Feb. 22nd, 2012

lazypadawan: (padmeprofile)
Last night I read part two of series on Fangirl blog about Padmé, co-written by Tricia and a fan ficcer friend of hers Lex.


Because that stupid Captcha thing often doesn’t work for me, I couldn’t post a response. So I’ll post it here and on SWPAS. I have more pixels to spare here anyway.

First, go and read “The Perils of Padmé: The Short Life and Fast Times of a Tragic Heroine” at Saga Journal, my first defense of Padmé’s character. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, if I do say so myself. I scrawled it while sitting on a sweltering beach in Cabo July 2005.


Now to directly address the Fangirl post.

What inspired it in the first place was Tricia wondering why Padmé and Leia are often left off of various pop culture “greatest strong female characters ever” lists.

First off, I have to take issue with the whole concept of “strong female character.” I’ve come to find it tired, annoying, and very limited in scope as is often the case of anything having to do with pop feminism. What it’s come to mean in 2012 is an 80-pound girl in a catsuit who can flatten a man twice her height and mass with some fancy kung fu kicks, never does anything remotely feminine except look effortlessly sexy, and rarely shows any vulnerability besides the usual stupid haunting secret. She can’t have any traditional views or behavior whatsoever (see T.V. Tropes’s “Real Women Don't Wear Dresses”).

I think the question ought to be whether you have a GOOD female character. Somebody you either love or love to hate. Somebody memorable. Somebody who has a genuine place in the story.

The primary reason why Padmé and Leia are ignored is that the average list is written by the same kind of people who despise Lucas and hate Star Wars. It also bears noting that neither one, as good characters as they are, is the main character of the story.

Now Lex and Tricia seem to take issue with two things concerning Padmé. One is the scene where Padmé’s shirt is torn by the nexu. Tricia thought it was gratuitous and it cheapens Padmé’s character. On one level, it hearkens back to B-monster movies from the ‘50s, where either in the film or in the poster art there’s a woman in torn clothing being attacked or carried off by some strange beast. Of course it was a ploy to get the attention of 13-year-old boys thrilled by the prospect of scary monsters and babes showing a little skin. It’s the sort of image that makes feminists spit nails. But it’s beyond a cheap excuse to show off Padmé’s superior abs or to remind the 13-year-old boys watching the film that she does not wear a bra.

Some years back on one of those TFN discussion threads that were pretty good for a while, a fan noted that each of the monsters the characters face has something to do with his struggles or journey through the film. The bull-like reek attacks Anakin, who like the reek, charges forward, driven by his anger. Obi-Wan keeps dodging the acklay, avoiding the truth of what’s right out in front of him. And the cat-like nexu, with its large mouth and teeth, rips off Padmé’s shirt; she’s spent half of the film playing come here/go ‘way with Anakin and now she can’t avoid her inevitable deflowering.

Even if you discount that theory, my guess is to show the stakes Padmé faces, especially as someone who does not have any Force powers. If she survives a battle that kills scores of Jedi and trained clone troopers, a politician/diplomat has to take more than a hangnail in order to show her peril as well as her ability to engage in battle. In spite of the nexu attack and in spite of falling out of a ship, she still manages to get back on her feet. I think it’s a little unfair to say, “Well, there goes my respect for her” just because of a little torn cloth. Besides, fangirls got their eye candy with shirtless Anakin. It’s a fair trade off.

The other issue is the way Padmé died, specifically “she lost the will to live.” Maybe it is hard to accept a heroine who lived and sacrificed for others for so long but couldn’t live for her kids. Lucas is unabashedly old-fashioned and 100 years ago, nobody would have batted an eye at the same scenario occurring in a novel. But today, especially among fannish types, everybody wants a real-world CSI explanation. As a fandom friend said to another, “You’re so French in your thinking.” (No offense to actual French in the audience.) Or as David Lynch once said, everybody expects art to make sense even if they readily accept life doesn’t make sense.

I’ve felt that few people seem to understand Padmé’s perspective and maybe, as the Fangirl post suggests, putting some of those excised scenes back in AOTC or ROTS might clarify it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if Clone Wars or the expanded universe presents Padmé’s symbiotic relationship with Anakin, because I think it’s key to why she succumbs to her broken heart. Star Wars characters are as much symbolic and archetypal as anything else, but fandom is full of people who want literal explanations.

It is disappointing that in the conclusion, they seem to kick Padmé to the curb as some sort of mistake. In the comments, one of the authors says a character like her shouldn't die due to some "weakness" but everyone who perishes in tragedy does so out of some kind of vulnerability. (See my essay linked above.) It's also unfair to compare her with Leia, because Leia never experiences the kind of deeply personal betrayal Padmé encounters. Maybe Leia is made of sterner stuff, maybe she isn't. But the enemy blows up Alderaan, not Han or Luke. Han never chokes her in a rage.

It would be nice if fans could keep an open mind with a character instead of expecting her to fit in a narrow mold.

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