“…Beautiful. Kind, but Sad.”
This, strangely, is more of a personal piece than anything else. I have an unusual enough relationship with my family, and the relationship with my mother is no exception. Her birthday was this week, and we had a nice phone conversation. We speak pretty infrequently, what with time differences and so forth. The other day, I spoke with her on my commute home from work.
Obviously, for Star Wars fans, Padme Amidala is the biological mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa. Much like Superman and Mr. Miracle, Luke and Leia are adopted…like I am. I don’t really pay that fact much mind most of the time…my parents are the people that raised me, much like Ma and Pa Kent raised Superman. When people find out that I’m adopted…it comes up occasionally…I usually get the same storm of questions, related to my biological parents. People that aren’t me seem to have a whole lot more interest in that topic than I do.
That’s not to say that I’m invulnerable to those ideas. In May, a person close to me said something really pretty ugly that related to my being adopted. I’m not going to get into it…but it really pointed out something that I’d been sensitive about, in a hidden way for some time. I’d never been stung in that fashion before, so I didn’t realize that it was A Thing. In the weeks afterward, I realized that it was a Big Deal, and kind of had been for a very long time. Like an old injury, you learn to kind of work around it, to the point where you don’t really notice it any longer.
That’s not to say that I suddenly had any desire to track down my biological parents. Besides that being next to impossible, for a variety of reasons, that really wasn’t the thing that bothered me. What bothered me was what was hidden in the comment…that for some time, I might be, or have been some kind of disposable person. It’s an ugly, ugly feeling, and when I look back at the things that bother me the most, they are pretty much about that. About a kind of abandonment.
Most superhero stories don’t have that in it. Sure, a huge amount of A-list superheroes are orphans, or adopted, or some combination of the two. Superman and Supergirl are sent away from their biological parents, to live with kindly people on Earth, because, quite frankly, it was the only way. A whole planet has to be destroyed, and the parents make this huge sacrifice to ensure their kids’ safety. Furthermore, later film and television make sure that a comforting computer version of them can be around to explain why, and make it all clear.
The real world doesn’t work like beautiful comic books do. In fact, I’d be willing to say that it might work just like bad Star Wars prequels do. When I say that…Amidala isn’t a bad person. Not at all. But…the way George Lucas wrote it, she just…gives up. A robot diagnoses her as having “lost the will to live,” and she promptly dies of that very spiritual diagnosis. The drama in her cosmic lifestyle was too much for her to cling to the mortal coil, and bother to raise her kids.
The result is fine…we get two sets of kindly parents who raise the kids separately, as best they can. Parents who do the job of parenting, that Amidala apparently couldn’t be bothered to do. The sequence in “Return of the Jedi”, when Luke asks Leia about her mother, and Leia misremembers images of her…it’s pretty poignant on some level. It also doesn’t change the fact that they both have Real Parents, the people that raised them, and made them Space Princesses and Jedi Knights. Despite having full lives, and being these excellent figures, they both question on some level why things had to happen to change the course of their lives, and why their mother gave up on them.
It’s funny…where I have never formally named the protagonist of the strip…I’ve also never given her any kind of familial context. She’s an Alien American, sure…but unlike Superman or Luke Skywalker, she doesn’t have any kind of family. I always assumed that she was adopted and raised on Earth, as apparently happens to a great number of Alien Americans…but never worked out the backstory of where she came from, or where she grew up on Earth. It was always nebulous, and generic. I think a lot of that comes from not being able to pin down a good number of my own feelings on the subject, and only having nebulous ideas that I’d gotten used to.
I didn’t have any particular interest in working out the backstory…but at the same time, wanted to draw something that kind of dealt with the topic. Amidala made an excellent subject…she’s from space, and as a biological parent, despite being a space adventurer and planetary Queen…she’s kind of a disappointment. There’s no grand sacrifice, there’s no Big Moment…she just kind of folds when the chips are down. To be honest…she’s exactly what I expect if I think about it. That might seem harsh, but just like Luke and Leia, things worked out for me…so I can’t exactly complain.
It’s just that the rest of the Earth…the non-adopted Earth…puts such an importance on genetics, family, and blood relation. On that level, an adopted person is eternally an outsider…you have no “blood relations” and know nothing about them. This thing that is so hugely important to everyone else…you just don’t have a context for. You exist outside of it, apart from it…and to be honest, it’s pretty hard to understand. What everyone else thinks is such a big huge deal is the first person to let you down, on a level that the rest of the Earth doesn’t have a perspective to grasp in any real way.
Given the flexible Time and Space of Adequacy, I wanted to have Amidala as this mother figure, because of what she represents. Clearly, she can’t be the protagonist’s mother…she’s too much of a baseline human. But…she has the qualities that I’d like to hold such a mother figure to, even if our hero is meeting up with her about something else. Remember, Leia describes her as “…beautiful. Kind, but sad.”
Our hero, on the other hand, is dressed in robes that are more reminiscent of Mr. Spock’s Vulcan robes at the end of “Star Trek III” than anything else. That’s on purpose, the heavy hood and flowing robes. Spock is the ultimate outsider…he has trouble in his own world, because all of his friends are human, and his friends have trouble understanding him because of his alien viewpoints. That’s a pretty solid analogy for navigating the world of non-adopted people, trying to understand relationships in the same way as everyone else. In fact, Spock’s family is depicted in a way that helps here as well…a strict, rigid father, and quietly caring mother, neither of which is all that demonstrative.
The fact is…Spock’s far from perfect family is a damn sight better than Amidala’s lack of effort. Again…harsh, but very much on point.
Talking to my mother, on the commute…it was alright. It’s hard to find common ground…I’ve been away a very long time, and even when I was young, I was the kind of outsider that identified with Mr. Spock. As adults…we’re trying, at least a little bit, and that’s the best I can say on the subject. Trying is what Real Parents, not just Biological Parents, do. The reality is, if you’re trying, you might not succeed, and that’s a fact of life.
The goal here was to have Amidala look wistful, like something important was missed. Again…she’s not the protagonist’s mom, but she can empathize with the situation, I would think. Our hero, on the other hand…I wanted to give her an introspective expression, something other than her usual quiet but stern look. Inquisitive but somber.
R2-D2 bridging them is both thematic (based on the films) and something very real. My mother…the woman who raised me that is…got me R2-D2 in the seventies. I loved that little droid to death. She knew I loved Star Wars, and she got me something that she just didn’t understand…because that’s what good parents do. I have a working Artoo unit in the living room right now…mostly because I remember how much I loved that old one from when I was young.