Padmé Amidala’s Style Evolution from Queen to Senator
When we consider movies, we most often think about the story they are telling, essentially the narrative or the screenplay. But that’s only part of cinematic language. There are the audio and visual elements: soundtrack, score, makeup, special and practical effects, and, most importantly for this article, costumes.
Costumes are a tool through which directors can share details about time period, setting, and characters’ personalities. Thus, within film, a character’s style directly and efficiently communicates to the audience who that person is. That’s where Sideshow’s new ongoing series, Suit Yourself, comes in.
Suit Yourself examines how style is a critical form of characterization. And with some of the most lavish outfits in Star Wars™, Padmé Amidala™ is the perfect character to examine both the truths — and lies — that can be told through costume design.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace™
Queen Amidala’s first costume is the most important because it’s our introduction to her character. We see her first through a communications screen amid a Viceroy’s shocked and rightfully awed line, “It’s Queen Amidala herself!” Although her red and gold velvet costume is ostentatious, she is not. Instead, Queen Amidala is as firm and sharp as her massive hair-and-crown headpiece. The draped sleeves harken back to medieval royalty, while her jewelry and makeup in many ways erase her individuality to instead promote her sole, stately role as Queen of Naboo™.
We must also examine her gown’s colors. Gold signifies prestige, wisdom. Red is associated with strength, danger, and power. Queen Amidala presents a real threat to the Trade Federation, and her costume broadcasts her awareness of this power to all her enemies.
Interestingly enough, red is also commonly associated with war. Yet Queen Amidala speaks one of her most famous lines while wearing this throne room ensemble, telling her advisors that she will “not condone a course of action that leads us to war.” In this way, her style choice reflects a more aggressive figurehead than the woman wearing it.
During the Naboo invasion, Queen Amidala swaps with her decoy, a handmaiden named Sabé™. The captured “queen” wears a black mourning gown featuring a hooded headpiece that purposefully hides most of her face. Similarly, her handmaidens wear matching orange gowns that show barely any skin. Their eyes are obscured in shadow.
As the handmaiden Padmé, Naboo’s queen remains in close physical proximity to the decoy queen. Sabé’s black costume represents elegance, formality, and grief. Conversely, Padmé’s orange costume hints at the success of their operation, with its darker shade showing us the deceit that the invaders cannot recognize.
Even once the queen’s entourage is rescued by the Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn™ and Obi-Wan Kenobi™, Padmé remains in disguise to gain intel on her potential allies. In a gray tunic over loose black pants and a blue long-sleeved shirt, Padmé appears to be quite the commoner. Her distressed Tatooine™ traveling garb is the first instance in which we see her in cool colors — an important costume decision when we realize this is what she wears to meet Anakin Skywalker™. Remember this color choice as we progress through the later Star Wars prequel films.
In cold yet jeweled violet, at least framed by warm, shimmering yellow, Queen Amidala returns to Naboo for a final fight to reclaim her homeworld. By then she has revealed to the Jedi that she is royalty, but they still treat her as a friend and an equal on the battlefield. This equality is represented in the flowing sleeves and robe-like structure of Amidala’s fighting clothes, with obvious parallels to a Jedi uniform. She wears pants again instead of the dresses we are accustomed to — functional yet fashionable.
White is the color of goodness and safety. Pink is the color of love and friendship. Padmé is also likened to an angel in The Phantom Menace. Thus, her ceremonial costume at the end of the movie is a perfect costume choice. She wears a white silk gown with a long, petaled cape. The petals are pale pink and are designed after flowers that bloom in Padmé’s birthplace village. The parade gown is perfectly representative of Naboo’s prosperity and liberation, and in contrast to Queen Amidala’s war-associated first outfit, this style promotes peace and prosperity for a glowing film finale.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones™
For the sake of time, we can’t cover every single costume worn by Padmé Amidala in Attack of the Clones. She has numerous costume changes in this film, which we can attribute to the numerous changes in her life and relationships.
At the start of Episode II, we learn that Padmé has vacated her status as Queen and instead taken up the role of Naboo’s senator. Although her people wanted her to rule indefinitely, Padmé began her regency as a child and also values democracy, so her decision illustrates her incredible morality and wisdom.
We’ll jump right ahead to Naboo, which is where the plot of this second prequel installment really starts to unfold. In hiding due to assassination attempts, Padmé and her protector, Anakin Skywalker, return to Padmé’s homeworld. Despite both of their attempts not to fall in love, a fated romance blossoms on this sunny planet.
During one of their outings, Padmé wears a yellow field dress. It is adorned with deep pink flowers that decorate her thinly strapped bodice with flowing, semi-transparent sleeves and a layered skirt. Here, yellow obviously connotes joy. It’s also nice to view Padmé and Anakin’s styles as complementary; Anakin wears deep brown and has blond hair, while Padmé wears that dark yellow shade and has brunette hair. The couple is at their happiest here, which is shown expertly through corresponding costumes.
Padmé’s Naboo lake dress is perhaps one of her most coveted looks. This pastel ombré gown drapes and layers at the sleeves and skirt. It’s sleeveless, cinched just above the elbows with metallic adornments that also hold the dress at Padmé’s throat. One of her other flowing dresses is her Tatooine two-piece. A sky blue skirt and shirt ensemble, this outfit as well as her braided hairstyle both call back to the Naboo lake dress and her time with Anakin but in far different contexts.
When viewed in juxtaposition, we see these dresses as symbolic of Padmé’s time with Anakin and her conflicted feelings for him. On Naboo, Padmé is unsure. Although the dress is multicolored, she wears primarily yellow — intellect, caution — and purple — romance, nostalgia — or a mixture of warm and cool tones. She adores Anakin, but her head warns her to stay away.
