You can love a movie more than any other. It can be your absolute favorite film in the world. And yet, there will always be one criticism someone can put forth that, for whatever reason, you kind of have to concede.
When it comes to the Phantom Menace, there is one little thing that gets brought up that I do have to admit is pretty silly: Why, oh why, wise old Qui-Gon Jinn, did you have to bring Anakin Skywalker – a nine year old boy – into an occupied city with heavily armed freedom fighters? Seems a pretty “derp” moment for the Jedi master.
But this column isn’t about acquiescing to critics! This column is about celebrating I-III in all their glory!
So in that spirit, I’m going to attempt to justify Qui-Gon’s decision here. I shouldn’t have to, since there are plenty of equally boneheaded choices with minor consequences - if any - made by main characters throughout the saga (walking out into what you think is the vacuum of space with naught but a tiny oxygen mask springs to mind). But those are all either ignored or handwaved with justifications appealing to either style or story.
|"Operative word here being 'think,' which I guess we aren't"|
Well, now it’s my turn.
To explain this, we’re going to look at it in two ways: the Doylist and the Watsonian. This is just a fancy way of saying “In-Universe” vs “Real Life”. The names are a reference to Sherlock Holmes. The Doylist would be the perspective in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle explains why he wrote things this way, where the Watsonian is how the character of Watson explains what happened in the world of the story.
We’re going to start with the Doylist answer because it’s the simplest. The truth is that the only real reason Qui-Gon brought Anakin to Theed was because George Lucas wanted to get Anakin Skywalker in the cockpit of a Naboo Starfighter. Simple as that.
|"This is TENSE!"|
Lucas has said many times that while I-III are original stories, there was a sort of “rhyming” going on with Anakin and Luke’s respective stories. Lucas wanted a moment that mirrored Luke’s part in the Death Star assault from A New Hope, but twisting it on its ear to show how different Anakin really is. Luke is older, slightly more experienced, but wins because he trusts in the Force and lets go. Anakin, by contrast, is still a nine-year-old in a machine designed for someone at least twice his age. Though he’s a mechanical wunderkind with the greatest natural Force talent in history, he’s still a kid. Gone is the cool-as-a-cucumber pilot seen in the podrace, he’s in an unfamiliar machine and, though he learns fast, pretty much saves the day completely by accident.
This sets up how while Luke is more ready to trust in the Force, Anakin trusts only his own abilities and his own power. This is one of the keys to Anakin’s entire personality in the following films.
|"Stay in that cockpit!"|
“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but there needs to be a better reason to be there, because as I see it there is none.” Well, now it’s time for the Watsonian perspective. This will fall into the realm of conjecture a bit, but that never stopped literally everyone else while talking about these films.
First of all, let’s think about Qui-Gon’s options here. He’s responsible for this little boy, so he can’t leave him in some Coruscant orphanage. He’s still determined to train him in the will of the Force by hook or by crook, because he’s special.
So on Naboo, there are two options. The first is that he leaves him with the Gungans. The Gungans who, by the way, are about to stage a massive diversionary battle in which many of them WILL be cannon fodder. If it turns into a massacre and nobody is left, the Battle Droids would likely shoot the boy indiscriminately if found, and if not the boy would spend his days alone in a swamp (some might consider that Boss Nass was away from the action, but I have doubts he would evade capture for long if something bad happened).
|"Wesa marchin' twelve-by-twelve, hurrah hurrah!"|
Perhaps Qui-Gon felt Anakin was safer where he and Obi-Wan could keep an eye on him. Perhaps he didn’t trust anyone else with the boy’s safety. Perhaps he was confident that he and/or Obi-Wan would survive the attack and be able to rescue Anakin if anything happened.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, the will of the Force was telling Qui-Gon (in a voice no doubt similar to that of George Lucas) that Anakin needed to be in Theed in that moment, and that everyone’s lives were depending on it.
|"The Force is telling me this is a 'sneak preview'."|
You know, when I put it that way, it doesn’t sound quite so silly anymore.
[[P.S.! Coming next week: Backlogged Anniversaries and my take on Frozen! Stay tuned, True Believers!]]