A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
A Queen in-disguise, a Jedi Knight, a heroic droid, and a hapless Gungan fled to a desert planet under the light of twin suns in search of a way to repair their starship, where they happened upon a slave boy with a great and terrible destiny.
Befriending these strangers, he took them to his home and gave them shelter from a storm, where they met the boy’s mother. She, too, was a slave, and had come from nothing, and had no great destiny to fulfil beyond the breaking of her heart in order to see her boy find his place in a galaxy that would never know her name.
A kindly farmer fell in love with her and freed her from her chains, and she knew happiness for a time; but still there remained a deep and empty hole in her heart as she looked to the sky and thought of the great deeds her son – who must have grown to be so strong and wise and kind – would be doing as he walked among the stars.
While she was happy with her new life and loved her newfound family, she hoped that, one day, she would feel the warmth of her son’s hand in hers again – even if she had to wait until her last breath left her body under the setting suns.
Her name was Shmi.
The first Skywalker.In the wake of The Last Jedi and a plenitude of peripheral media, it’s fair to say that Star Wars has been doing the rounds of dominating a lot of online discourse.
A big bit of news is that Padmé Amidala will be getting her own young adult novel at some point this year, going some way to alleviating grievances that she’s being underserved by the new canon.
It’s exciting to have this on the horizon, I really hope that Padmé gets her due. But there’s another character who has been on my mind for a long time, who is so rarely discussed, and has really crystallised a thought in my mind after thinking about the ways in which The Last Jedi ties into the Prequel Trilogy.
Shmi Skywalker deserves better.
Better yet, Shmi Skywalker should be in Episode IX…I quite unreservedly love the prequels, as I do all of Star Wars – they’re all great to varying degrees and in different ways, just as they’re all flawed in the same manner. But one flaw that really nags at me is the overall handling of Shmi and how she is very notably absent from a lot of Star Wars media (to the point that it really doesn’t make sense).
Padmé: “I can’t believe there is still slavery in the galaxy. The Republic’s anti-slavery laws–“
Shmi: “The Republic doesn’t exist out here… we must survive on our own.”
The way the Prequel Trilogy progresses following on from The Phantom Menace, it really seems like Padmé was written to sort of… forget about Shmi?
Padmé was a queen on-the-run, being hunted by the Trade Federation who blockaded her planet and killed her people. Forced to land on Tatooine when their ship was heavily damaged in their escape from Naboo, Padmé and her company found themselves in the middle of an unfriendly port, but were befriended by the young Anakin Skywalker who brought them to his home where Shmi gave them her food and a place to stay where others would turn them away – or, worse, sell them out upon learning of their situation.
In helping these strangers from a strange land, Shmi ended up ‘losing’ her son – to give him a better life, certainly, which she makes peace with, but that still left her as a slave on this awful planet.
Padmé expressed shock that slavery could still exist due to the Republic’s laws, which came as a moment of realisation that things aren’t quite the way she pictured them in the wider galaxy.
While Qui-Gon failed to secure Shmi’s freedom (rather insensitively telling her “I didn’t actually come here to free slaves”), it seems like a serious narrative oversight that nothing was ever written about Padmé – who stands so staunchly by her politics and morality – going back with ‘worthwhile’ currency for Tatooine to free the woman who showed her such kindness in what seemed like her darkest hour.It wasn’t until Padmé and Anakin actually go to Tatooine, ten years later in Attack of the Clones, that she learned about Shmi being freed and marrying Cleigg Lars. At this point, Shmi had been taken by the Sand People and brutalised to the point of death, clinging onto life just to see Anakin one last time.
This tragedy is one of the most important moments in the Star Wars saga, as it’s the first major step in Anakin’s journey to becoming Darth Vader…
But that’s the problem.
Shmi exists only to fuel Anakin’s development, nobody seems to think of her as anything beyond that – that her perspective is one worth seeing, her story one worth telling.
Her ultimate purpose is, quite simply, to be fridged.
This is, sadly, a common pattern with quite a few mothers in Star Wars. Lyra Erso is another particularly egregious example in Rogue One, where it’s abundantly clear that nobody really knew what to do with her character. They needed her out of the way in order to foreground the focus on Jyn’s relationship with Galen – her father.