On Tatooine, Padmé has officially devoted herself to Anakin. She waits with his family while Anakin attempts to rescue his mother, and stays by his side even when he confesses to slaughtering an entire village of Tusken Raiders™. Here, she is clearly ruled by her (possibly) misguided heart. Such a pale blue is associated with loyalty, understanding, and softness. She has accepted Anakin with all his flaws, and comes to him as a gentle, trusting companion.
This corseted gown is one of only two times (the third, remember, is actually Sabé!) that we see Padmé in black. This is also the tightest fitting dress she wears in the three Star Wars prequel films. If we may for a moment jump back to before she and Anakin agree to accept their feelings, this scene and costume show Padmé in the depths of her turmoil. Already the dining room is low-lit, more shadows and flames than anything else. Will their passion ignite? Or will it be swallowed by the darkness?
Perhaps the answer is both. This formal black dress symbolizes Padmé’s fear of the unknown. The aggressive silhouette possibly makes her feel more powerful or authoritative when in reality, there is uncontrollable evil lurking around the corner in Anakin’s future.
But Anakin isn’t evil yet! Padmé’s next highlighted costumes are both the opposite of black: white. White can represent a successful beginning, so Padmé wears her popular Geonosis™ bodysuit when she shares a kiss with Anakin and agrees to pursue a romantic relationship with him. She’s also wearing white for the hot planet climate, with pants and various belts and armor pieces in case of conflict. Combined with the red blood that comes from Padmé’s battle wound, this costume is perfect for some aggressive negotiations.
A bride in white is the classic image. Of course, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones provides us with a sweepingly romantic marriage scene at the film’s ending. Padmé’s wedding gown features intricately inlaid pearls on the veil, and her train is modest yet overlaid with an eye-catching geometric pattern. This gown needs to be memorable not only because it’s her wedding day style, but in the Skywalker Saga’s entire context. This is the moment that will continue Anakin’s descent into darkness as he’s consumed by his need to protect his wife, which will ultimately catalyze the rise of Empire as we know it from the original trilogy.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith™
Remember when we said to note the undertones of all Padmé’s costumes? It’s because she is almost exclusively wearing cool colors by this film, in contrast to her warm-color introduction in Episode I … except for her first meeting and subsequent interactions with Anakin.
Essentially, warm tones encompass red, orange, and yellow while cool tones include blue, green, and violet. Most of us associate blue with sadness, an emotion that pretty much dominates Padmé’s character throughout Revenge of the Sith.
Her blue nightgown is supposed to show her ethereal beauty. She’s pregnant and glowing, as radiant and angelic as the day Anakin met her in her drab blue disguise. Since her scenes in this nightgown are with Anakin, the parallel is clear, and her costume is helping us see her as Anakin continues to see her — in an idyllic and somewhat incomplete way.
His vision of her is incomplete because in Episode III, Padmé is more than a wife and mother. She remains a senator and advocate for her people. One of her strongest scenes is on the Senate floor with Bail Organa™ — the future adoptive father of Padmé’s daughter — by her side. The purple robe and gown she wears hides her pregnancy, but it in no way softens or overwhelms her. The color calls back to her days as royalty. She is powerful, purposeful. Her pointed headpiece resembles both a halo and a weapon’s shape, reminding us that Padmé’s intelligence is the greatest weapon in her arsenal against injustice.
On Mustafar™, we return to a warm-colored costume, but at great cost. Distraught and disbelieving Obi-Wan’s insistence that Anakin has turned to the dark side, Padmé travels to confront her husband. She wears tan pants and a brown shirt, with dark brown gloves and matching boots. It’s her most monochrome outfit to date. It’s plain, practical; the emotionally muddied and muddled version of her white Geonosis suit. And tragically, she blends into the damaged earth of Mustafar’s environment when she once stood out against scorching sand dunes and radiant lake waters.
On Mustafar, Padmé appeals to Darth Vader™ to come back to her, to their unborn children. Vader refuses, using the Force to choke Padmé into unconsciousness.
The penultimate time we see Padmé, she wears white. Three extremely impactful scenes in the prequel trilogy put her in this color, though with drastically differing contexts. In Revenge of the Sith, this is a plain white hospital gown. Of course, white is common in medical situations, so this choice seems simple. But we can also look at it as the final image of Anakin’s angel.
After giving birth to Luke™ and Leia™, Padmé reportedly loses her “will to live,” dying from a broken heart. However, with Padmé’s established resiliency, this isn’t completely viable, and her concrete cause of death is still largely a mystery. Rumors abound, alluding to anything from childbirth complications or Emperor Palpatine’s™ sinister plot to drain her life force and trick Vader into thinking he killed her.
Padmé Amidala’s final appearance is an upsetting one. On her funeral bed, she is dressed in a dark blue dress and striped blue overcoat. The outer garment ranges from royal blue to navy. This costume thus creates strong associations with heaven, tranquility, severity. The image itself is also a familiar one; Padmé is shown here surrounded by white flowers and her hair flows as if in water, a direct allusion to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and popular depictions of Ophelia’s death. In Shakespeare’s famous work, Ophelia throws herself into the river after Hamlet breaks her heart — the connection between these two classics cannot go unnoticed.
Finally, we must also contrast Padmé Amidala’s last costume to her first. The red throne room gown was structured and severe. Her funeral gown is soft and simple. Her makeup is minimal during the procession, whereas her Queen Amidala look included lots of paint and adornment. Lastly, there is a lack of jewelry or yellow details in Padmé’s funeral gown — though not if we look closely at her hands. “There’s still good in him,” she once said about Anakin, and she holds a gold pendant close. The japor snippet was a gift from Anakin and it represents the warmth she still feels for her one true love.
What is your favorite Padmé Amidala costume? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!