PadMay Day 19. Favorite Revenge of the Sith Moment
I have a google alert for ‘Padme Amidala’ (obviously) and it’s popular lately/again to wish for the ‘original ending’ to this scene wherein Padmé stabs her husband. To quote the internet at large, “how badass”. As an interesting AU (and I love AUs), I like it. But for the “true” story, of the “real” Padmé, no, absolutely not. Padmé comes to Mustafar to save her husband, from himself if necessary, but save, not kill. This is important for multiple reasons, and it is not a display of weakness. It’s really incredibly brave.
Imagine an Adaption of The Princess Bride with the Star Wars cast. OT or PT, what would the roles be and how would adapt it?
Okay, well obviously Anakin is the slave boy / man in black / Dread Sith Lord Vader. (But not the real Lord Vader. Anakin took the title from the man who supposedly killed him, but who in fact took him on as an apprentice; his name was really Dooku. He himself had inherited the title from the previous Lord Vader, who was not the real Lord Vader either. His name was Sifo-Dyas. The real Lord Vader had been retired thirty years and living like a king on Nar Shaddaa. It was the name, Dooku explained, that was important for inspiring the necessary fear. No one would surrender to the Dread Sith Lord Ani.)
Padmé is the simple peasant girl Palpatine picked to be Queen of Naboo. Originally, he planned to have her murdered on her coronation and the Trade Federation blamed for it, thus sparking the war that would bring him to power. But when that fails, he has to regroup and finally decides it’s going to be so much more moving when he has her killed not as an innocent victim but as a martyr.
Nute Gunray has been secretly hired by Palpatine to murder Padmé and start a war (a prestigious line of work, with a long and glorious tradition). He in turn has hired two mercenaries to help him with the task: the former Jedi padawan turned drunken soldier of fortune Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the prospector and prize fighter Dexter Jettster.*
Obi-Wan saw his Jedi master murdered by a mysterious tattooed Sith Lord when he was still a padawan. Now, Obi-Wan loved his master, and so naturally he challenged his murderer to a duel. He failed, but the Sith let him live, and now he has dedicated his life to revenge…and left the Jedi Order to seek it. He’s been searching for the tattooed Sith ever since.
Dex is honestly in this gig for the money, but he’s forever annoying Nute with his horrible dad jokes and puns, and in spite of himself he’s basically adopted Obi-Wan. The guy clearly needs someone to look after him.
Maul is the tattooed Sith Obi-Wan is searching for. He’s been working as Palpatine’s lieutenant all this time. His assistant Ventress keeps his Pit of Despair running smoothly.
Barriss is the Jedi healer who used to work for the Republic, until the Republic’s stinking Chancellor fired her (and all the other Jedi), and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject.
Ahsoka is not a witch, she’s her wife, but after what Barriss just said, she’s not even sure she wants to be that anymore.
Yoda is a very impressive clergyman indeed. Because of reasons.
A few choice scenes:
Anakin learning fencing and the Force and anything else people will teach him while playing aide to Dooku’s Dread Sith Lord Vader.
“Good night, Anakin. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
Obi-Wan helping Anakin scale a cliff so that they can have a proper duel. “I see you’re a Sith Lord,” he says. “You don’t by any chance have tattoos on your face?”
“Do you always begin conversations this way?”
Obi-Wan tells his story, after which Anakin graciously removes his mask to show that his face is tattoo-free. And then they fight. It’s all very cordial.
“Why are you wearing a mask?” Dex asks. “Were you burned by lava or something?”
“Oh no, it’s just they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”
Anakin and Nute Gunray have a battle of wits.
“But Sarlaac venom is from Tatooine, and Tatooine, as everyone knows, is entirely peopled with criminals, who are used to not being trusted as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.”
Padmé and Anakin escape to Tatooine (it’s definitely Tatooine), where they attempt to hide out from Palpatine.
“What are the three dangers of Tatooine? One, the lightning sand. No problem. Two, the sarlaac pits. There’s a growling sound that precedes those, so we can avoid them easily…”
“Anakin, what about the WROUSes?”
“Womp rats of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
A fight with several womp rats immediately follows.