Rogue One is one of my favourite Star Wars films, but the extent to which Lyra is treated as extraneous narrative baggage really comes across strongly and this pattern is one that Star Wars desperately needs to break.Back to Shmi. This woman is the source of everything good in Anakin Skywalker. She is a wellspring of kindness and gentleness where she has every right and every reason to be a jaded and cynical individual towards a universe that has done nothing but wrong her.
Shmi was no warrior, no Jedi Knight with a laser sword.
Shmi was nobody.
And yet, she was decent and kind and selfless.
She gave everything so that her son, the best thing in her life, could be free from slavery and live the life he deserved to have.
That is the origin of the Skywalker name, the name that would shake the very foundations of the Star Wars universe for generations.
It began with a single mother who taught her son to be brave and to always help people, to put them before yourself, to give them hope, simply because it’s the right thing to do. That philosophy lives on at the heart of Star Wars, particularly with Leia, but the fiction simply never credits how important Shmi is as its origin – only that she birthed ‘the Chosen One’.
Anakin: “We have to help them, Mom… You said that the biggest problem in the universe is no one helps each other…”
With the narrative and thematic course that The Last Jedi has charted for the series, now is the perfect time to explore more of what this character has to offer.I recently found an old copy of the Attack of the Clones novelisation that I must have… failed to return to my school’s library some time around 2002-2005? Penned by Robert Anthony Salvatore, this was the first Star Wars book I ever read, and so it has always held a special place in my heart.
Something I had forgotten about this novel, owing to the passage over a decade since I last read it, was that it actually has several additional chapters from Shmi’s point of view.
The story starts with Shmi, spanning the first three whole chapters, giving us a glimpse of her family life with Cleigg, Threepio, Owen, and Beru, before the Sand People kidnap her. It’s one of the only pieces of Star Wars fiction that has seen fit to give us her perspective, to show her happily living her life with people who love her.
Intent on her work, Shmi never saw the missile coming, and when the overripe vegetable hit her on the side of the face, she let out a shriek.
Of course, that only made the other three in the room howl with laughter.
Shmi turned to see them sitting there, staring at her. From the embarrassed expression on Beru’s face, and from the angle, with Beru sitting directly behind Cliegg, it seemed obvious to Shmi that Beru had launched the missile, aiming for Cliegg, but throwing a bit high.
“The girl listens when you tell her to stop,” Cliegg Lars said, his sarcastic tone shattered by a burst of laughter that came right from his belly.
He stopped when Shmi smacked him with a piece of juicy fruit, splattering it across his shoulders.
A food fight began-measured, of course, and with more threats hurled than actual missiles.
When it ended, Shmi began the cleanup, the other three helping for a bit. “You two go and spend some time together without your troublemaking father,” Shmi told Owen and Bern. “Cliegg started it, so Cliegg will help clean it up. Go on, now. I’ll call you back when dinner’s on the table.” Cliegg gave a little laugh.
“And if you mess up the next one, you’re going to be hungry,” Shmi told him, threateningly waving a spoon his way. “And lonely!”
“Whoa! Never that!” Cliegg said, holding his hands up in a sign of surrender.
With a wave of the spoon, Shmi further dismissed Owen and Beru, and the two went off happily.
“She’ll make him a fine wife,” Shmi said to Cliegg.
He walked up beside her and grabbed her about the waist, pulling her tight.
“We Lars men fall in love with the best women.” [Attack of the Clones, R. A. Salvatore, page 14]
Something as simple and ordinary as a food fight – with other scenes depicting her looking up at the night sky with Owen, confiding in him her thoughts and feelings about Anakin, and her admiration of Beru – is just so wonderfully human.There’s a strong connection to be made between Shmi staring up at the night sky, thinking so hopefully about Anakin, and the ending of The Last Jedi with ‘the Broom Boy’ with all its aspirational wonder for the future.
Shmi Skywalker Lars stood on the edge of the sand berm marking the perimeter of the moisture farm, one leg up higher, to the very top of the ridge, knee bent. With one hand on that knee for support, the middle-aged woman, her dark hair slightly graying, her face worn and tired, stared up at the many bright dots of starlight on this crisp Tatooine night. No sharp edges broke the landscape about her, just the smooth and rounded forms of windblown sand dunes on this planet of seemingly endless sands. Somewhere out in the distance a creature groaned, a plaintive sound that resonated deeply within Shmi this night.
This special night.
