Through no fault of her own, time has not been kind to Padmé Amidala. In the tiny and esteemed group of Star Wars women that has developed over time, it's Padmé, in my opinion, who sits lowest on the totem. After 15 years Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones treated Padmé so poorly that she became a wasted female character, and that's just sad.
During Attack of the Clones, Padmé develops as a person, yes, but it's also during this Star Wars installment it becomes clear how carelessly she is regarded — emotionally, physically, politically, psychologically — despite being a relatively rounded-out character. For this egregiousness, I mostly bite my thumb at George Lucas, creator of Stars Wars and director of the first six Star Wars films. I also invite you to take a closer look with me because, well, it's the 15th anniversary of Attack of the Clones and we need to to talk about it, guys. Let's go have some much-needed Star Wars therapy time, shall we?
First, I should quickly just go over Padmé's story in Attack of the Clones. We join Padmé 10 years after the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. She has finished her two-term run as Queen of Naboo and is now a senator calling for peace in the Republic. An attempt is made on her life which sends her into hiding. Of course, the only person who could protect her is Anakin Skywalker, who is still pretty hormonal and moody because he's a teenager as well as a Jedi padawan. Ugh, intergalactic men.
Star Wars failing Padmé starts at a superficial level. With the other primary women of Star Wars — Princess Leia, Jyn Erso and Rey — clothing and looks are somewhat secondary to these women's actions and their intelligence. These women are established as strong women who think critically, are fighters, and are assets to the rebellion. But Padmé, as a pre-rebellion woman, exists in a world where there's this old-school focus on beauty — to the point that it distracts from Padmé's actions.
In every scene (literally every scene) I found myself distracted by Padmé's costuming or her make-up. I'm not going to punish Padmé for being dressed beautifully or for wearing makeup, especially when (in the chronology of the Star Wars films) the women who come after her are dressed more simply. What I will say is that her ornate style of dress and makeup runs the risk of distracting the viewer.
It sends the wrong kind of message, somehow forcing audiences to simply look at her without actually listening to her. The tough part about this is that Padmé' has something to say, yet she's buried under all this frippery.
The second way in which Attack of the Clones fails Padmé is that she is written to appear as if she is Anakin's equal, but we know she is far superior. She deserves better than Anakin. For the entirety of Attack of the Clones, Anakin's just a moody little boy who eventually shows a really dark side to himself.
Why would Padmé, a rational, emotionally stable woman who is great at her job, fall in love with a man who mansplains to her and admits to killing women and children in retaliation for the murder of his mother? It's horrendous.
Padmé's entire Attack of the Clones storyline involves her becoming the romantic object of an evil person, only to get fridged by Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. What makes Attack of the Clones so pivotal to Padmé's development — and the reason Attack of the Clones fails her so deeply — is that it dangles that carrot of greatness in front of our faces, only to yank it away and leave us with a woman who is used only to further the greatness or villainy of the men around her.
She is constantly comforting Anakin, humanizing him, or sanely reasoning why they can't fall in love despite his attempts, which involve negging her, to tell her otherwise. For some reason though, despite being established as a great and put-together woman, she just can't resist him.
Padmé gets the short shrift some often allotted to women in film. Despite being established as a relatively great female character — a woman in power, intelligent, tactical, morally stable, emotionally available, and so forth — her great Achilles heel is written to be that of a man who clearly a few rungs down from her. Furthermore, the fact that her entire story revolves are this tense will-she-won't-she romance with Anakin is a great insult to her potential as a female character.
I know Padmé is necessary in a crucial way to the plot of Star Wars, but this epic space opera definitely could have done better by her.