns that the Republic’s anti-slavery laws do not extend to every planet. A sobering truth that challenges her understanding of the Galactic Republic’s legal and moral reach, this discovery foreshadows the truth she learns a short time later about the ineffectiveness of the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor.

Padme and Anakin
Padmé meets Anakin Skywalker and learns a harsh truth: he is a slave.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Like her fearlessness, Amidala’s inquisitiveness is laudable. Yet, it does not entirely justify her decision to risk danger in the spaceport. Except, it does if we view it not solely as a pursuit for galactic knowledge. Rather, it should be interpreted as an example of the Queen’s strategic thinking. While Mos Espa is “not pleasant” and dangerous, given the situation it is also the safest place Queen Amidala can possibly be, a fact she must be aware of since she has given the command to “take her handmaiden.” Think of it like this: if the Trade Federation does track them down, discovering the royal yacht on the outskirts of Mos Espa, Amidala will not be there. Instead, the enemy will find the decoy Queen, along with the other handmaidens, the captain of the royal guard, and even a Jedi protector.

Meanwhile, Queen Amidala will be blending into the crowded streets of the unpleasant spaceport as the handmaiden Padmé. She will be fearlessly hiding in plain sight, as she does throughout The Phantom Menace, with no one the wiser.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s second year!  Yay!  The series runs for the month of March and along with myself will feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Mike of My Comic Relief.  Be sure to follow each of these blogs (as if you don’t already!) and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:

The Doctor

Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Dani from Midsommar

Sarah Connor

5 Fearless Cartoon Females of the 80s

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Princess Leia

There is a line in Star Wars: A New Hope which often gets lost in the greater scope of the film, a quote which points to the toughness of the movie’s lone female protagonist, Princess Leia. It comes when Darth Vader, the movie’s villain, speaks to Grand Moff Tarkin, the secondary villain in the film. Pacing back and forth as if annoyed, Vader admits that, “Her [Leia’s] resistance to the mind probe is considerable. It will be some time before we can extract any information from her.” Prior to this admission, we saw Vader enter Princess Leia’s prison cell with an interrogation droid floating behind him, a needle protruding from the droid and Leia’s face giving off subtle apprehension. Now, Vader states that it was for not, that the Princess has resisted this “mind probe” and that breaking her will take more time.

I have always loved this line; it has always resonated with me because it points directly to the fearless resolve which resides in the heart of Princess Leia. Even before Vader utters these words, we know that Leia is a force to be reckoned with, a whirlwind of confidence capable of holding her own. After all, it is Leia who was leading the mission to Tatooine to find Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi at the film’s outset. When the ship fell under attack, Leia created a new plan to secure Kenobi’s help EVEN AS IMPERIAL SOLDIERS STORMED THE VESSLE! Dispatching the droid R2-D2 to Tatooine’s surface, Leia awaited her inevitable capture, and even shoots/kills an Imperial stormtrooper before she is apprehended.

Leia and Vader
Leia confronts Darth Vader after her ship is attacked and she is captured.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Captured by the Empire’s white-armored soldiers, Princess Leia is escorted before Darth Vader, the nefarious and imposing villain we were JUST formally introduced to as he lifted a man by the neck and crushed his windpipe. The black-clad Vader towers above the petite, white dressed Princess, an obvious visual meant to represent the power of the evil Empire towering over the small, fledgling Rebellion. But Leia is far from intimidated. Oh no, not only does she stand tall next to this masked monster, she speaks first AND is the one who chastises him with palpable disdain!!!

In just a few frames, Leia presents herself as competent and fearless, especially under pressure. Rather than quivering and backing down, she boldy stands her ground against imposing odds. It is no wonder then that later, when Darth Vader assaults Leia, probing her mind for the “location of the Rebel base”, her resistance is “considerable.” Princess Leia is the embodiment of fearless resolve, the very heart and soul of the small Rebellion against an Empire which spans a galaxy. There was never a chance the mind probe would work, it was always going to be an act of futility on the part of Vader.

An Alternative Form of Persuasion

It is Grand Moff Tarkin who chooses a new tactic to extract the information they seek following the failure of the mind-probe. Rather than probing her mind, Tarkin gives Leia a choice: give up the location of the Rebel base OR watch as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star superweapon. It is a brilliant move on Tarkin’s part, one that catches Leia off-guard. Pleading with him, the Princess turns into a supplicant as she tells the Grand Moff her planet is “peaceful” and has “no weapons.” Tarkin, of course, does not care and, presenting the question again, demands to know where the Rebel base is located. It is now that Leia gives in: “Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.”

Leia Stares Down Tarkin
Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin square-off.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

That Leia gives in to Tarkin is shocking, but all the more painful as Leia must continue to stand and watch as Alderaan is destroyed. This is an unsurprising move on Tarkin’s part, an obvious example being made to the whole galaxy (and the Princess) that no one, not even “peaceful” worlds, are safe from Imperial military might. Now, the fearless young woman who stood her ground at the film’s opening, who chastised Vader and resisted his mind probe must steel herself as she watches her home world and her family perish in a ball of fire.

And yet, what we do not realize in this moment is that Leia has tricked Tarkin. Presented with the choice of Alderaan being destroyed OR the Rebellion being destroyed, the quick-thinking Princess chose a different route: an open-ended lie. We do not discover this right away, not until an Imperial officer informs Tarkin that scout ships discovered a deserted Rebel base on Dantooine. Furious, but more importantly humiliated, the Grand Moff orders the immediate execution of the Princess.