Her son Anakin, her dearest little Annie, turned twenty this night, a birthday Shmi observed each year, though she hadn’t seen her beloved child in a decade. How different he must be! How grown, how strong, how wise in the ways of the Jedi by now! Shmi, who had lived all of her life in a small area of drab Tatooine, knew that she could hardly imagine the wonders her boy might have found out there among the stars, on planets so different from this, with colors more vivid and water that filled entire valleys.
A wistful smile widened on her still-pretty face as she remembered those days long ago, when she and her son had been slaves of the wretch Watto. Annie, with his mischief and his dreams, with his independent attitude and unsurpassed courage, used to so infuriate the Toydarian junk dealer. Despite the hardships of life as a slave, there had been good times, too, back then. Despite their meager food, their meager possessions, despite the constant complaining and ordering about by Watto, she had been with Annie, her beloved son. [Attack of the Clones, page 4-5]
It’s an image that poignantly encapsulates the theme of ‘the nobody’, the downtrodden and oppressed who will, one day, be the future heroes of the galaxy without any connection to a great and terrible name in order to make a difference.
That is the opportunity Anakin has, and is living, by the time Attack of the Clones takes place – like Broom Boy, only he’s actually left his world to become a hero.
This all ties back to Shmi, the origin of the Skywalker name, before it became a legend. She was a hero, for the love she had for her son and everything she taught him and sacrificed for him – ensuring that he wouldn’t be cynical and hateful, but to live with hope and to be better than the people who refuse to help those in need.
It’s such an odd contrast in my mind because I went into The Last Jedi without any preconceived notions of things that I felt needed to happen. I certainly had ideas of “Ah, that would be cool!” in my head, but I wasn’t particularly taken by any of the fan theories.
The Force Awakens concluded in such an open-ended way that it could have gone anywhere, which has often been the case with almost every major Star Wars film – the only occasion that really comes to mind where we’re given a clear picture of what is going to come next is the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, where we know that they’re going to rescue Han Solo and Luke must confront Darth Vader again.
With the Prequel Trilogy, all we really knew for certain was that Anakin would end up in the Darth Vader suit in the end and the Empire would be formed… and that was about it.
Between each film is this vast series of possibilities for where things could go, with only the thematic and tonal delivery of the previous film informing our ideas of what we think the next story will be – that, at least, has been my Star Wars experience.
Heading into Episode IX, I find that, for the first time, I have a rather clear idea of what I want the film to be.
The Last Jedi still concluded with a ‘anything could happen from here’ ending, but the way in which it so ardently nails down its commitment to the direction this story is going (not just for the Sequel Trilogy, but the future of Star Wars as a whole) has provided a certain clarity of vision in my mind that I’ve not had with Star Wars before.
And the conclusion I’ve arrived at is that Episode IX is the perfect time to give Shmi her due…In my mind (and, perhaps, it’ll live only there), Episode IX would be something similar to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – with an important dimension of the story being ghosts appearing to Kylo and Rey through the Force, building on their points of view towards the past to ultimately determine the direction of the next Star Wars trilogy:
Let the past die and burn it all down to start anew, or learn from it and shape the future into something better by growing beyond the past’s failures?
The Force Awakens has concept art of Anakin’s Force ghost appearing, shifting between his human form and Vader… and I love that idea. It’d be great to see that in Episode IX, along with Hayden Christensen’s return to play a very different take on Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin would appear to Kylo as the ghost of the past.
Luke would appear as the ghost of the present.
And Shmi would appear to Rey as the ghost of the future…
I mean ‘future’ in the sense that Shmi would bring the Skywalker name back to its roots, teaching Rey what it truly means beyond the chaos of the last few generations.
The end result would be to have ‘Skywalker’ become more than a name, more like a title… or a promise – an ideal that one aspires to, that is adopted by the next generation of nobodies. If your heart is in the right place, and the stars are too, and you walk the path of the light, and you seek to be kind, that’s the title – the promise – you adopt as a Jedi.
It’s not ‘exclusive’ to a bloodline, it’s for those who – like Rey and Shmi – have come from nothing, and are on that spiritual journey of searching for their place and purpose.
For their family.
Kylo Ren would die (yes, I do want that to happen) and Rey would adopt the name Skywalker to transform its legacy into something new, something better.
Rey would do this to honour the memory of a woman from a hostile desert planet, one who had no great destiny, no part in this story, who ended up buried and forgotten…
A woman who, just like Rey, was nobody.