Years ago, in an interview with Bill Moyer, George Lucas talked about creating Star Wars and its’ intersection with religion and spirituality and, when Moyer asked Lucas what he thought of people interpreting Star Wars as profoundly religious, he responded:
I don’t see Star Wars as profoundly religious.
I see Star Wars as taking all of the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern, and more easily accessible construct that people can grab onto to accept that fact that there is a greater mystery out there…George Lucas, 2012
This is evident in the Jedi’s philosophical discussions, in the constant battle between the light side and the dark side, and the persistence throughout the saga of “the chosen one.” But perhaps the most direct influence from Christian Theology in Star Wars that was presented in the Prequel’s was the paternity and conception of Anakin Skywalker. Shmi Skywalker, Anakin’s mother, is almost sidelined in this discussion, with the focus being more on Anakin as the subject of ancient Jedi prophecies. Shmi is clearly inspired by the Virgin Mary; however, the introduction of midi-chlorians attempts to explain the science behind the force and Anakin’s high sensitivity. Neither of these concepts would be explored more in the Prequel Trilogy (and there was a strong shift away from midi-chlorians in the following films). One reason why we have not delved further into Shmi Skywalker’s life could be that Disney/Lucasfilm wants to avoid concepts that are too specific to one type of religion (even though there are many elements closely tied to Buddhism in Star Wars). But there are ways around the “Who is the father” discussion that could give more insight to Shmi and, since The Mandalorian has rebranded midi-chlorians as “M-counts,” it is time to take another look at the first Skywalker.
What We Do Know
As a Skywalker, the first Skywalker in canon, shockingly little is known about her because we are not supposed to know that much about Anakin. We know that she spent most of her life in servitude since she was captured by pirates as a little girl. At some point in servitude, she gave birth to Anakin Skywalker (without a father). She became a casualty of Anakin’s journey to the Jedi Order and, ultimately towards becoming a Sith Lord. In retrospect, people have criticized Qui-Gon Jin and the Jedi for rescuing Anakin from slavery on Tatooine while leaving his mother in bondage. E.K. Johnston mentions in her Padme novel Queen’s Shadow that she later sent her handmaiden to buy the freedom of as many slaves as she could with a focus to free Shmi, however by that time Shmi had already been bought and freed by Cliegg Lars, with whom she fell in love with a later married. We can have a whole separate post on slavery in the Star Wars Universe and the passiveness with which it is treated in the films but this put Shmi where she needed to be for the sake of plot: married to Lieg Lars and step-mother to Owen Lars, whom would later take in a baby Luke Skywalker. Tragically, Shmi was kidnapped one day by Tuskan Raiders and tortured, dying in Anakin’s arms, causing him to go full dark side and kill every man, woman, and child Tusken Raider in a fit of rage. After that, she does not appear in the films and briefly in The Clone Wars as a vision manifested by force-entities.
Where We Can Learn More
Her time as a slave up to her conceiving Anakin. There are a lot of gaps to fill in Shmi Skywalker Lars’ life. Every woman orbiting Anakin Skywalker’s life has gotten a YA novel around a major turning point in their lives (Leia: Princess of Alderaan, Johnston’s forementioned Padme novels, and her Ahsoka novel) so one YA entry point for Shmi would be her early years as a slave until she becomes pregnant. This would be the trickiest to write about for several reasons. The first is the subject matter- a novel that centered around an enslaved woman would be a tough read for most fans who are used to a very surface-level view of slavery in Star Wars. It is referenced and glossed over more than we experience it in a character’s day-to-day life. Rebel Risings showed day-to-day life in an Imperial Prison labor camp and was effectively horrific but Shmi would have been a slave before the Empire and when slavery was, supposedly, outlawed by the Republic.
The second is Lucasfilm would have to either lean into the concept of a virgin birth or retcon his conception and giving him a father. Her exact words from her conversation with Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace are, “There was no father. I carried him. I gave birth. I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.” There is some room for interpretation and retconning as “can’t explain” can also mean unwillingness. And Shmi would not be the first mother in the history of Space Opera’s to not acknowledge the father of your child. Still, going down that hill would just cause more problems than Disney/Lucasfilm care to have from a novel so, if they were to cover this time in her life and include her pregnancy, they would likely lean into Virgin Shmi. Also, yes I am aware of the comic issue that suggests that Palpatine might be Anakin’s father and created him through the force. That can be retcon and probably should because I can’t imagine in 2018 when the issue released that Lucasfilm thought Rey would be written as Palpatine’s granddaughter, which would mean another set of relatives in Star Wars kissed.
Raising Anakin to the events of The Phantom Menace. By the time we meet her in Phantom Menace, Shmi is navigating her situation the best that anyone can hope and there is a potential journey that could be interesting by filling in the gaps between Anakin’s birth and meeting Qui-Gon, Padme, and Jar Jar on Tatooine. This would also involve slavery and raising a child within the slavery system in the galaxy, which could make for some truly emotional text. At this point in her life, Shmi is well out of young adulthood (and YA protagonists usually stay comfortably in the teen range) so an Adult novel would be able to portray a more nuanced and complex slavery system and possibly the challenges of raising a child within that system. Are children usually allowed to stay with their parents or are they often sold away (like the real world) and removed from their parents? These are all added layers that could enrich this mother and son bond, emphasizing the beginnings of Anakin’s deep attachments. It could also add more knowledge on Gardulla Besadii the Elder, a Hutt who owned Shmi and Anakin before Watto. She is featured briefly in The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars and is an important figure in the Hutt crime family so spending time with her in the palace on Nal Hutta (which we have also spent time on in The Clone Wars) would be welcome additional context. And, of course, her ending up with Watto due to a bet and her arrival on Tatooine could bookend.
Her time on Tatooine without Anakin and starting a new family. This pocket of time might be most interesting to Star Wars fans as it is more connected to the Prequel trilogy and could explore Shmi’s thoughts on saying goodbye to Anakin and concern for her son’s wellbeing and her recognition of his unwillingness to let go of his attachment to her. Pernilla August was one of the best parts in The Phantom Menace and made the most of her brief screen time, which included her heartfelt goodbye to Anakin. We know that Anakin feels guilt and anger that his mother was left behind but it would be nice to get Shmi’s perspective as she progresses toward her path to freedom. Shmi would be less defined as a mother to Anakin Skywalker and have more agency than she has ever been afforded if we were to follow her through her last years as a slave, her marriage, and starting a new family. Shmi’s complicated relationship with Watto as his business deteriorates might also provide added depth to the Toydarian who is one of the least liked characters from The Phantom Menace. Much of Shmi’s life as it is presented in canon is tied to pain so to read the years on the Lars farm with her step-son would be a bright spot in her overall story.
The Skywalker Saga starts with The Phantom Menace but the Skywalker family line begins with Shmi and, in a galaxy of stories where we have watched, read, and listened to Anakin, Luke, Leia, and Ben’s journey (Rey Skywalker stories may still yet continue), it is time to circle back to where it all started.