The Real Reason You Hate "The Phantom Menace"

That reason?

Qui-Gon Jinn is a dick.

I saw “The Phantom Menace” on Friday night, in 3D (the 3D looks good, by the way, one or two bad moments excepted), the first time in thirteen years. Oh yes, like many of you, I was there on opening night, and like a lot of you, I walked away disappointed. More than ten years later, I walked out disappointed again, but for entirely different reasons.

I could rip the script, the editing, the filmmaking, but everybody’s done that. Underneath all of that is one simple decision that quite frankly says far too much, intentionally or unintentionally, about George Lucas, and probably stuck in your craw without your even realizing it.

First, let’s look at Star Wars. The rebels, the guys fighting a presumably oppressive and restrictive regime, are in the right. Sure, they screw up. Before I worked here, I wrote an entire article for Cracked about how they screwed up. But knocking over the Empire is in no way a bad thing.

Now look at Qui-Gon. He’s the unconventional guy in the script, the hippie, the one who takes risks, thinks with his heart. He stands up and tells off the obstinately bureaucratic and oppressive Man…and he’s wrong. So, so incredibly f**king wrong he triggers the fall of the Republic, killing untold millions and putting everyone else firmly under the boot of a guy so evil, his chosen name is Sidious.

Stop and think about the implications of that for a minute. To the extent the original trilogy of Star Wars has a message (and that’s debatable), that message is “it’s OK to rebel against oppression, and the people in authority don’t necessarily know better than you.”

The message of “The Phantom Menace”, embodied in Quin-Gon Jinn and his actions, is the exact opposite: “Shut up and listen to your elders, you stupid rebellious kids. They know better than you.”

Let’s not forget, the Republic is pretty firmly established as oppressive; they’re basically going to let Naboo burn because they’re too bureaucratically constipated. These are people who need rebelling against. And the Jedi Council isn’t much better; Qui-Gon walks in and says “Hey, guys, I found this nine-year-old with power that dwarfs everyone in the room, maybe we should defuse this ticking time bomb?”, and their response is “Naaaaaaah, why would we do that?” They were absolutely right not to train him, but they were also basically dooming everybody in a fifty-mile radius to the ending of “Chronicle” once this kid’s hormones kicked in. This is an organization that needs shaking up.

But Qui-Gon goes about solving these problems in the exact wrong way. Take the Pod Race: he’s making a nine-year-old risk death for auto parts, that he’ll win because he gambled a ship he doesn’t own, and for giggles, he’s also staked that nine-year-old’s hot rod, that he built with his bare hands, oh, and also the kids’ freedom from slavery on his winning a race he’s never even completed.

He’s even a dick in death: “Hey, Obi-Wan, since I’m dying, why don’t you take over training this incredibly dangerous child, a job for which you are blatantly unqualified both according to my bosses and the fact that your hotheadness in this fight gave away a major advantage and got me stabbed. Oh, and let’s make him a Jedi, instead of just making sure he doesn’t become a mass murderer the Jedi Knights have to put down like Cujo with telekinesis the first time he gets a zit.”

It’s pretty much incredibly depressing no matter how you slice it. If it’s intentional, George Lucas basically spent hundreds of millions of dollars to tell you to get off the lawn you weren’t even standing on. If it’s unintentional, that’s kind of worse, because it means he doesn’t realize that’s what he was doing.

In its own way, it’s actually kind of tragic. The prequels were always about money, because George just doesn’t have enough ever apparently, but they were also about control. They were a bid by Lucas to assert that he was still relevant as a filmmaker, still a revolutionary, still the Rebellion and not the Empire. One wonders if Qi-Gon was in fact Lucas inserting himself into the script.

In light of his actions, that’s probably the most depressing idea of all.

image courtesy Lucasfilm