Padmé makes a bargain with Palpatine to save Anakin’s life. At this point she hasn’t realized quite how awful Palpatine is, but even so, she’s already planning how she’s going to get out of this.
Unfortunately, Palpatine wastes no time at all, and Anakin is turned over to Maul to be tortured. There’s dismemberment involved. When Obi-Wan and Dex find him, he’s a mangled, limbless husk, and very definitely dead.
Or…maybe only mostly dead.
Obi-Wan tries several stories to convince Barriss to help. She finds each of these stories increasingly ludicrous.
“He’s the Chosen One, destined to bring balance to the Force!”
Barriss just stares at him. “Boy are you a rotten liar,” she says.
“I need him to help avenge my master, murdered these twenty years!”
Barriss is even less impressed by this, but she takes a look, and unfortunately for her, Ahsoka won’t give her any peace until she’s brought Anakin back. It takes a lot of doing. Not so much miracle pills as the miracle of modern cybernetics, but hey, it amounts to the same thing in the end.
Besides, Obi-Wan’s promised that if Barriss saves Anakin, Palpatine suffers humiliations galore, and that is definitely a noble cause.
Meanwhile Padmé has a crisis of conscience and goes barging into Palpatine’s office one night.
“It comes to this: I love democracy. I always have. If you tell me I must be your puppet Queen, please believe I will be leading a revolution by morning.”
Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Dex break into the Naboo palace by means of a cunning plan involving a hover sled, Ventress’ lightsabers, and a fog machine they found in Maul’s torture pit. (Look, Maul is absolutely the dramatic type who owns a fog machine. Don’t blame me. That’s just science.)
Rescuing Padmé proves to be the most difficult part of the whole plan, mainly because Padmé has already rescued herself, and finding her is a bit difficult. And then Obi-Wan catches sight of Maul the tattooed Sith, and he’s off on his quest for vengeance.
Meanwhile Anakin still can’t walk that well on his new legs and ends up having to bluff his way through a fight with Palpatine.** Or at least, to keep Palpatine occupied just long enough for Padmé to take him down with a stun blast.
(Anakin really wanted to kill him, but Padmé insists Palpatine has to stand trial. Anakin isn’t convinced; at least, not until she points out that Palpatine living a long life alone in prison with his failures would make a much more satisfying revenge.)
“Hello. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi. You killed my master. Prepare to die.”
And of course, for maximum irony, this story ends with Obi-Wan becoming the new Dread Sith Lord Vader.
* Okay, okay. I realize Dex as Fezzik is a stretch. But everyone else fits so perfectly and there’s really no one in the PT era who fits for Fezzik. I considered Chewie, but he doesn’t have a connection with Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan apparently has no friends outside of Anakin and Dex. :( So.
** So I wanted to make a joke about “to the pain,” only I realized that what happens to Anakin in canon basically is “to the pain,” which…kinda destroys the humor tbh.
When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999, the producers ran a disinformation campaign to suggest that Queen Amidala and the handmaiden Padmé were two separate people, and that Natalie Portman played both characters at all times. This is not true, and I think there are some people who are still confused and have a misconception about it when they watch the film. But I know the story behind it, and I will explain it to the best of my ability to make fans understand it better.
First of all, Queen Amidala and Padmé are indeed one and the same person. The real name of the character, played by Portman, is Padmé Naberrie. According to Star Wars canon, when Padmé went into politics as a preteen, she adopted “Amidala” as a regnal name. At the age of 13, she was elected Queen of her planet Naboo and went by the name of “Queen Amidala.” It was decided by her security officers that if her life was ever in danger, Padmé would disguise herself as one of her five handmaidens and use her birth name, while her handmaiden Sabé would act as her decoy and assume the persona of Queen Amidala, complete with the wardrobe and makeup.
