The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
In 2015 I documented all of the women that appeared on screen (and in deleted scenes) in the original Star Wars trilogy for FANgirl. I’m now continuing the journey to discover where women are (and notably aren’t) in the Star Wars prequels, Episodes I-III. Some of these female characters are well-known and beloved, while many appear only in the background or for a split second.
Briefly looking back to Episodes IV-VI, the Star Wars films had one of the best female heroes one could imagine in Princess Leia. Episodes IV-VI also had a mother figure in Aunt Beru, several women fighting in the Rebellion, and even more women fighting simply to survive their harsh circumstances. So far there have been no female Jedi, no female Imperials, and no female villains beyond a few characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace who looked like they were up to no good.
Very few women had speaking roles in the original trilogy. Other than Princess Leia the only speaking roles for women in the original trilogy were Aunt Beru in Episode IV: A New Hope (ANH), a Hoth rebel in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (ESB), and Mon Mothma in Episode VI: Return Of the Jedi (ROTJ). I’m not counting female singing and screaming in this count – both of which occurred in Jabba’s Palace in ROTJ.
With limited speaking role for women in the first three films, it’s not surprising that there are more female speaking roles in Episode 1: The Phantom Menance (TPM) – ten by my count – than in the first three films combined. Unfortunately, in most cases the female speaking roles only have one or two lines, and the majority of the female characters in the film are only seen in the background.
Here is a mostly chronological look at all the female characters in TPM.
TC-14 is a protocol droid who greets and serves refreshments to Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi on a Trade Federation ship. The person inside TC-14 was a man (John Fensom), but the voice of TC-14 was a woman (Lindsay Duncan). This is the second instance of a droid having a female sounding voice in a Star Wars film. The first instance was the supervisor droid EV-9D9 from Jabba’s Palace in ROTJ. The voice of EV-9D9 was ROTJ director Richard Marquand, but EV-9D9 is referred to as ‘her’ on StarWars.com and has a feminine sounding voice.
Tey How (on the right in the above photo) is a Neimoidian communications officer played by Amanda Lucas. Tey How is the first non-human female Star Wars character that isn’t dressed in an obvious feminine style but still has a female sounding voice. She is also the first female character who is a ‘worker bee’ for a group of characters working against the heroes in a Star Wars film.
Naboo – Theed Palace
Queen Amidala (Padmé)
Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman), like her daughter Leia, was born into public service. In TPM Padmé’s planet, Naboo, is in trouble. But Padmé is no damsel in distress. She is not afraid to stand up to anyone who threatens her people or even the Jedi who are coming to her aid if she doesn’t agree with their course of action. Overall Queen Amidala is a great female character in TPM from start to finish.
Naboo Royal Handmaidens – Rabé, Sabé, Saché, Eirtaé, and Yané
Queen Amidala’s handmaidens in TPM served as her aides, bodyguards, and security force. Five handmaidens are credited in TPM: Rabé (Cristina da Silva), Eirtaé (Liz Wilson), Yané (Candace Orwell), Saché (Sofia Coppola), and Sabé (Keira Knightley). One final handmaiden Fé is seen in the final celebration scene.
Since the handmaidens occasionally act as decoys for the Queen, they usually wear hooded robes that shield their appearance. For this reason it’s often difficult to tell one handmaiden apart from the other.
Sabé is the handmaiden who is used as a decoy in TPM. She and Rabé are the two handmaidens who have lines (although Sabé only speaks when she is impersonating the queen.)
Shown below (left to right) are Sabé, Rabé, Saché, Padmé (the queen in disguise), and Yané. Although I’ll admit I’m not 100 percent when it comes to Saché and Yané in this photo.
I found it similarly challenging to identify the two handmaidens in the back of this photo below.
Two handmaidens, Saché and Yané, are the most difficult to spot in TPM as they do not follow Amidala to Coruscant and are in far fewer scenes. I believe Yané is in at least one of the two photos above.
Saché can more easily be spotted in a scene in Theed Palace (seated on the right) in the photo below.
Eirtaé can be seen in the photo below (left) in Theed Palace.
