Something most Star Wars fans have in common is a love of background characters. Sure, fans want to know everything about the main heroes of the story, but please also tell us absolutely everything about that large green striped creature hiding behind that pillar Star Wars creators!
Most Star Wars background characters are male (as are most Star Wars characters) so it’s not surprising that when The Phantom Menace released in 1999 the Naboo handmaidens stood out even when they were trying to not be noticed. Who were these women surrounding the Queen of Naboo dressed in matching hooded robes that mostly obscured their faces? Were they her assistants? Ladies in waiting? Bodyguards?
Naboo handmaidens appeared in all three prequels films and have popped up over the years in comics, books, video games, tabletop games, animated shorts, and TV series. Handmaidens were favorites of many fans as bounty hunters were the focus of fan adoration after The Empire Strikes Back. And I think it’s important to note that just as plenty of women love bounty hunters (yes, even Boba Fett), plenty of men enjoy content that centers around handmaidens.
What follows is a look at the history of the handmaidens – who they were in the story, who played them, what other content they did (or did not) appear in, and why they are important to Star Wars fans.
Origins of the Naboo Handmaidens through The Phantom Menace (1970s-1999)
A lot has been written about the first few drafts George Lucas wrote for A New Hope–then just known as Star Wars. In one of these drafts, Princess Leia had two handmaidens named Alana and Mina. Here’s a paragraph from an early draft that mentions the handmaidens.
No handmaidens appeared with Leia in A New Hope (or any of the original trilogy films), but like many early ideas from Lucas, the idea of handmaidens was brought back for the prequel films.
Handmaidens First Look
The Phantom Menace (TPM) debuted in theaters on May 19th, 1999. There are five main handmaidens in the film – Sabé, Rabé, Eirtaé, Saché, and Yané. The handmaidens weren’t featured in the infamous teaser for TPM, but they did pop up in a few trailers and TV spots.
You can spot the handmaidens a few times in this trailer below.
Interestingly, at about the 50 second mark you see the screenshot below of a handmaiden standing behind Queen Amidala. In the finished film the handmaiden was removed from this scene. Everything behind Amidala’s chair is blacked out.
Before The Phantom Menace opened in theaters fans could read the novelization. That seems bonkers now, but novelizations releasing before films hit theaters used to be how it was done. The TPM novelization by Terry Brooks debuted on April 21st. The junior novelization from Patricia C. Wrede released in early May.
In the Brooks version readers certainly got a sense of who the handmaidens were but not all of the five main handmaidens are named (Saché and Yané’s names don’t appear). In Wrede’s book only Sabé and Eirtaé are mentioned by name. I was a bit surprised any of the handmaidens were mentioned by name in these books other than Sabé – although it does make sense that the two both not mentioned in these books are Saché and Yané – the two handmaidens who stay behind when Padmé takes Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé to Coruscant.
Also in early May (also before the film came out) the first issue of The Phantom Menace comic adaptation released. This issue included one of the most memorable handmaiden scenes (“We are brave your highness”) but for the most part the handmaidens are lurking in shadows rarely speaking or drawing much attention (which again, is their role in many situations so I don’t mean this as a slight).
There were a lot of children’s books that came out in 1999 related to The Phantom Menace. Some came out before the film while others were released months later. Looking back, it’s interesting that there wasn’t more handmaiden content in the Queen Amidala Paper Doll Book released on April 25th, 1999 or books like Star Wars Episode I Journal: Queen Amidala which released May 3, 1999. But the handmaidens do make a few appearances.
The handmaidens didn’t appear on posters for The Phantom Menace that I know of – which is not surprising – although the Knights of Ren certainly appeared in a lot of The Rise of Skywalker promo materials.
I do think it’s very notable that none of the handmaidens were included in The Phantom Menace action figures that released before the movie came out. (NOTE: Rabé eventually gets one, but not before the release of TPM which is where we are at with this timeline).
In early May Hasbro released their first wave of figures from TPM. You can see from this list that many blink and you’ll miss them characters were made into action figures, but none of the handmaidens made the cut. I wouldn’t expect all five handmaidens to have been made into toys, but it’s odd that Sabé, the queen’s decoy, was left out when a red Twi’lek named Shakka who sat in Watto’s box during the podrace got a figure in a Cinema Scene 3-Pack.
It appears Hasbro didn’t think young girls (or anyone) would be very interested in buying toys for The Phantom Menace that focused on any female character besides Padmé Amidala.
We’ve reached the part of the handmaiden timeline that brought them to the screen. On May 19, 1999 The Phantom Menace opened in theaters. None of the handmaidens were mentioned by name on screen, but the main five handmaidens appeared in the credits.
The largest handmaiden role was Sabé. She served as the Queen’s decoy and spoke for her in many scenes. Sabé, Eirtaé, and Rabé followed Padmé Amidala on her mission to Coruscant. Yané and Saché remained on Naboo during the Trade Federation invasion of the planet.
Sabé was one of Keira Knightley’s first acting roles. (I’m not sure why the spelling of her name is different in the credits). She went on to star in Pride & Prejudice, The Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Colette. Knightley has spoken during interviews about not having any idea really who her character was in TPM and now, ironically, it might make sense for Knightley to star in a Sabé TV series on Disney+ (spoiler alert: there is a lot more Sabé content to come)
Sofia Coppola played Saché. Coppola had acted before she appeared in TPM but she would become much more well-known as a writer and director (Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring, The Beguiled) in the years to come.
The other three handmaidens had few, if any, acting roles according to IMDB. Yané was Candice Orwell’s only role.
Liz Wilson, who played Eirtaé, also appeared in the 1995 film Life 101.
Rabé, played by Karol Cristina da Silva, appeared in the 1999 film Dead on Time.
There are also handmaidens to be found at the end of The Phantom Menace. I’m sure George Lucas didn’t think anyone would notice that these handmaidens don’t appear to be the same as the ones we had previously seen in the film.
But here I am, 20 plus years later, noticing. The handmaiden in the screenshot below, second from the left, was actually given a name, Fé. She was played by Fay David. I believe Lisa Lloyd played one of the other handmaidens in this scene.
I obsessed about this sequence in an earlier handmaiden article if you’d like to go down that particular rabbit hole.
Shortly after The Phantom Menace debuted the Episode 1 Visual Dictionary was released. The handmaidens received a two-page spread in The Phantom Menace Visual Dictionary – something that would not be repeated in future visual dictionaries for Episodes II and III.
All five handmaidens were named in this Episode I spread. Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé each got their own sections. A few details from this book include that handmaidens were given bodyguard training, Rabé helped the queen prepare her “exotic hairstyles”, and Eirtaé helped the queen and her fellow handmaidens with royal protocol.
After watching the film we don’t know a lot about the handmaidens as individuals but we do know several important things about their relationship to Padmé. The handmaidens are with Padmé seemingly at all times. They help and support her as companions, stylists, and most importantly, bodyguards. They are loyal, fearless, and put their lives at risk for their Queen without question. Plus, they have cool matching outfits.
No wonder young girls who saw The Phantom Menace in theaters adored them.
Coming up in Part II of History of the Naboo Handmaidens: more books that released after The Phantom Menace debuted plus the handmaidens from Attack of the Clones.