Since I’ve been through the doubt and fear, the thrill and the hope of pregnancy for myself, Padmé’s tears and unfulfilled promises to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith have taken on something more of a potency.
What I believed to be a ridiculous vow that she would not die in childbirth, I’ve come to understand as the will to be there for the child taking shelter inside your body, unaware of any of the outside world’s pain and danger. But despite now having a carnal knowledge of why she cries when Anakin goes missing in action, the sobs in her throat as she names Luke and Leia, the tears in her eyes as she dies bereft of their father, the power of her pregnancy and the trauma of her labour each go unfulfilled. Her character dies having been a vessel for the fate of the galaxy. The destiny of the son and father, and still to a lesser extent the daughter, strips her body of any further purpose in the Star Wars saga.
Though Padmé is all but absent after her death, her pregnancy makes a brief moment in the finale of Star Wars: Rebels even more crucial. Hera has a son, Jacen Syndulla, and the way he sits in the co-pilot’s chair and beams at her bears the weight of many implications that empower the force of a mother.
We know that Hera soared over Scarif with the Ghost as the tussle for the Death Star plans took place. She was present at the battle of Endor, unseen but an undeniable part of the Rebel victory over the Empire, a general forged in the war effort. In the throes of the former, she would have been pregnant and almost certainly aware of the fact. By the time of Return of the Jedi and that final battle for good against evil, she would have given birth to Jacen.
Rather than pregnancy solely making a female character subdued, tearful and eventually dead, as is the case with Padmé, Hera stands a fearless example of how this natural wonder of love and sacrifice makes the mother more alive. Closer to the heart than the clash of light and dark, she had Jacen, her last link to the man she loved, the Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus, to fight for.
Having lost my mother partway through my own pregnancy, I can sense how Hera would have gritted her teeth and flown for her survival and her child’s, as well as for the pride of her lost loved one. I wish we could have seen it. But her life in that time becomes yet another glossed over pregnancy in the Star Wars canon.
At least the birth of Hera and Kanan’s son is a win in a franchise that’s developed a worse habit; hoisting up the sacrifice of motherhood to dwarf the victory. Even when its impact could be palpable and positive, Anakin’s children showing him a new chance at the family he’s lost, it has rung hollow as the necessity for a greater story.
It is a fraying thread of support to Anakin’s inner light as the premonitions which haunt him threaten the loss of the love of his life, his child’s own fate unknown. It is the desperation which feeds his darkness and eventual fall, making him Vader. It is the font of his redemption, bearing the son who saves him. In the shadow of that epic legend, the mother comes to mean little more than suffering, two children longing for the mother they never knew, and a nemesis stewing in self-hatred over his inability to save her. Padmé’s last act as his wife is to plead with him to come home to her, mourning the family they could have had, before the weight of grief on her spirit kills her.
Having a baby is too often framed as something that ties women down to being wholly dedicated, even sacrificed, for the sake of another life. If the fan theory is to be believed, the little of Padmé’s soul and strength that isn’t spent in birthing her babies is siphoned off by Palpatine to revive a spark of life to Darth Vader’s dismembered body, burned beyond salvation on Mustafar. But in Hera’s case, she remains whole, and wholly her soldier self, to be a hero to her son.
That’s all I could ever want for my own daughter. Her smile for me, like Jacen’s for Hera, full of happy security and pride. Hera has become the ultimate reassurance that I can be true to the hero in me, and let my baby girl know that she’ll always be safe. She is the first Star Wars mama to make me feel this way. That I can spark the Rebellion in this little soul, and not just fade into her shadow.
It’s powerful that a mother like Hera can love her child as a light of her life, retaining their influence and their strength, galvanising it in that love. Even General Leia’s maternal radiance is dimmed by her estrangement from Kylo Ren, fighting in the hope that he will defy his grandfather’s fall and come home. There should be more mothers in Star Wars who can fight for their kids, and in time beside them like Hera with Jason, to better their world and not to heal a rift, or cut a dramatic scar.