The ever-expanding Star Wars universe has continued to throw up many intriguing questions ever since its first chapter way back in 1977. While some might always remain unexplained, one particular puzzler regarding Princess Leia now appears to have been solved. Here’s a look at why the iconic character may have been able to remember her late mother despite the fact that Leia’s mom died giving birth to her.
“She was very beautiful. Kind but sad.” That’s how Princess Leia describes her mother Padmé while talking to brother Luke in the third Star Wars instalment, Return of the Jedi. This particular line appeared relatively innocuous at the time of the movie’s 1983 release but was later scrutinized by diehard fans.
In fact, Princess Leia’s distant recollections of her late mother initially seemed entirely plausible within the Star Wars canon. And that became even more true when James Khan published his novelization of the movie. In that book, the author revealed that Anakin was unaware that Padmé was carrying two of his children when he turned to the Dark Side.
The remaining Jedi believed that Leia and Luke should be separated following their births, in order to ensure the siblings’ safety. Therefore, they sent the former to Alderaan with her mom, and the latter went with Obi-Wan Kenobi to Tatooine. So far, so logical.
However, things became far more complicated when prequel Revenge of the Sith hit cinemas in 2005. In the sixth instalment of the franchise, Anakin is fully aware that his lover Padmé is expecting. His initial excitement soon turns to fear, however, when he begins to constantly envisage Padmé losing her life while giving birth.
Anakin’s transformation into supervillain begins when he’s taken under the wing of Palpatine. The Supreme Chancellor informs the Jedi Knight that he knows how to overcome death. And after confessing that he’s in fact a Sith Lord, Palpatine then tells Anakin that he has the power to keep Padmé alive.
Anakin initially rejects Palpatine’s help and informs Mace Windu of the Supreme Chancellor’s true nature. But due to his terror at the prospect of Padmé dying, Anakin later comes to Palpatine’s rescue during a battle with Windu. Palpatine then renames the Jedi Knight Darth Vader after Anakin pledges his allegiance to the Sith Lord.
After learning that Anakin has now become Vader, Padmé visits him at Mustafar and begs him to remember who he really is. But by this point, it’s too late. Indeed, after spotting Obi-Wan traveling on the same ship as Padmé, a paranoid Vader believes the pair are out to assassinate him and subsequently tries to strangle the woman he loves.
Vader is eventually defeated by Obi-Wan in a lightsaber battle and is left severely burned and injured in the process. Shortly afterwards, Padmé goes into labor and gives birth to twins. She christens the babies Leia and Luke, but this moment of joy turns into tragedy just moments later when Padmé passes away.
Yoda and Obi-Wan are thankfully successful in their efforts to hide the newborns. The latter then takes Luke to Tatooine, where he’s looked after by Beru and Owen Lars. Leia is transported to Alderaan by a member of that planet’s royal family, Bail Organa. So the question is: how exactly was Leia able to recall her mother when she was only minutes old at the time of her mom’s death?
Well, one theory goes that Princess Leia wasn’t thinking about her birth mother when she described her as “kind but sad” in Return of the Jedi. She was in fact referring to her adoptive mother, Queen Breha. For the wife of Bail Organa is also presumed to have passed away when Leia was in her infancy.
In Barbara Hambly’s 1995 novel Children of the Jedi, Princess Leia reveals that her aunties were responsible for bringing her up. Having been passed around from pillar to post at such a young age, it’s perhaps little wonder that Leia might have confused her mother figures. However, other revelations in the Star Wars canon contradict this particular argument.
Indeed, there’s some confusion as to when Queen Breha actually lost her life. Some fans believe that she passed away when Leia was only a young child. However, more contemporary sources have claimed that the Queen of Alderaan was still very much alive until the destruction of her home planet at a time when Leia had entered adulthood.
To make matters even more perplexing, Queen Breha reportedly didn’t even exist in the early Star Wars years. Indeed, Bail Organa was originally written as an eternally single royal with little intention of ever marrying. But in Revenge of the Sith, Bail was now a happily married man interested in adoption.
In the annotated screenplays for the Star Wars movies published in 1997, however, it’s made by clear by George Lucas that Leia’s memories were of her natural birth mother. But the director also admits that he wrestled with how to approach the matter. He writes, “The part that I never really developed is the death of Luke and Leia’s mother.”
Lucas goes on to add, “I had a backstory for her in earlier drafts, but it basically didn’t survive. When I got to Jedi, I wanted one of the kids to have some kind of memory of her because she will be a key figure in the new episodes I’m writing. But I really debated whether or not Leia should remember her.”
Moreover, Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays isn’t the only aspect of the franchise’s canon that once appeared to put this matter to rest. Indeed, on the Star Wars Databank website, the Princess’ page explicitly confirms that Padmé was indeed the mother Leia was able to recall. And this has led to speculation that the Force played a part.
In the Episode III book adaptation penned by Patricia C. Wrede, it’s revealed that Leia was alert and fully aware of her surroundings immediately after being born. Could the Force have enabled the Princess to forge long-term memories when she was just a few minutes old? Well, there’s circumstantial evidence that this might be the case.
Indeed, Leia is deemed to be much more aware of the Force on an instinctive level than her twin brother. And this is proved by how she displays her powers for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back. Here, Luke seeks Leia’s help just moments following his battle against Darth Vader by subconsciously sending her a message.
Leia couldn’t comprehend at the time what she was envisaging. But her natural abilities shone through when she informed Lando of Luke’s whereabouts. It’s therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that Leia established a natural and strong emotive bond with her mother in the space of just a few minutes.
This is despite the knowledge that Leia and Padmé were kept away from each other at the time of the birth. Indeed, while Obi-Wan cradled the newborn Luke, a droid nurse was tasked with cuddling the newborn Leia. In fact, unlike her brother, the Princess had no contact with Padme at all.
