Friday, February 14, 2014

Don't Bring a Kid to a Gunfight

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

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.

"Ahhh I'mgonnadieI'mgonnadieI'mgonnadie!"

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!]]


  1. Another example would also be Han's rescure from Jabba in ROTJ. Lando is sent in as a inside man, that makes some sense. Turning Chewie over didn't make much sense. After Leia saves Han what would they do about poor Chewie? Yeah Leia is using him as a decoy to get in like in ANH by how are they going to get him out? Was Leia working independentlyof Luke trying to save Han, or was her getting captured part of the plan? (through mostly an excuse to see her in a bikini). Giving the droids away is mixed, R2 sneaks a weapon by which makes a little sense if things go wrong, while C3PO doesn't really make much sense except to help explain what's going on to the viewers. Then Luke finally shows up. The whole rescure plan is a bit messy storywise.

  2. The film did explain Qui-Gon brought along Anakin for "unofficial trainning". Qui-Gon couldn't just leave Anakin alone on Coruscant. I think it is clear Qui-Gon didn't intend for Anakin to fly off into a space battle. Anakin was Qui-Gon’s responsibility. Who else would take him? The Council, at that point, had rejected the boy, thus leaving him in Qui-Gon’s care. Certainly all the Gungans and the queen’s security were involved in the battle. The queen's starship was captured after it landed according to Nute Gunray while talking to Sids. So it would have been bad to leave Anakin in that.

  3. I do think that Qui-Gon could have left Anakin behind in some clearing or hiding place near the spot where Padme and Boss Nass met. I do recall Qui-Gon insisting that Anakin stay hidden and out of sight in the Naboo hangar. But, as Anonymous had pointed out, he couldn't leave Anakin alone on Coruscant.

  4. I have seen the final script for The Phantom Menace, and there's a part of the script missing that explains it. After the Jedi Council tell Q-G & Obi to go back to Naboo, Qui-Gon asks what to do about Anakin, saying that Anakin is his charge, and that he has nowhere else to go. They agreed that Anakin was his charge, and Yoda told him to take Anakin back with them, but not train him; "Take him with you, but train him not".

    Considering how they didn't believe Qui-Gon about the Sith being back, and that they'd agreed that the Force was strong with Anakin, I think they may have been waiting for final proof of both Anakin's being the Chosen One, as well as the Sith's return.

    But to bring a child onto a planet where there are not only Trade Fed droid forces, but potentially a Sith Apprentice as well? Mind you, that cockpit was perhaps the safest place for Anakin, since it could be shut, and Anakin was small enough. And it wouldn't have been much better out on the grassland, where the Gungans were fighting the droid armies.