So whenever Portman is shown onscreen, she is playing her own character of Padmé, who is the real Queen. For some scenes, she is out of makeup and wardrobe, since she is undercover as a handmaiden. In those same scenes, notably those where the Queen is wearing the black outfit with the huge feather headdress, the “Queen” is actually Sabé, who is played by Keira Knightley. The other known time on screen when Sabé is disguised as the Queen and Padmé is undercover is when the latter reveals her true identity to the leader of the Gungans, up though the Battle of Naboo. When Padmé and her cohorts are captured during the battle, she plays an instrumental role in deceiving Viceroy Nute Gunray. Initially believing that Padmé is the real queen, when he sees Sabé, he orders his troops to follow Sabé, believing she was the real queen and that Padmé was the decoy. This provides Padmé the opportunity to retrieve her blaster and take the Neimoidian into custody.
As I described above, Padmé using a decoy was done to keep her safe if her life was threatened. Among other things, dressing up as a non-royal figure allowed her to do and see things going around her that she wouldn’t be able to do while in her normal queen state. One of these examples was when she went with Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and R2 to learn what Tatooine was like. She was also able to keep her identity safe since few people, including Viceroy Gunray, actually knew that Padmé was her real name, not Amidala.
You were awakened by the sound of your door slamming open. You pulled the blanket you were wrapped in from over your head, seeing Dwight. “You’ve got a long day ahead of you. Get dressed and meet us up front.” He instructed before slamming the door shut. Rubbing your eyes, you threw the comforter off of your body, putting your clothes on and fixed your hair before leaving the room.
The Quiet Social Crisis: Land Shortages and Popular Unrest in the Iron Islands
A feudal society in the midst of a chronic land shortage is a society with a powerful downward pull for everyone who isn’t a great lord. Lords and landowners are free to charge their tenants higher rents for land use, while an increased population of landless laborers means workers face more competition when selling their labor power, which lowers compensation. As landowning families naturally concentrate ownership to avoid diluting economic and military power, this results in landless cadet branches doomed to fall in status. More mouths to feed and stagnant cultivation means lowered food security and increased danger of famine. Prospects of upward mobility, already low, become nigh impossible. The families at the very top of the hierarchy therefore become richer, while everyone else sees their lives become poorer and more precarious. For a geographically small country with a very concentrated population and few prospects for emigration, land shortages would be incredibly destabilizing, increasing social tensions and warping the nation’s political system. The glimpse of the Iron Islands’ provided in A Clash of Kings and A Feast of Crows paints them as just such a society, a kingdom brought to the brink of dissolution by decades of overpopulation and chronic land shortage.
Our first hints of the Iron Island’s need for land is the fact that Balon’s Second Rebellion is as much an attempt to seize land as it is an ideological crusade to restore the Old Way. After laying out his plans to invade the North, the Iron King declares: “The [North] shall be ours, forest and field and hall, and we shall make the folk our thralls and salt wives” (CoK Theon II). Aeron Damphair then sanctions the entire undertaking with a prayer: “And the waters of wrath will rise high, and the Drowned God will spread his dominion across the green lands!” (CoK Theon II). The Damphair later recollects of having dreamed of continental conquest after seeing the red star: “We shall sweep over the green lands with fire and sword, root out the seven gods of the septons and the white trees of the northmen…” (FfC Aeron II). It’s not traditional smash and grab Old Way reaving that is on the minds of these supposed traditionalists, it is land acquisition and colonization. Ironmen were already thinking in terms of stealing entire countries before Euron showed up. Even, it turns out, Ironmen opposed to the Old Way.
After Balon’s death Rodrik Harlaw bemoans the madness and stupidity of the Second Rebellion because it means the Ironborn are wasting a perfectly good opportunity to acquire some land nice and legal:
“This dream of kingship is a madness in our blood. I told your father so the first time he rose, and it is more true now than it was then. It’s land we need, not crowns. With Stannis Baratheon and Tywin Lannister contending for the Iron Throne, we have a rare chance to improve our lot. Let us take one side or the other, help them to victory with our fleets, and claim the lands we need from a grateful king.”(FfC Asha)
Rodrik the Reader is often described as pro-peace and anti-war. Yet here he reveals his real position to be more along the lines of anti-rebellion but pro-war, provided the goal of the war is to win land with the sanction of the central government. Hypothetically, had Balon remained a lord, made a deal with the Lannister regime, and then helped to defeat the Starks in exchange for pieces of the North, the Reader would have been in favor. If Lord Rodrik of all people believes a war of conquest and colonization is necessary to improve life on the Iron Islands, then the situation on the Islands must be very serious indeed.
