Padmé wears the flame gown for five key scenes: the escape from Naboo, meeting R2-D2, meeting Jar-Jar, receiving a gift from Anakin, and the arrival on Coruscant. Through dialogue, action, and costuming these scenes foreshadow Padmé’s legacy in the Saga.
The flame gown is tied directly to both Padmé’s physical journey through space, and her thematic journey from pawn to leader. The escape from Naboo is Natalie Portman’s first appearance as Padmé rather than Queen Amidala. She is a handmaiden, one of many, and she is ordered around and manipulated by the Trade Federation, the Jedi, and Senator Palpatine in the shadows. Sabé allows her the final decision to stay or go, but she is following the path laid out for her. Padmé leaves Naboo to plead her case to the Senate and Republic in Coruscant. And she wears the orange ombre gown for both the beginning and end of that journey.
Brave and Kind
“We are brave, your highness,” Padmé tells Sabé in her role as the Queen. It is a code to indicate she is willing to risk leaving Naboo with the Jedi. But it is also a truth. Bravery is one of Padmé’s core traits, something we see throughout the prequels. She is headstrong and she runs into danger.
We learned another of Padmé’s core traits as early as Return of the Jedi, when Leia described her mother as “beautiful, kind, but sad.” Beautiful is evident and sad is required. Kindness is clear in her interactions with Jar-Jar and Anakin while dressed in her flame gown.
While cleaning R2-D2, also a visual parallel with Luke in A New Hope, Padmé greets and befriends Jar-Jar, a gungan. Though they share a planet, the human population is in control of Naboo, and there’s no expectation Padmé would be curious about or kind towards a gungan. She is because she’s Padmé, and it ultimately leads to her alliance with Boss Nass and victory over the Trade Federation.
Padmé is also curious about and kind towards Anakin in all of their interactions in the first film. But while in the flame gown she receives the Japor Snippet, a symbol of their relationship she is eventually buried with. At the time she’s just viewed a recording of her advisors on Naboo pleading for help, but she still takes the time to comfort Anakin. Unlike the Jedi he ends up with, Padmé understands and accepts that he misses his mother, and that he needs reassurance that she is his friend, that he is not alone. She reassures him again when they arrive at Coruscant and she makes a point of meeting his gaze, smiling, and gesturing for him to stay with her.
We are the spark, that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down.Poe Dameron, The Last Jedi
The orange handmaiden robe is called the “flame gown” due to its ombre color palette in red, orange, and yellow. I think it also resembles a sunrise or sunset, either of which works for the story. The Phantom Menace is Episode I, the beginning of the story, and Padmé’s actions propel the titular wars in the stars. The Phantom Menace and the prequel trilogy in total also represent the end of the Republic and Padmé’s actions, particularly with Anakin, are a straight pathway to her death.
Padmé is the first spark in the war, the flame that burns bright and burns out but whose legacy lives on.