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.
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.
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.
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:
Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)