At Aeron’s Kingsmoot there are several more references to the oppressive reality of land shortage and overpopulation. Lord Gylbert Farwynd of Lonely Light promises, with what could be prophecy, madness or parody, to lead the Ironborn across the Sunset Sea to a magical land without want or death, where “every man shall be a king and every wife a queen” (FfC Aeron II). Asha’s plan for ending the war and allying with the North is also a gigantic land swap aimed at addressing the Islands’ land shortages:
“If we hand back Deepwood Motte, Torrhen’s Square, and Moat Cailin, [Lady Glover] says, the northmen will cede us Sea Dragon Point and all the Stony Shore. Those lands are thinly peopled, yet ten times larger than all the isles put together.” (FfC Victarion I)
When Asha addresses the Kingsmoot, she promises the captains and the kings:
“Peace. Land. Victory. I’ll give you Sea Dragon Point and the Stony Shore, black earth and tall trees and stones enough for every younger son to build a hall” (FfC Aeron II).
After going into exile, Asha defends her obsessive interest in Sea Dragon Point by listing its numerous subsistence resources:
“What’s there? I’ll tell you. Two long coastlines, a hundred hidden coves, otters in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, clams along the shore, colonies of seals offshore, tall pines for building ships.” (DwD The Wayward Bride)
And of course, coming at the end of the Kingsmoot, is Euron’s promise to conquer all of Westeros with dragons, which would certainly solve any land crisis.
Capping all of this off, we have the reaction of Nute the Barber when Victarion pleads with him to refuse the lordship of Oakenshield:
Victarion grabbed [Nute the Barber] by the forearm. “Refuse him!”
Nute looked at him as if he had gone mad. “Refuse him? Lands and lordship? Will you make me a lord?” He wrenched his arm away and stood, basking in the cheers. (FfC Victarion II)
Nute is not the sharpest of axes (he thinks the Ironmen can easily hold the Shields for a start), but Andrik the Unsmiling, Maron Volmark, and the no doubt intelligent Harras Harlaw (the Reader’s chosen heir for Ten Towers) accept these bequeathments as well. On the Iron Islands you just don’t say no to land if you’re landless, however risky or potentially poisonous the offer might be.
If the lords and warriors are feeling the land pinch, imagine how stressed the commons must be. Land shortage, intensifying labor competition and the resulting poverty are probably the reasons why so many in the Ironborn laboring class choose to essentially give up and become Drowned Men. Despite the priesthood requiring a second drowning, the wearing of rough clothes, regular exposure to the elements, monastic isolation, and masochistic self-mortification, Aeron finds no shortage of recruits:
Aeron continued on alone, up hills and down vales along a stony track that drew wider and more traveled as he neared the sea. In every village he paused to preach, and in the yards of petty lords as well… Some of those who heard him threw down their hoes and picks to follow, so by the time he heard the crash of waves a dozen men walked behind his horse, touched by god and desirous of drowning. (FfC Aeron I)
It’s also worth remembering that Aeron is himself a fourth born noble son with few responsibilities and little chance of inheriting anything; he is as much a dropout as those farmers and miners. Every landless worker or surplus noble who becomes a Drowned Man means one more speaker calling for the restoration of the Islands through the Old Way (and implicitly criticizing the weakness and impiety of the powers-that-be in the process, which is no doubt satisfying for people driven to such a life by economic disappointment). We’d go so far as to argue that the reactionary fervor of Balon’s reign is less the general sentiment of the Islands’ and more the result of several decades of work by an ever growing cadre of determined activists with literally nothing to lose. As priestly discourse is highly critical of how most of the aristocracy lives (insufficiently Old Way, insufficiently dedicated to the Drowned God), it has considerable revolutionary potential should the priests decide to switch from reforming the political establishment to completely overthrowing it.
Not every poor Islander though has it within themselves to give up and become a wandering priest. Many more apparently turn to thievery or worse and are summarily meted out savage punishment. At the Kingsmoot Erik Ironmaker, also called Erik Anvil-Breaker and Erik the Just, presents himself as a serious law and order candidate who can keep lower class disorder under firm control:
One of [Erik’s] champions lifted [his warhammer] up for all to see; a monstrous thing it was, its haft wrapped in old leather, its head a brick of steel as large as a loaf of bread.
