I like Qui-Gon Jinn.
He took it on the chin in the last post, but I really do. Qui-Gon’s played by Liam Neeson who is a skilled and affable actor. He’s a Jedi, associated with the good guys, but a little bit of a rebel who does things his own way. He’s calm. He says wise-sounding things. He isn’t quick to violence, but nor is he afraid to act. He dies nobly.
This isn’t the same as being slick, or duplicitous, or clever. We are genuinely supposed to like Qui-Gon Jinn. He is arguably our perspective on this world.
And yet everything he does or says is wrong.
I have a bad feeling about this.
I don't sense anything.
It's not about the mission, Master, it's something...elsewhere...elusive.
Don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.
Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future…
….but not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan.
Yes, Master...how do you think the trade viceroy will deal with the chancellor's demands?
These Federation types are cowards. The negotiations will be short.
Well then. Our very first introduction to Jedi in the new trilogy (or anyone of note), and Qui-Gon is saying a bunch of dramatic irony that is incorrect. That will shortly be proved incorrect, and the audience knows it.
He’s a Jedi about to be hit with a major trap, and he doesn’t sense anything. His assessment of the people they are about to negotiate with is not only wrong, but also condescending and reductionist. You would think an ambassador maybe would have some sense of the Trade Federations demands or interests. You would expect a quasi-Buddhist monk would be particularly attuned to a mutually respectful solution for everyone involved.
(“But that would be boring, Blue.” The movie started with scrolling text about taxation of trade routes. I think they aren’t shying away from consideration of interests to avoid things being dry.)
We can tell from the getgo that Qui-Gon has bad judgment about factual matters. And yet, there are deeper concerns in that exchange too. At the beginning of the Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan senses more subtle currents to watch out for.
Qui-Gon tells him to shut up and focus on the matter at hand. Focus on the phantom menace.
Qui-Gon shows this myopia frequently. It’s perhaps even more damning when we get to Tatooine.
I had a dream I was a Jedi. I came back here and freed all the slaves...have you come to free us?
No, I'm afraid not…
I think you have...why else would you be here?
I can see there's no fooling you...You mustn't let anyone know about us...we're on our way to Coruscant, the central system in the Republic, on a very important mission, and it must be kept secret.
Qui-Gon has a mission more important than freeing a planet of slaves. Even when he later figures out that the person asking him about this is his messiah, he still doesn’t get “distracted” by ending slavery.
At some point “not paying attention to the bigger picture” is pretty self-defeating. And immoral.
(We’ll discuss the Jedi Council scene where Qui-Gon debates Yoda about what to do with Anakin later. But suffice to say, Master Jinn does not hold up very well there either.)
Among disillusioned Jedi, Qui-Gon might be most known for the infamous “midichlorians” scene. Let’s look at the dialogue there.
Strange. The transmission seems to be in good order, but the reading's off the chart...over twenty thousand.
(almost to himself) That's it then.
Even Master Yoda doesn't have a midi-chlorian count that high!
No Jedi has.
What does it mean?
I'm not sure.
He is aware enough to notice the Christ figure of this galaxy, but little knowledge of what such a figure would mean. And from his reaction, little interest either. He found the highest number. Stay focused on that, and worry about what it means later.
And yet, Qui-Gon isn’t bad. His emphasis on the moment sounds fairly wise and appealing. We like him, and see things as he sees them (like how annoying that Jar Jar is.) He doesn’t dabble in the “dark side” or anything particularly stupid.
Qui-Gon’s flaws resist blame. The sign of most villains, or even tragic figures, is that if they were removed or replaced then the bad things wouldn’t happen. But we’re never given any sign of that. This Jedi is a predictable result of the system that created him, and the errors he brings about would probably happen anyway with someone else.
This is good though. You can’t teach people flaws just by associated those flaws with “bad” people. Because we’re not bad people, not you and I. So we couldn’t fall for the trap that someone comically evil or pathetic does.
But maybe we could fall for a mistake that even Qui-Gon Jinn can make. Maybe we can get so full of annoyance that we treat someone different from us as subhuman. Maybe we can focus on the tree so much that we miss the forest. This is above all, a much more realistic than the sins in most stories.
I hear you nodding skeptically again. “Maybe you can read this Blue, but no way the author intended to make such charismatically sympathetic, yet flawed heroes.”
There’s been a lot of commentary in television about shows like the Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. These shows create characters (notably, white male, powerful characters_ who do very obviously evil things, but are portrayed very sympathetically. Often the audience gets more caught up in rooting for this anti-hero, that they are shocked when the series ends with a comeuppance of some sort to the fairly evil person
The turning point that started this genre is generally viewed as the year 2000, with several television shows before that building towards the direction of “moral doubt with sympathy”.
Episode I, of course, came out in 1999.