Natalie Portman earns a rare distinction of a cross-franchise redemption within the Disney realm. How? One of her earliest career-defining roles was as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequels before the Disney era. She also stars as Jane Foster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thor franchise, appearing in three of the four films, with her most recent in 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder. So before we deep dive into both films, this is a major spoiler warning for the Taika Waititi film.
The Promising Rise and Fizzling Fall of Star Wars Padmé Amidala
Portman made her debut as Padmé in 1999’s The Phantom Menace as the Queen of Naboo. While time was largely split between her co-stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Jake Lloyd, we got to see her actually lead to help reclaim Naboo from the Trade Federation. The role expanded greatly in 2002’s Attack of the Clones, which saw Padmé become a senator and more than holding her own along with Jedi Obi-Wan (McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen). It truly felt like she was an equal partner that paralleled the original trilogy trio of Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han (Harrison Ford). Sadly, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith undid all of that and then some. Aside from getting pregnant with her twins, Luke and Leia, George Lucas completely hallowed out Padmé to do the bare minimum.
The lingering narrative was that Anakin was doing everything he could to prevent Padmé’s impending death from nothing he could identify. The rest of the film was spent unraveling Anakin’s path to the Dark Side and betrayal of the Jedi order with tons of exposition in between. The only thing Portman was given to do was just dialogue with her co-stars and no actual physical action until the climax, which I blame Lucas for perpetuating the stereotype that a pregnant woman isn’t capable of any intense activity. If you “really” need an example, I suggest watching The Wheel of Time. Otherwise, she nearly asphyxiates from Anakin’s force chokes her in his fit of jealousy, and dies of “heartbreak” following the birth of two children.
Next to Anakin’s speech about sand that everyone else hated in AOTC, Padmé’s death from heartbreak is probably the most infuriating thing that happened to me in the prequels. Portman and her character certainly deserved better. I would have even just accepted the most go-to excuse in fiction that a woman can die from complications of childbirth, as that’s still very much a real-world problem. It’s a real shitty end for a promising character that’s supposed to be a positive female inspiration of the franchise.
Thor: A Pedestrian Relationship Given New Life and Fulfilling Meaning for Jane Foster
With Portman returning as Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder, the actress, was actually able to go out with a strong finish the way she never got to as Padmé. Since making her MCU debut in the 2011 film, Portman’s Jane generally suffered from the clichés as the lead’s love interest of the main superhero character. While her and Chris Hemsworth had chemistry in the 2011 original and its lackluster 2013 sequel, The Dark World, the actress’ return in Love and Thunder after missing out on 2017’s Ragnarok felt more earned even when the two had to shoot new original montage scenes to remember the happier times of their relationship. This time around, rather than hit the same exact tones, the rekindling led to an actual refreshing twist you didn’t see in previous Marvel films. Jane became Mighty Thor in a desperate attempt to stave off her stage four cancer.
Unfortunately, by continuing to wield Mjölnir, it sapped any other strength Jane had to fight off her disease. Her final act was using Mjölnir to destroy Gorr’s All-Black the Necrosword before reverting back to her normal form and dying in Thor’s arms. The tragedy of her loss and uncertain future gave her entrance to Valhalla in the second post-credit scene might help add some intrigue to an otherwise disappointing film franchise. If Portman doesn’t return to the MCU, at least she went out on top the way she wasn’t afforded in Star Wars.