“I can’t count how many hands I’ve smashed to pulp with that hammer…but might be some thief could tell you. I can’t say how many heads I’ve crushed against my anvil neither, but there’s some widows could.” (FfC Aeron II).
This is a very revealing boast. Lowborn murderers and rebels are savagely put to death everywhere, but this systematic maiming of convicted thieves is notably extreme. On the mainland simple thievery is traditionally punished by the amputation of one finger per theft. While severe, the loss of a single finger to a hot knife is not as debilitating or painful as the loss of a whole hand to a warhammer. It is also notable that it is the sheer quantity of such punishments, literally uncountable by Erik’s recollection, which gives the Ironmaker claim to being a just man.
To illustrate just how out of the ordinary this Ironborn “justice” truly is, it necessary to compare and contrast it with green lander examples. Young Stannis Baratheon “shortened” the fingers of Davos’ left hand by cutting them off at the first joint, but this was punishment a lifetime of confessed smuggling, which Davos perceives as fair. It is nowhere comparable to destroying a whole hand for a theft. At the other end of the scale, Joffrey sadistically forces a cheeky smallfolk singer to choose between losing all his fingers or his tongue for a politically offensive song, linking the loss of usable hands for minor offenses with the worst sort of judicial tyranny.
But the closest example to Erik’s justice is the Maidenpool court wherein Lord Randyll Tarly capriciously and disproportionately punished a onetime sept looter with the loss of seven fingers, the rough equivalent of a hand and a half. Tarly is a brutal military man and tyrannical patriarch, quite comfortable with harsh rulings, but this judgment is, in contrast with Joffrey, no mere sadistic whim. The man robbed a deserted sept, a blasphemous act that in the eyes of some would put him well below the character of a common thief. The widespread despoliation of septs has in turn caused considerable unrest among the peasantry and priests of the Seven Kingdoms, resulting in the Sparrow movement, and Tarly no doubt intended to quiet said unrest by savagely punishing conveniently powerless desecrators. This is compounded by the fact that only a little while ago Maidenpool and the surrounding lands were in a state of anarchy owing to the depravations of reavers, rebels, outlaws, and broken men. Lastly, the approach of Winter promises widespread famine, which means Tarly is likely setting examples that he hopes will deter future crimes against order and discipline. Tarly’s harsh ruling is therefore driven by massive social insecurity and the fear of widespread lower class disorder. We can infer from this that the hand crushing Ironborn elite are similarly fearful of disorder spreading through their own commons and have been so for most of the last century, Erik “the Just” being eighty-eight years old and still at it.
These twin factors, a cadre of potentially revolutionary priests and a restless commons, come to the fore after the Kingsmoot, when Aeron threatens to mobilize the common folk against the ungodly King chosen by the lords and captains:
“The ironborn shall be waves,” the Damphair said. “Not the great and lordly, but the simple folk, tillers of the soil and fishers of the sea. The captains and the kings raised Euron up, but the common folk shall tear him down. I shall go to Great Wyk, to Harlaw, to Orkmont, to Pyke itself. In every town and village shall my words be heard. No godless man may sit the Seastone Chair!” (FfC Victarion II)
In response to these threats, Euron secretly abducts Aeron and tasks Erik Ironmaker (Erik the Hand-Smasher) with rounding up and suppressing the Drowned Men and all other priests. This purge is performed with ruthless efficiency; the only priests who are spared shackles and what is probably water torture in the dungeons of Pyke (being “put to the question”) are those who successfully hide (DwD Asha I). That the lords and captains support such risky violence against the people’s revered aesthetic holy men with nary a protest indicates that the Damphair’s threat is taken very seriously indeed. It is also clear that the upper class as a whole gravely fears lower class unrest and revolt and is willing to go to any length to suppress it. This in turn reveals that underneath the brittle façade of religious and cultural unity there are unbridgeable class divisions which, stoked by land shortages, are increasingly verging on outright civil war.