That Leia lies about the location of the Rebel base is brilliant, a narrative misdirect that leads Tarkin and the audience alike to THINK this strong-willed woman has caved under pressure. It is easy to forget this, as later we DO discover the real location of the Rebel base. But in this instance, we are led to believe Leia has given it up, that Dantooine is, in fact, the location. Instead, what we discover a few scenes later is that Princess Leia was in control the entire time, and while her plea to the Grand Moff that “Alderaan is peaceful” is certainly genuine, it, too, was also part of her quick thinking plan to save both Alderaan AND the Rebellion.

Awaiting Tarkin’s Fury

Knowing she has lied to Grand Moff, we can surmise that after being returned to her cell that the Princess sat and waited for Tarkin’s fury. Surely, too, she sat there in mourning, the loss of her world and family weighing heavily on her heart. One could hardly criticize the fearless female if she did break down and cry, although it is hardly necessary to know whether she did. The imagination is enough in this case.

Regardless, when we next see Leia she is reclining on the hard bench in her detention cell. Luke Skywalker, wearing stormtrooper armor, barges in to the rescue and, without missing a beat, the reclined Princess – certainly suspecting Tarkin’s fury has arrived – directs a shot of insulting sarcasm at the soldier: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”  While Vader’s comment about her resistance to the mind-probe directly points to Leia’s strong-willed personality, this shot of sarcasm – coupled with the sarcasm she throws at Tarkin earlier (see video clip) – highlights her constant disposition towards her Imperial foes. Basically, Leia is always ready to level an attack against the Empire, even if that attack is in the form of words alone.

But she is also more than happy to criticize her own allies, in this case her rescuers: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Cornered by Imperial soldiers in the detention center, the Princess chastises the films heroic men, noting that it “Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route.” What makes this all the better is that the quick-thinking Princess – who, we should remember, was not anticipating a rescue – immediately comes up with a plan and puts it into action. Taking the blaster from Skywalker, Leia blasts open the wall across from her and demands that everyone jump into the garbage chute. Before objections can be raised, Leia is already on her way into the depths of a Death Star trash compactor.

To be perfectly honest, this has always been my favorite “Leia Moment” in A New Hope. On one hand, her action makes the film’s heroes – Luke and Han – look incredibly foolish for not actually thinking about HOW they should go about completing their rescue mission. On the other hand, and more importantly, this moment demonstrates a clear reversal in fortune for the Princess. When the film begins, and her ship falls under attack, the protocol droid C-3PO tells R2-D2, “There will be no escape for the Princess this time.” True in that moment, C-3PO is ultimately proven wrong as Leia not only escapes, but does so by taking control of her own rescue when she and her allies are quite literally backed into a corner.

Into the Garbage Chute
“Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” – Princess Leia
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

But there is an additional element of control which Leia brings to her escape: her decision to travel directly to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. Why, if Leia knew the Millennium Falcon was being tracked, would she willingly lead the Empire to the Rebel Base, the location she resisted sharing with Vader and Tarkin? For some time, I felt this was a curious move on her part, a clear flaw in her thinking. Yet, the deeper I have considered it, the more I have realized that it is the safest choice given the stakes. With Alderaan destroyed and Obi-Wan Kenobi dead, Princess Leia is left with the only choice that makes any sense: getting the Death Star schematics stored in R2-D2 to the Rebel High Command as quickly as possible. A detour to another world, or a stop to acquire a new ship, runs the risk of Imperial capture, while traveling directly to the Rebellion ensures that the Death Star information (not to mention her own life) is protected. Besides, the sooner the schematics are delivered, the sooner the Rebellion can craft a plan of attack to destroy the planet-killing superweapon.

A Beacon of Hope

Once Leia and company arrive at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 her role in the film becomes primarily observational. While Luke Skywalker will jump into an X-Wing to participate in the impending engagement, and Han Solo will get a reward and leave before the fight begins, Leia will stand in the Rebel Command Center watching the battle unfold on display screens. Admittedly, it is a bit odd that with the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy the Rebel Base, Leia (along with others) choose to stand-around watching rather than evacuating. On some level, this sorta gives away what we know the inevitable outcome of the battle will be: the Rebels will win and the Death Star will be destroyed.

On another level, though, that Leia remains in the Command Center puts the final stamp of bravery on her fearless nature. With the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy Yavin 4, it is conceivable that the Princess was asked (perhaps even ordered!) to evacuate before the battle begins, her safety and importance to the Rebellion being tantamount. Instead, by remaining, Princess Leia reveals once more that she is the very heart of the Rebel cause, a beacon of hope for the Rebel soldiers fighting the Imperial war machine. She may not be in an X-Wing or Y-Wing fighting the battle, nor giving orders as a General, but Leia’s stoic presence in the face of imminent death testifies not only to her personal resolve, but also the resolve of the Rebel Alliance.

Given her status and importance to the Rebellion, it is unsurprising that Princess Leia is the one to bestow medallions upon Luke Skywalker and Han Solo following the Battle of Yavin. With the Death Star destroyed, the two men (accompanied by Chewbacca) will march down the center of a great hall, flanked on both sides by the entire assembly of Rebels on Yavin 4. Arriving at the bottom of a staircase, the trio ascend the steps until they are standing before, albeit slightly below, the magnificently dressed Leia. This is the only point in the film in which Leia has changed clothing, and she is now without the iconic hair “buns.” Wearing a gown, with her hair in a braided updo and jewlery drapping her neck, Leia now, officially and formally, looks like a Princess. Never-the-less, while she is resplendent in her royal attire, we also know that there is far more to her than meets the eye, and that what makes Princess Leia truly regal is her considerable fearlessness and capacity for hope in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Princess
The Princess
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I’ve joined forces with some other exciting bloggers and YouTubers – Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief and Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog – for a little salute to “Fiction’s Fearless Females.” Starting on International Women’s Day and going forward over the next couple months, a different contributor will offer their take on a favorite female who harbors a fearless spirit. Click on the links below to read about the other women being profiled.

Fiction’s Fearless Females

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Rey