Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s most heart-wrenching moment so far is devoid of lightsabers and Darth Vader. Instead, it’s focused on the characters that often play supporting roles to the Star Wars saga’s biggest heroes.
In Episode 3, young Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) realizes that Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) knew her birth mother. As they ride in a transport driven by a trucker named Freck (voiced by celebrity cameo Zach Braff), Leia tells Obi-Wan that she knows he’s been hiding something all along. He must know her mother, she says, which is true. Obi-Wan, however, tries to insinuate that he was just relaying their cover story to the Stormtroopers, and nothing more. Disappointed — but possibly still seeing through this new lie — she then asks if Obi-Wan is her birth father. He replies back that he wished that he was, his voice full of sorrow.
Obi-Wan isn’t Leia’s father, of course. But by telling her that he does not know her mother, either, he continues to shield Leia from the horrible truth of her parentage. Leia: Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), Obi-Wan’s old protégé who’s better known as Darth Vader, is your father.
Vader is a huge presence looming over, and within, the series. But throughout Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s the phantom of Vader’s deceased wife and Leia’s mother, Padmé Amidala Naberrie (Natalie Portman), that’s felt most searingly. In its close focus on 10-year-old Leia, instead of her more famous twin brother Luke, the series allows for Padmé’s legacy to live on in a surprising, rare way.
That might sound overblown, considering she has yet to appear in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Padmé’s screen time also decreased with each subsequent prequel film she appeared in, and by the trilogy’s end, she was nothing but a character we knew was meant to die off.
However, in the 17 years since Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith debuted, Padmé’s story has been given more and more depth and context. Numerous Star Wars novels and spin-offs and side stories have allowed fans to learn more about the ill-fated character, tracking her days as the youngest queen of Naboo to her becoming a Senator so beloved, that her people nearly changed the term limit rules for here. She has become a prominent figure in Star Wars canon, thanks to these releases — which, together, only highlight how underutilized she was in the movies in which she actually appeared.
In Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, her first appearance, Padmé stands out as a headstrong, self-determined member of the Queen of Naboo’s court. It’s not a surprise to discover that she is the Queen herself; her political expertise is highly apparent, even though she’s only 15. She speaks in front of the Senate, barters an alliance with the Gungans, and leads the charge against the attack on her planet and palace by Separatists.
But in the next two movies, the overall plot overtakes Padmé’s individual storyline. She has a significant role as Senator of Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, as she returns to Coruscant to vote on whether or not an army should exist for the Republic. She is then a target of an assassination plot, which leads to the appointment of Anakin as her protection. But when her life becomes enmeshed with Anakin’s, she mostly exists within the series in relation to him, not on her own.
In some ways, this is unsurprising. Padmé and Anakin’s relationship is both integral to his fall and the birth of the next Skywalker generation. However, the choice to prioritize following the Chosen One’s storyline over those of anyone else in his orbit meant that even the person closest to him, Padmé, got few chances to stand out on-screen.
One such part of Padmé’s development that we lost was a whole storyline depicting her significant role in a delegation of senators who opposed Chancellor Palpatine’s rule. Padmé was essentially a part of the very foundation of what would go on to become the Rebellion to the Empire, which Bail Organa and, later on, Padmé’s daughter / Bail’s adopted daughter Leia were a part of. This storyline was reportedly cut “with deep regret” from Revenge of the Sith to make sure the focus stayed on Anakin’s storyline, according to George Lucas in a featurette about the film’s deleted scenes.
Thankfully, there are satisfying places to look for those who want more of Padme’s arc. Reading EK Johnston’s book trilogy, which is set before, during, and after the prequel films, is a great way to learn about Padmé’s life, from start to untimely end. But the animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, whose final season aired on Disney + in 2020, fleshes her out the most. Over the course of several seasons, Padmé makes herself known across the galaxy as a devoted politician, going beyond her duties to the Senate to fight on behalf of all people in need.
In the books and on TV, she is deeply committed to her people and her efforts to bridge peace between the Republic and the Separatists. She is an older sister figure to characters like Ahsoka Tano and the woman that powerful Separatists fear. She even finds time to deliver witty comebacks to her husband.
“The essential parts of what make her such a compelling character are lost when you just stick to the films”
But if you did not go looking for these moments and stories, you would have no idea that Padmé was capable of all of this. The essential parts of what make her such a strong, compassionate, compelling character — and not just Anakin Skywalker’s long-gone wife — are lost when you skip over storytelling like The Clone Wars and just stick to the films.
The way that Star Wars has mostly treated Padmé is thankfully not how it’s treating her daughter, Leia. Leia’s very existence carries on the story of her mother that was set up in The Phantom Menace. Leia takes after her mother in numerous ways: She is a determined princess, who continues fighting for the Rebellion even after her entire planet and family were destroyed. She goes on to become General Organa for the Resistance decades later, a role that wins her respect throughout the galaxy.
What’s most powerful about young Leia’s appearance as a fearless 10-year-old princess Obi-Wan Kenobi is how it honors the story of her mother, especially those scenes we never got to see play out in live action or on-screen. Even with Obi-Wan’s simple remark that he sees Padmé through little Leia’s eyes, her mother’s legacy lives on — and with the respect it has always deserved.