In today’s Scene It? post I’ll be looking at one of the most heart-breaking scenes in The Revenge of the Sith (2005), the third prequel film which depicts Anakin’s switch to the Dark Side of the Force. I am, of course, talking about the scene between Padme and Anakin on Mustafar, shortly before the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Naturally, this post contains spoilers for The Revenge of the Sith. If you want a quick refresher on the scene, help yourself to the video below, the first half of which I will be discussing:
Some of the criticism directed towards RotS focused on the development of Padme Amidala’s character. In The Phantom Menace she is a young queen, exclusively focused on saving her planet from being taken over by the Trade Federation. In The Attack of the Clones she returns as a senator of Naboo and a key senator in trying to stop the outbreak of a war. We also see her trying to cope with her feelings for Anakin Skywalker and fighting for her life. In The Revenge of the Sith, Padme and Anakin are married, with the twins on the way, while she continues in her role as senator. As the Republic falls apart, so, it could be argued, does everything she has worked for. The difficulty with which Padme switches between her roles as senator and wife is, I believe, on purpose. As Anakin slowly loses himself it becomes harder for her to unite her principles with her emotions. The reason this scene is heart-breaking is because everything Padme believed in has either been corrupted or fallen apart. Below I will discuss why her choice of response to this is one which is probably singular in modern cinema and makes her stand out as one of the strongest women in sci-fi.
The scene starts with Padme arriving at Mustafar after Anakin’s deeds have been revealed to her by Obi-Wan. Her worry for Anakin and what he could potentially have done sends her to his side, yet she hesitates before leaving the ship. Padme is aware that this moment is one which will change the nature of their relationship. She has witnessed Chancellor Palpatine naming himself Emperor and responded with one of the best lines in all of Star Wars:
‘”So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.”‘
Padme knows the Republic has changed, if not died already, and she is hoping to save the only good left in her life while fearing that is also already lost. When Anakin comes to her she runs towards him in the hope to find him on her side.
‘”Obi-Wan told me terrible things.”‘
The terrible thing that affects her most is the killing of the Jedi younglings. The idea that the man she is expecting a child with, who has known cruelty as a child himself, would willingly slaughter children is something she does not want to imagine. It was an incredibly brave choice by George Lucas to have Anakin cross such a boundary. However, Anakin doesn’t understand this and tries to manipulate her. Natalie Portman perfectly shows how Padme can see that she is losing Anakin. His face doesn’t show any kind of understanding of her feelings. Hayden Christensen’s acting shows Anakin’s cockiness and belief in his own powers, which comes close to belittling Padme’s worries.
‘”Anakin, all I want is your love. … At what cost? You’re a good person, don’t do this.”‘
Padme knows Anakin, she understands his internal conflict between good and evil, between needing affection and believing he shouldn’t need it. She showed this in response to his massacre of the Sandpeople. In saying that all she wants is his love, she is not arguing his love is the most important thing in her life. Rather, she tries to convince him that it is not his power or his position that is important to her or which makes him a good person. It is his ability to be emotional and to love that sets him apart from most powerful characters in the films. Anakin uses her as an excuse to grab for power rather than realizing it is his own need for confirmation and respect and she refuses to be a part of this through what she says.
Her strong sense of right and wrong means that Anakin’s declaration that his search for power is for her doesn’t justify his actions in her eyes. She realizes that the cost of his protection is losing the Anakin she knew and fell in love with. His own passion for justice is one that has clearly gone out of the window. As Anakin loses himself in his delusions over his own powers, Padme physically backs away from him in horror.
‘”I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”
This is the key moment which a lot of viewers seem to have misunderstood. Padme’s heart is breaking because the man she loves has utterly changed and become what she has been fighting all her life. As a politician she has always spoken out against war and dictatorship and as a person she is fervently against this as well. Her principles are a key part of her character and she cannot forgive his actions and new beliefs, even less remain with him. Rather than wallow in her pain or turn away from him she stands up against him and what he now stands for. She here tells him, literally, that she cannot follow him in his plans. Unlike many women in cinema and fiction, Padme is not automatically forgiving the love of her life or accepting his love for her as an excuse for his actions. She refuses to change for him or with him, but rather, rightfully, rejects him because his actions don’t dictate hers. She is independent and can make her own choices.
Padme tries to argue with Anakin, hopeful that she can change his mind, yet she has made it clear that his actions and thoughts have created a rift between them. Her refusal to follow Anakin and accept his motivations for his actions, Padme shows herself to be an incredibly independent character. The fact that she is emotional over this is a terrible reason to call her weak. Her heart is breaking at everything that she has loved falling apart and seeing everything she believes in being swept aside. She refuses to fall for the corruption that both the Emperor and Anakin present and continues to argue against him. Had Obi-Wan’s appearance not taken away any chance she had at convincing Anakin, there would have been a good chance she had either changed his mind or had been able to leave to join Bail Organa.
Padme’s death has also often been complained about but it has to be acknowledged that in the coming Empire there is no place for people like her. She is a symbol for political justice from the very first film who, although she engages in the Battle of Geonosis, believes in the power of democracy and negotiations. Throughout the prequel films and Star Wars: The Clone Wars she never mistreats a minority or refuses a chance to stand up for what she believes is right. Her death is symbolic because everything that people such as her thrived on and worked for has been destroyed. Lucas undoubtedly meant for it to show the irredeemability of the Empire since the Empire we see in A New Hope is one of completely oppression and control in which every quality that made Padme Amidala stand out is suppressed.
In her final moments she gives the Galaxy a new hope, not just in the form of her children, but also in the legacy she leaves with Bail Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both characters have a deep respect for her and especially the former spends the rest of his live in rebellion, in order to restore a Galaxy in which Padme could have lived.