Of course, there’s also a chance that Leia might have mistaken visions of Padmé for memories. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is told by Yoda, “Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future… the past… old friends long gone.” Despite her lack of Jedi training at the time, then, Leia still might perhaps have used such sightings of her mother to inadvertently create false memories.
And this particular theory gained significant traction on a reddit thread posted in 2018. One user argued, “Leia’s memor[ies] of her mother are Force visions and not a real memory. But she doesn’t know they’re Force visions. Leia would have no idea what Force visions are, so she would just think [they’re] normal memories.”
“She’s describing the memory of a Force vision to Luke when she says she remembers her mother,” the same reddit user continued. “She describes the ‘memories’ as being ‘just images and feelings,’ and that she was ‘beautiful, kind, and sad.’ Leia’s ‘remembering’ Padmé from when she died giving birth and it was a Force vision, not a memory.”
The scene in question also appears to suggest that Leia was fully aware she had been adopted, something that hitherto hadn’t been touched upon. Indeed, when Luke questions Leia about their “real” mom, she doesn’t bat an eyelid. This seemingly indicates that both parties were aware of the fact and had probably discussed the matter before.
However, a new Star Wars novel published in 2019 appears to have thrown another theory into the mix. Penned by E.K. Johnston, Queen’s Shadow takes place almost half a decade on from The Phantom Menace. And it sees Padmé take center stage as she makes the move to the senate.
Queen’s Shadow also delves into Padmé’s relationship with her handmaidens, most notably her body double Sabé. Portrayed by Keira Knightley on the big screen, Sabé is tasked with safeguarding Padmé at all costs. As a result, she pretended to be the queen when their home planet of Naboo was invaded by the Trade Federation.
What’s more, Sabé carried on impersonating Padmé even when the queen and her entourage had been saved from danger by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. She even appeared in front of the Gungan people as the queen before the real thing revealed all to their chief, Boss Rugor Nass, in an attempt to make a pact. Sabé also played a vital role during the Battle of Naboo.
Indeed, Sabé certainly fooled Nute Gunray after breaking into the royal palace. Wrongly thinking that she was in fact Padmé, the Viceroy consequently sent his droids to track her down. This allowed the real queen and Captain Quarsh Panaka to seize both the throne room and Gunray himself. And it also ultimately helped Naboo and the Gungan army to win the war.
Moreover, Sabé’s duties didn’t end when the queen tragically lost her life during the Clone Wars’ finale. Although she adopted a new identity, Sabé in fact worked alongside her romantic partner Captain Tonra to find out just how Padmé had met her maker. And it transpires that she also played a significant part in raising the queen’s daughter.
Shortly after Padmé’s untimely passing, in fact, her former decoy queen was approached by Bail Organa. The Senator asked both Sabé and Tonra to assist with the rebellion against the villainous Empire. The grieving Sabé agreed to help avenge the queen’s death and subsequently developed into one of Bail Organa’s most trusted allies.
As well as creating resistance cells and journeying across the galaxy with the Senator, Sabé also helped out with his adopted daughter. Indeed, in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide, it’s revealed that she played a key role in shaping Leia’s young years. The Princess is said to have developed her ambassadorial skills and knowledge of etiquette under the tutelage of the former handmaiden.
So maybe Leia wasn’t remembering her natural mother Padmé or indeed her adopted mother Queen Breha after all. Perhaps she was in fact thinking of the woman who used to impersonate the former. And with Sabé’s close resemblance to Padmé, this certainly would have been an easy mistake to make.
The fact that Sabé was obviously trusted by Bail Organa also suggests that she might have been privy to information relating to Leia’s history. Indeed, the ex-decoy queen had already showed that she could be the height of discretion during her time with Padmé. And Sabé’s notable absence in Star Wars’ more contemporary offerings perhaps only adds further weight to this theory.
Indeed, the former handmaiden is nowhere to be found in Claudia Gray’s novel, Leia, Princess of Alderaan. As its title suggests, the book focuses on Padmé’s daughter and her beginnings in the Senate. It also explores her dealings in the Rebellion and with Bail Organa’s comrades, a group that doesn’t include Sabé.
So where was Sabé, you may ask? Well, considering the danger that was involved in staging a rebellion against the Empire, chances are that the decoy queen might have succumbed to the same fate as the real queen. Indeed, it’s presumed that like Padmé, Sabé passed away at a young age.
The plot thickened when James Kahn contacted Screen Rant to provide some more information about his contribution to Princess Leia’s mythology. The man who’d written the Return of the Jedi novel first referred to the question of Anakin being unaware of Padmé’s pregnancy at the time he turned to the Dark Side. Kahn told the site that he’d decided to separate the twins when they were born to add more intrigue to Princess Leia’s history.
“In writing the novelization, I’d felt Leia was getting short shrift somewhat,” Kahn informed Screen Rant. “So I invented a whole elaborate backstory about the circumstances of her birth, and subsequent upbringing on Alderaan.” However, Kahn’s idea didn’t go down well with the publishers, and this particular thread was removed from the final version of the novel.
“Unbeknownst to me, of course, George Lucas had his own ideas about her origin story. The nerve!” Kahn added. “I dutifully cut the section. But the reference cited here is apparently one left over from that narrative that somehow got through. Guess I missed it, and so did the Lucasfilm people. And there you have it.”
In Queen’s Shadow, Padmé is urged by the new queen to serve in the Galactic Senate. Although uncertain at first, Sabé’s continued assistance encourages Padmé to accept the offer. As Padmé once again delves into the world of politics, Sabé is tasked with going undercover on Tatooine. It seems like there might well be more revelations about these two characters to come in the future.