Shmi Skywalker haunts me. I can’t get the image of her standing alone, her arms hugged in at her sides, providing her small comfort, as she bids her only son to walk out of her life and not look back out of my mind.
What is Shmi’s story? While Star Wars is the Skywalker saga, we know so little about the family matriarch. The tagline for The Phantom Menace was “Every Saga has a Beginning” and it applies to both Anakin’s journey, but also to his mother. It all begins with Shmi.
There are countless ways to become a mother. My route was a traditional one: marriage, followed by a baby, then another baby. I can only imagine Shmi’s unexplained pregnancy with Anakin. Was she a slave when she conceived? Was it something that happened after Anakin was born? What were pregnancy and parenthood like for her?
Shmi clearly knew that Anakin was an extraordinary child: unique abilities, precocious and incorrigible. She tells Qui-Gon he deserves more than a slave’s life, and she is quite right, all beings deserve more than that. I imagine the guilt she must have felt for not being able to provide Anakin with a better life, a free one.
Shmi lavished Anakin with unconditional and abundant love. It is apparent that their relationship is strong. Shmi allows Anakin to participate podrace, despite her fear and misgivings, and the danger. Shmi states that Anakin “knows nothing of greed” and the same could be said of her. How many would put their nine-year old child in such a risky position to aid others in desperate need?
And after emerging from the podrace victorious, Shmi rejoices along with her son at his achievement. But rather that basking in reflected glory or praising his skills, Shmi praises Anakin for the pure intentions behind his actions: “It’s so wonderful Annie–what you’ve done here. Do you know? You’ve brought hope to those that have none. I’m so proud of you.” Shmi has instilled compassion and putting others above the self (very Jedi-like traits) in Anakin and the gleanings show at a young age.
When Anakin realizes he is free–that he can leave his slave’s life and make his dreams come true, his joy is soon tempered with the grief of leaving his mother behind. Shmi–selfless as ever, manages her own feelings to help Anakin take the next steps on his journey.
“annie, my place is here,” she said quietly. “my future is here. it is time for you to let go…to let go of me. i cannot go with you.”
the boy swallowed hard. “I want to stay here with you, then. i don’t want things to change.”
she gave him an encouraging smile, her brow knitting. “you can’t stop change anymore than you can stop the sun from setting. listen to your feelings annie, you know what’s right.”
Shmi’s message of letting go, being mindful of one’s feelings, of accepting change are all tenants of the Jedi way that Anakin has difficulty embracing later in life. Shmi gives Anakin her love and her blessing, she tells him to listen to his heart…but to go. After embracing him one last time, she twice implores him “Don’t look back. Don’t look back.”
As a mother my heart breaks in this scene. Imagining myself in her place, I don’t know that I would share Shmi’s selflessness. I don’t know if I could hold myself together enough so that my child could leave, even if it was their first step into a larger world. I think I would beg them to turn back, to run back to my arms. Shmi lets him go. And doesn’t hear from or see him again for a decade, when she dies in his arms after imprisonment and torture.
Anakin is missing his mother, and Star Wars is missing mothers in general. I’ve focused on Shmi because she speaks to my heart. I find in her a mothering role model, and I believe she shares no blame in Anakin’s later destructive choices. But there aren’t many mothers in Star Wars at all. Padme’s parents are unknown, and she survives just long enough to name Luke and Leia before dying. The Jedi, removed from their homes in infancy have no memories of any parental figures. Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels serves as a mother figure on the Ghost but her own mother has died. We have gotten some brief glimpses at Sabine’s mother Ursa, but not more than that. Ezra’s mother was clearly a formidable part of his life, but she too is gone. Breha Organa is a mystery. Lyra Erso was developed to a point in Catalyst but only survived a few minutes into Rogue One. Aunt Beru is a maternal figure (that dies) and Leia is a mother to Ben, but the history of that relationship remains largely a mystery.
As a mother myself, I long for mothers to be explored in a galaxy far, far away. I think it is time for Star Wars to explore the untapped potential of mothers and mothering relationships. I hope one day to be able to list a slew of characters, who are mothers, who will have accomplished more than dying to further a plot or develop a character. I hope one day I can stop asking “Where have all the mothers gone?”