Even before The Last Jedi shook up the status quo, it was clear that Star Wars was always about much more than heroes and dynasties and the evils of right-wing ideology. The story threads woven throughout the saga films and the auxiliary story materials was as much a canon of everyday heroism, a testament to little acts of bravery that stacked up and echoed down through the ages. Perhaps the bravest of all of these little rebellions, these seemingly insignificant choices, is Shmi Skywalker bidding her son farewell.
It remains unclear whether Shmi herself was born into slavery, but it’s safe to assume that she spent much of her life in servitude, alone save for her son. The fact that Anakin was of immaculate conception surely would have only furthered this isolation and made her difficult life that much harder to bear. And yet anyone who’s seen The Phantom Menace will know that Shmi is not a broken or cowed woman. She’s wise beyond her years, aged as much by her servitude, the harsh environment of her home planet, and the knowledge that Anakin will outgrow her.
Arguably the most pivotal line in TLJ was delivered by Yoda – “We are what they grow beyond, that is the burden of all masters”. It’s a quote that I’ve adopted as the tagline for Raising a Rebel simply because of how perfectly it aligns with being a parent. It is a truth that Luke comes to understand and embrace from his former master, but it was a lesson which his grandmother had fundamentally understood decades before. In allowing Anakin to grow beyond her, Shmi put the whole saga into action, for good or for ill. The machinations of Palpatine and Plagueis may have had designs on Anakin, but it was because of Shmi that he was able to leave Tatooine at all, unshackled and almost unafraid.
As soon as she fell pregnant, Shmi must have sensed that her son was destined for more than a slave’s life. Those early years she must have watched his innate abilities flourish, knowing that destiny would come calling to take him away from her. When we meet Shmi in TPM, she seems resigned to the call of destiny, as though she can see the hero’s journey spread out in front of Anakin and know that he must embark upon it without her. “He can help you,” she tells Qui-Gon with quiet bravery. “He was meant to help you.”
Never in TPM do we see Shmi try and fight fate. Perhaps it’s because she understands that she is also an instrument of destiny, a vessel through which the living force can act. She doesn’t fight destiny, but that doesn’t mean she’s in a hurry to accept it outright. In a pivotal scene, Qui-Gon takes Anakin’s blood sample and sends it off to Obi-Wan to be analysed. The sample, as we know, possesses an impossibly high count of midi-chlorians. A result which would confirm Qui-Gon’s theory that Anakin is the ‘Chosen One’ of prophecy, that he might have even been conceived by the Force. It’s a conversation between master and padawan that Shmi overhears and her expression is a solemn one. It’s in this moment, I think, that she completely accepts that her son will soon be gone. It is, for all intents and purposes, her point of no return.
So when the time comes for Shmi to bid her son farewell, she doesn’t falter, she accepts the inevitable, because, as she tells him earlier, “You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting”. In comforting Anakin, Shmi trust in her son’s belief that they will see one another again. It might be a moment of actualisation, or comforting an upset child, but it might just be that Shmi has a foresight that has hitherto gone unappreciated. It serves to follow that the mother of Anakin Skywalker would herself be Force sensitive and granted an insight beyond that of a normal woman.