Padmé Amidala, Queen of Empty Space

1.

In the concept sketch, Padmé Amidala stands in profile. The stiff brown tunic and pants—the clothes she'll die in—are a far cry from the regalia worn by the Queen of Naboo. Her pregnancy is far enough along to hinder her, and her posture overcompensates. Her long dark braid is wrapped in thick ribbon: bright, blood-red. Her eyes cut across the page, directly toward the viewer.

2.

There is no central thesis left for Star Wars . It's just too big, a single root system holding up a thousand trees. It's a locus of pop-culture fascination because it both is and is not pretty much anything you need. By now, purchase patterns at Star Wars theme parks are sent to the same offices where story decisions are made.

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A Journey to Galaxy's Edge, the Nerdiest Place on Earth The sheer scope of the canon—films, comics, TV, toys—makes an endless appetite for stories. Just look at Willrow Hood, a Cloud City refugee with two seconds of screen time in The Empire Strikes Back. In 1997, a Star Wars trading card game gave him a name; a few years later, the ice cream maker Hood carried in that short scene was officially canonized as a database that saved the Resistance. He has an action figure. (Jon Favreau, on the set of The Mandalorian , posted an Instagram photo of a grimy ice cream maker, teasing that its role isn't over.)

In a canon with so much room, there are always more stories to tell. And the most appealing of these might be the fractal what-ifs: What got left behind? What looked good until something else looked perfect? Beneath them, in a place that's hard to define, are the stories that aren't told, for which it's just too late.

That's where Padmé Amidala died.

3.

The biggest battle in Star Wars is between its mythic arcs—the heroes' journeys—and its political stories. Padmé fell on the political side so squarely that the prequel trilogy expended significant visual and narrative energy trying to drag her toward the mythic, where Anakin Skywalker was waiting.
She never got there. Her realm was that of the negotiation and the vote, and nothing was able to bring her into line with the adventure and the myth. A war couldn't do it; courtship with a Jedi couldn't. Even her costumes couldn't pull her into legend. (Designer Trisha Biggar drew on myriad sources for Padmé's wardrobe—Mongolia, Japan, China, the Hopi—feeding a wider discussion about what it meant to use cultures as a visual shorthand for something alien. Even here, for Padmé, it was politics.)Her problems were just too complicated for the Force. When she was the teenage Queen of Naboo trying to fend off a hostile blockade of her planet, Senator Palpatine used her desperation to engineer his rise to power. After he began using his position as chancellor to dismantle the rule of law, her fight against him was stymied by the erosion of democracy, until there was nothing left but an Empire. Once the mythic showdowns took over, Padmé all but vanished from the narrative of the last prequel film, crushed by the future that was barreling down on her, begging her husband not to do the terrible things we already knew he was going to do.
But it wasn't always so. In an interview at Academy of Art University in October 2016—since removed from YouTube—artist Iain McCaig detailed the early stages of production and a potential moment George Lucas had considered for Revenge of the Sith. “[Anakin] leaves. Moments later, in come the Separatists and right behind his back, [Padmé] is starting the Rebellion to overthrow him,” McCaig said. “Because Padmé can see that he is becoming a monster.”It wasn't the first time fans had heard evidence of a path not taken. In The Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, below the portrait of sharp-eyed Padmé with the bright red ribbon in her hair, a note by McCaig describes some queen who never was: “The moment Padmé realizes Anakin can't be saved, she should do the thing that she needs to do—out of love. She should kill him.”