In later scenes the handmaidens are not wearing their robes and are much easier to identify. Below (left to right): Rabé, Eirtaé, Anakin, Sabé (again as the Queen’s decoy), and Padmé.
Rabé (below) has a few lines in Coruscant when Anakin comes looking for Padmé.
Theed High Council
Near the beginning of TPM Queen Amidala discusses her options with members of the Naboo Royal Advisory Council. Three women are shown in this sequence but none of them have speaking roles. Two of the women are shown below – the other woman is in the photo of Saché earlier in this article.
When Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Jar Jar Binks dive down to the Gungan underwater city Otoh Gunga there are several gungans visible. Are any of these Gungans female? There’s not an easy way to tell throughout the film if the Gungans are male or female. And that’s not entirely a bad thing – I don’t think anyone wants to see hair bows or pink vests on a Gungan. Since all of the Gungans with speaking roles in TPM have male voices however, it’s easy to conclude that none of the Gungans on screen in TPM are female.
In contrast to ANH where we never got to see the Tatooine village where Luke Skywalker spent his free time, we do get to see Anakin Skywalker’s village, Mos Espa, and several characters who live there.
Several female characters can be seen milling around the Mos Espa market such as the woman shown below.
Jira (Margaret Towner) is a kind old woman on the streets of Mos Espa who has a short conversation with Anakin Skywalker.
If everyone had a mother like Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August) the world would be a much better place. Shmi was a slave on Tatooine who gave birth (with the help of midichlorians) to Anakin Skywalker. Shmi is kind, generous, thoughtful, and strong throughout her scenes in TPM. She gives up the one bright spot in her life, her son, so that he can have a better life.
Amee and Melee
When Anakin is tinkering with his pod racer four local youngsters come over to check out his work. Two of these characters are Amee (Katie Lucas) and Melee (Megan Udall) and each girl has a line or two in this scene. For some reason (perhaps the girl’s negative comments about Anakin’s pod racer) Amee and Melee don’t also appear in the actual pod race sequence with Anakin’s more supportive male friends Kitser and Wald.
Amee shown below on the left.
Melee shown below.
Ann Gella and Tann Gella
The Gella twins (played by Nifa and Nishan Hindes) are Twi’leks who are slaves of podracer Sebulba. While the first two appearances of female Twi’leks are slaves (Oola in ROTJ and the Gella sisters in TPM) there are several female Twi’leks to come in future Star Wars films and television series that are in much more powerful positions.
The pod race is an event full of thousands of people and a number of female characters.
Women can be seen in many of the crowd shots shown in the two photos below.
Gardulla the Hutt
In the fancy seats Jabba the Hutt is joined by Gardulla the Hutt (the Hutt on the above left) who notably was the “owner” of Shmi and Anakin before she lost them in a bet to Watto.
Diva Funquita (far left above) is a dancer and assistant to Gardulla the Hutt. She was played by Amanda Lucas.
The other woman seen in Jabba the Hutt’s booth is the unidentified blue haired character on the right in the photo below. She’s wearing a very similar bikini outfit to Leia Organa’s Slave Leia/Huttslayer outfit in ROTJ.
Aurra Sing (Michonne Bourriague) can only be seen for a flash during the pod race on the far right of the screen, but she left quite an impression on Star Wars fans. Aurra Sing is a bounty hunter, the first female bounty hunter shown in a Star Wars film. Sing is featured in several episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Coruscant – Jedi High Council
After three Star Wars films with only a handful of Jedi, TPM opened up a new chapter where the Jedi were alive and well. At last Star Wars fans could get a look at a world with more Jedi than they knew what to do with. In TPM we get a few peeks at the Jedi High Council where there are male Jedi, female Jedi, and Jedi of all kinds of new species.
Sadly, few of the Jedi (and none of the female Jedi) in these scenes talk and a few of them are challenging to find even when you’re looking for them. The members of the Jedi High Council who do speak in these scenes are all male – Yoda, Mace Windu, and Ki-Adi-Mundi.
