A fangirl journeys to a galaxy far far away to reconnect with a childhood hero by rewriting the script for “Attack of the Clones”. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Corduroy Graphics
When I was in the seventh grade, I watched Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones about once a week. I would sit on my floor with the tiny portable dvd player that my family used on car trips and put it on in the background as I did my homework. When I was done with the movie, I would go through all the behind the scenes features. I was obsessed, and I never admitted it to anyone.
Why, the secrecy you might ask? Because the Star Wars prequels– particularly AotC — are objectively terrible. They are filled with clunky dialogue, crummy CGI, confusing political plots, stale acting, and poor character development. I was fairly embarrassed by my love Episode II, and as soon as another franchise of questionable quality swept across the pop culture scene (Twilight, in case you were wondering), I held onto it for dear life and left Padme, Anakin, and Obi-Wan behind.
That is, until the seemingly never-ending coronavirus quarantine. Steeped in utter boredom from not being able to leave my apartment, and caught up in the flurry of May the Fourth memes, I decided to rewatch my favorite Star Wars movie, and found that viewing it as an adult was an entirely different experience. I am now around the same age as Padme and Anakin are supposed to be and I found every choice they made– from their actions, to their words, to their wardrobe– unbelievable and poorly thought out. I questioned why exactly I was obsessed with this movie as a child, and what it would take to make AotC as awesome as I thought it was when I was twelve.
So I did what any reasonable person would do and decided to rewrite the screenplay.
My original intention was to just fix the dialogue between Anakin and Padme (read: sand.) I found a version of the script on the internet and copied and pasted the first scene into a Google doc (actual screenwriters everywhere just turned over in their future graves) and that’s where I found the first issue. The movie starts off with a violent attack on Padme’s security team, resulting in the death of her decoy handmaiden. Padme is upset for like, a second, and then this is never dealt with again. Now I know, this is an action-adventure movie set in space, and there are at least two hours of plot ahead of us at this point, but there is no way that anyone, especially my girl Padme, would be this unfazed by the deaths of seven people via explosion. In that moment I realized I would not just be tweaking some dialogue. I would be fixing the entire script.
I started by examining Padme, who is my favorite character in the series. On the surface, she’s great. She’s smart, she’s a strong leader, she’s a deft politician, and she wears awesome clothes. In The Phantom Menace and AotC, she holds her own in battles, and goes toe-to-toe against powerful men and wins. But the more I broke down her character, the more holes I found in her development.
Padme was written to serve solely as Anakin’s love interest, with some extra personality thrown in. She has the potential to be a well-rounded character, and an equal protagonist to Anakin and Obi-Wan, but in AotC, when she ultimately gives in to Anakin’s advances after 90 minutes of will-they-won’t-they and declares her love for him in the Geonosian execution arena, she only speaks four lines for the rest of the movie. That’s one for every 9.5 minutes of remaining screen time.
I took a hard look at Padme’s journey throughout the film, and attempted to give her more agency. I zeroed in on traits that existed but were not fully realized. For one, she is obsessed with her job and can’t ever seem stop working. She sees the good in people first and seeks to make the galaxy a more equitable place for those in need. She is smart and discerning, and she makes decisions quickly and precisely. She has a great capacity for love, but does not know how to accept the love that is given to her.
The project changed from just fixing a few lines here and there and became about reclaiming one of my childhood heroes and turning her into the character I needed her to be. A woman with good intentions. A woman with strength. A woman with conviction. A woman with countless flaws. A woman who sees a problem and acts on it.
It was a move of bittersweet empowerment. In the past few years, there have been a flurry of popular tentpole franchise films with complex female protagonists: Frozen, Wonder Woman, the most recent Star Wars sequels– I walked out of each of these movies buzzing with excitement and wishing that I had Elsas and Dianas and Reys to look up to when I was a child. By the time these films came out, I was too old for dress-up and make believe (okay, I did dress up like Elsa for a few years in college because I was a birthday party princess… but that’s another story for another time.) I made do with what I had. The rewrite was a way to create the Padme I needed. It allowed me to reconnect with a younger version of myself. A Kathleen who desperately wished to be a leader in a galaxy far, far away, who fought alongside Jedi and captained spaceships and traveled to distant planets.
I could write much more about the way women are portrayed in Star Wars movies. If you’re interested in learning more on that front, I’ve linked a few articles here: Star Wars Women: The Stats, which quantifies the amount of screen time women in Star Wars movies have; and Leia is Not Enough: Star Wars and the Woman Problem in Hollywood which explores representation in the original trilogy.
Representation in popular culture is so important, especially in media targeted towards children and young adults. The cultural landscape seems to be shifting to a more equitable place- though not very quickly. Characters like Rose and Jannah in the Star Wars universe, played by Kelly Marie Tran and Naomi Ackie, respectively, and Sam Wilson, AKA the new Captain America, played by Anthony Mackie are bringing people of color into the spotlight as leaders of major franchises, which is long overdue. But this still in no way represents the actual diversity present in the United States and beyond. And it won’t until we as fans and consumers and creators hold the franchises we love accountable for the impacts they had on our childhood.
I challenge you to take a hard look at your childhood heroes. Did they actually represent you? Are they well-rounded, dynamic characters? What can you learn from their journeys across their respective universes? And, most importantly, how would you change them to make them into the heroes you needed them to be? Now, I have two versions of my favorite Star Wars movie. In one, I see a young girl with big dreams and a boundless imagination. In another, I see a woman who finally knows how to harness that imagination and use it to create the world that she has always dreamed of.