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We tend to celebrate characters who are brash, outspoken, snarky and daring. The quiet ones often go unnoticed and under-appreciated. But I've always liked the quiet ones. Probably because I tend to be more on that end of the spectrum myself. That's probably why Shmi is one of my favorites and, I feel, deserving of far more appreciation.

"The Republic doesn't exist out here. We must survive on our own."


Much of Shmi's importance in the overall story of the saga resides in her influence on Anakin -- her presence during his childhood, but especially her absence once he leaves to become a Jedi. It's always a tricky thing to create a character whose primary impact comes from her absence and death (and the use of "her" isn't a coincidence -- it's overwhelmingly women who are placed in this role). All too often, the character is nothing more than a plot device, underdeveloped, her special place in the hero's heart implicit rather than explicitly developed. But Shmi's portrayal is saved from this danger by an excellent performance from Pernilla August and the details the story reveals of her personality and experiences.

She is kind and giving, in spite of her own very limited means. When Anakin brings home a bunch of strangers in need, he has no doubt that she'll take them in, because that's what their family does. She opens her home to them, brings them to her table and feeds them. Anakin even convinces her to let him enter the podrace by apparently repeating her own words -- "The biggest problem in this universe is no one helps each other."

However, there is an interesting edge to her softness. When Padmé young and idealistic, begins a rant against the injustice of slavery, Shmi stops her with a gentle but firm rebuke. The Republic doesn't exist out here. An interesting way to phrase it. She could have said, "Those laws don't matter as long as the Hutts are in control" or "Your Republic isn't as powerful as you might think" or any other rejoinder that could launch them into a sociopolitical discourse. But Shmi's view of things is pragmatic. For any practical purposes, there is no Republic. That's how she has learned to see the galaxy, as a necessary survival tactic. Help others, but don't assume that anyone will help you. Eke out your own survival.

Shmi keeps her intense emotions buried deep. She doesn't openly sob or scream, even as she's watching her son go into mortal peril in the podrace, even as she's letting him leave her forever. It's not that she doesn't feel the complete depth of those emotions -- she says outright that she dies every time Watto makes Anakin race. But as a slave she's surely learned that it's safer to keep a calm, straight face, to react mildly even to the most monstrous of situations. It's a tragedy that someone as extraordinary as Anakin was born into slavery, but a slave's life is just as tragic for someone as gentle and good as Shmi. I'm very glad to know that this changes sometime before Episode II and she spends her last years in comparative happiness. But I'll discuss that more in later installments.

Next, a few more terse words from a Sith Lord...
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