Depa Billaba, shown above on the right between Saesee Tiin and Ki-Adi-Mundi, is in the Jedi High Council scenes, but the best shot of her is in the celebration sequence at the end of the film.
Trying to find a good shot of Adi Gallia is an exercise in frustration in TPM. The shot above where she sits to Anakin’s right is about as good as it gets. Adi Gallia is blocked by Qui-Gon Jinn in many scenes and in other scenes you can only see the top of her head.
Finding a good shot of Yaddle (think female Yoda) is even harder than finding than Adi Gallia. Yaddle is seated to the right of Qui-Gon Jinn in the above photo. I included a publicity shot of Yaddle below for those who wanted a better look at this character. TPM is the only appearance Yaddle makes in a Star Wars film.
Bonus Female Jedi Connections
Jedi Evan Piell (on the left in the photo below) is male, but a woman (Michaela Cottrell) portrayed this Jedi Master in TPM.
Yarael Poof (on the left below) is technically a male character, but the puppet operator was a woman (Michelle Taylor).
Sei Taria (Kamay Lau) is Chancellor Valorum’s staff aide and is seen on the far right in the photo above.
The two Twi’leks on the far left of the photo below are aides of Orn Free Taa. One of these Twi’leks was played by Star Wars costume designer Trisha Biggar.
Back to Space
TPM is the first Star Wars film to show a female pilot in space who speaks (using a female voice). There were glimpses of several rebel pilots in ROTJ in command rooms so I assumed it would be easy to find female pilots or guards in Naboo. However, the female characters in Naboo are almost entirely limited to handmaidens and civilians. The guards and pilots in Naboo are all men except for one exception.
Dineé Ellberger – Bravo 5
Dineé Ellberger (Celia Imrie) or Fighter Pilot Bravo 5 is shown several times during the space battle above Naboo and has a few lines in her cockpit along with several other rebel pilots. Bravo 5 can also be found in a deleted scene where pilots greet Anakin after he returns to base and ask if he’s in trouble and can she briefly be spotted in a scene before the battle begins.
Fé (Fay David) is a handmaiden that is only seen in the celebration at the end of TPM. She is second from the left in the above photo. I believe the handmaiden on the far left is either Eirtaé, Yané, or perhaps an entirely different unidentified handmaiden.
Many women of all ages can be seen in this finale celebration sequence including the woman to Obi-Wan’s right in the photo below. The woman to the left of Obi-Wan is Sabé in one of the only shots where it’s easy to identify her out of her decoy costume.
Children at the celebration can be found in the photo below.
In the deleted scenes of TPM one new female character can be found. A Princess Leia look-alike sitting in Bail Organa’s Alderaan Senate box (below far left).
Overall, TPM introduced two extremely dynamic female characters – Padmé Amidala and Shmi Skywalker – to the Star Wars universe. The handmaidens are strong figures in TPM (and are personal favorites of mine) but are never developed as full-blown characters. And while many interesting female characters made their debut in TPM (Aurra Sing, Adi Gallia, Depa Billaba), you’ll have to look far beyond their appearances in this film to appreciate their stories.
Up next, a look at the women in Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Sources I used to research this article include StarWars.com, Wookiepedia, and Ultimate Star Wars.
- Evolution of Women in Star Wars: A New Hope
- Evolution of Women in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
- Evolution of Women in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
- Two New YA Novels About Inspiring Young Women: Blood Water Paint and The Night Diary - March 4, 2018
- Stuck in the Stone Age Wants Kids to Create Their Own Stories - February 22, 2018
- The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Rogue One - January 24, 2018
2 thoughts on “The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode I: The Phantom Menace”
There was another female twi’lek who sat next to Graxol in Watto’s box at the Boonta eve. But she was only in the cinema cut. Shakka was her name. She was blood orange. She was Graxol’s slave escort to the Boonta Eve and his consort. Shakka and Graxol were in love. Thus his fellow slave traders saw him as weak.
Nice article! :)
But there is a small mistake: none of those twi’leks was played Trisha Biggar. Trisha was there only before she got replaced by that twi’lek aide. Check this out:
Kind regards: Csongor
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