royal handmaidens of naboo

(Welcome to A Different Point of View, a column where we explore the supporting characters of the Star Wars universe and discuss why they deserve more time in the spotlight.)

Star Wars is a vast galaxy that was created by George Lucas, but more has been added to it over the decades by countless storytellers. Like a Katamari ball made of overlapping lore and disparate Earth cultures and architecture. Oftentimes, that works out great, with storylines growing from single throwaway lines and background imagery. But sometimes, you get a weird jumble that looks great from a distance but like a huge mess up close. One such Gordian knot is the government of Naboo.

Ostensibly a democratic monarchy — which first of all, no — Naboo is run by an elected King or Queen. Or is it run by the Naboo Governor? Or is it run by the Royal Advisory Council? Or is it run by the noble families, collectively known as the Royal Houses of Naboo? As of this writing, the whole thing is still very opaque, and while I for one would welcome a political drama about the push/pull between government officials with no term limits and the ever-revolving door of pre-teen monarchs, such a thing would need an easily accessible group of heroes. Luckily, Naboo has just such a group: the Royal Handmaidens of Naboo.

Who Are They?

The right-hand women of the Queen (or I guess King) of Naboo. The Royal Handmaidens perform a myriad of duties from traditional ladies’ maid fare, such as tending to the clothing and personal hygiene of the monarch, to more vigorous activities like physically protecting the Queen, even to the point of death. Handpicked (though by whom it is not said) for their talents and physical resemblance to the current monarch, the Handmaids receive training in both court niceties and hand-to-hand combat. They must learn the intricacies of international politics in order to step into the Queen’s shoes — literally — in order to play the decoy in times of turmoil. They learn marksmanship and manners, and are just as deadly as they are young.

At any point in time, the Queen is served by at least five Handmaids ready to lay down their lives or fetch some snacks. Even after a monarch retires from their public duties, it appears at least two Handmaids are dispatched to protect them for life, similar to Secret Service members of America’s political system. This seemed especially prudent for former Queen Amidala when she became a Galactic Senator, as she was a prime target for assassination.

When Were They Introduced? 

The idea of the Royal Handmaidens first showed up in The Phantom Menace. When Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) land on Naboo to assist with the Trade Federation blockade, they meet with the 14-year-old  Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Over the course of the film, Amidala switches places with her Handmaiden Sabe (Keira Knightley) several times in order to move more freely as Padme. While no other Handmaiden in The Phantom Menace rises to the same level of importance as Sabe, Rabe (Karol Cristina da Silva), Eirtae (Liz Wilson), Sache (Sofia Coppola), and Yane (Candice Orwell) also make appearances. You can get a more detailed breakdown of the Handmaidens here, including those that appeared in subsequent films and other media.

Why Are They Fascinating?

Naboo’s governmental structure, in general, is fascinating. Before Queen Amidala, Naboo had been under the control of King Veruna, who ruled for almost two decades. After his ouster, under unknown conditions, Naboo fell into a decades’ long habit of electing young teenage girls — between twelve and sixteen — for reasons that I’m sure have nothing to do with them being easier to manipulate and control. Queen Amidala surely introduced monarchial term-limits, but not term-limits on any other government official, all on her own without the input of her older and more cynical Royal Advisors.

However, back to the Handmaidens. Who are these women? Who hand-selects them? How long is the process between the election of a new monarch and their installation on the throne? All of these questions add depth to how the Handmaidens live…and die.

One would imagine that since the Handmaidens must physically resemble the Queen, they cannot be selected until after the election process. Does the newly minted Queen attend the same lessons as her bodyguards? Unless the monarch comes from the Noble Houses — which according to the Disney version of Star Wars canon, Padme did not — the incoming Queen would need a bevy of crash courses on how to run a country. Or at least how to give the appearance of knowing how to run the country. Since the monarch would need the same curriculum as the Handmaidens, would they be forced together to help increase the bond that would last a lifetime?

Also, remember that these are young teenagers thrust into a life of political intrigue and danger. Balancing the normal angst that comes with the territory with the pressure of keeping the Queen alive must make for some formidable friendships and equally intense rivalries. After all, once the Queen is out of office, only a handful of her Handmaidens will continue their duties. What happens to the other girls is anyone’s guess.

Which leads me to…

What Stories Could Lucasfilm Tell?

Listen, the Royal Handmaidens of Naboo is a perfectly wrapped gift for Lucasfilm. It has every element necessary for an in-depth Young Adult adaptation, be it on television or in novel form. Tell us about the school for Handmaidens. How do they live? How long and grueling are their hours? How are they selected? Only the best and brightest would be eligible but would parents see it as an honor or a horror to have their daughters picked for what might be a deadly position?

Does the Queen have any input over her own bodyguards or are they selected by committee prior to her ascension? Does each region of Naboo send in potential applicants or does the government send out a council to go throughout the country on their search? Is elevation to Handmaiden seen as a lifelong social climb or a temporary measure that chews up and spits out generation after generation of talented young women? All of these are the backbone of a YA drama similar to anything done by Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

In a democratic monarchy (still no), what political alliances exist? Would the girls come into their new positions as agents of their families? Would ruthless nobles push their daughters forward in the hopes of bending the ear of the new Queen? Or is the actual monarch so interchangeable that they would rather their Handmaiden daughters charm the Governor and the Advisory Council? Would Handmaidens selected from the populace face social stigma amongst the more elite members of the household or is Naboo beyond such class snobbery? Since in public the Queen’s face is always painted white, shouldn’t bone structure matter more than skin color? What happens if the Handmaidens fall in love — with either someone outside their coterie or one of their own order? Exactly how bound to service are they? Can they quit to live out their lives or is service mandatory regardless of personal wishes?

Do families start guessing who will be elected to the position of Queen and train their daughters from a young age to increase their chances of being selected? Do they train their sons on the off-chance that Naboo will once again elect a King instead of a Queen? How much jockeying goes on behind-the-scenes? For that matter, who exactly gets to vote in Naboo elections? Is it a full democracy or one of the more historically accurate “men who own land are the only true citizens” kind? Because the former adds more wild cards while the latter would allow for the noble houses to essential rig the elections in favor of the candidate they prefer.

All of this creates a bubbling stew of political intrigue and teenage hormones, easy money just sitting on the table should Lucasfilm decide to take it. Give us a Royal Handmaiden finishing school series, Disney. Do it.

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