Lately I have been re-reading Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars trilogy Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Zahn is widely regarded as the best author of Star Wars fiction, and largely because of these three books. I have just finished the first book in the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, and one thing that interested/amused me was Zahn’s habit of picking a bit of fun at the way Return of the Jedi ended, particularly the fact that the Rebels win simply by blowing up the second Death Star and the Super Star Destroyer (and, you know, killing Vader and the Emperor). Captain Pellaeon happens to be the most frequent spokesperson for what must be Zahn’s thoughts. Consider: “Pellaeon issued the order to retreat. And wondered, once again, what the Battle of Endor would have been like if Thrawn had been in command.” (page 399 of the Bantam paperback). It appears that I am not the only one that thinks events would have transpired differently in the Star Wars movies if they had been written better.
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (01.10.06-01.20.25)
The story continues with Anakin, our plucky podrace winner, being congratulated by everyone inside the pod hangar and Qui-Gon slipping off to ensure that Watto pays his debts. Watto suddenly realizes that he has lost “everything” and accuses Qui-Gon of “swindling” him. Jinn retorts “whenever you gamble, my friend, eventually you lose” (01.10.48). I don’t see how Watto lost “everything”. He actually won the winner’s purse, which must be a substantial amount. He only loses the resale value of the parts Qui-Gon needs and Anakin, but I am thinking it would not have been long before Anakin either found a way to locate his implanted bomb or killed Watto for his freedom. Either way, Qui-Gon is right: gambling like there is no tomorrow is a good way to lose a great deal. The Jedi may not have been smart to put everything on Anakin’s shoulders and win everything through a bet, but Watto’s overconfidence in Sebulba and his greed made him an easy mark. Although, had reality intervened and Anakin lost, the same thing could be said of Qui-Gon. I guess the moral of Lucas’ story is: don’t gamble. My moral is: don’t gamble, especially when important things are at stake.
Qui-Gon delivers his extorted parts to Obi-Wan, then leaves to complete “unfinished business”. Kenobi’s insight serves him well: “why do I get the feeling that we have picked up another pathetic life form?” (01.11.29). Kenobi is apparently amused/annoyed by Qui-Gon’s habit of picking up strays, perhaps feeling like he got the eccentric uncle of Jedi Masters and isn’t too impressed with Anakin Skywalker (it is hinted at here, but is made more explicit later on). This brings up an oft cited problem with the Prequel Trilogy: George Lucas, intentionally or otherwise, contradicts himself and his own history throughout the Phantom Menace and subsequent films.
The most glaring example of this is the character of Qui-Gon Jinn as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master. Kenobi implicitly states that Yoda was his master. Then, 16 years later, Obi-Wan reappears under the tutelage of Jinn? I can understand the problems that Yoda, as a practical character, would have caused in a role that was more extensive than standing around a swamp, but little effort appears to have been made in reconciling this discrepancy. Kenobi does not even interact with Yoda in the film until after he becomes a Jedi Knight. In fact, the only move whatsoever to correct this mistake didn’t occur until Attack of the Clones when it is revealed that Yoda apparently trains all the little tykes in their first bit of lightsaber training (more on that when I get there). One could argue that because Yoda was the leader of the Jedi Council he was the de facto master of all Jedi, but Kenobi clearly implies the personal relationship that he has with Jinn, not some organizational concept. In this instance, my guess is that Lucas didn’t notice or care about the error until fans got vocal and he wrote the scene into Episode II. Furthermore, Kenobi mentions in A New Hope that Anakin was “already a great pilot…but I was amazed with how strongly the Force was with him” but so far in the Phantom Menace, they haven’t even met. He didn’t witness the podrace, and his only clue that Anakin can even use the Force is a midichlorian count, which Kenobi doesn’t even know is Anakin’s until Qui-Gon connects the boy to the blood sample. Furthermore, later in the movie, Kenobi will agree with the council that Anakin shouldn’t be trained and is dangerous. Kenobi, in Return of the Jedi, states that “I thought I could instruct him as well as Yoda” when in fact Jinn was about to teach Anakin, and Yoda wasn’t really involved at all. I maintain that if George Lucas had bothered to take a little bit more care in the writing of the Phantom Menace, this, and many other inconsistencies and illogical occurrences could have been easily avoided.
Qui-Gon returns to collect Anakin, and that occurs through a very realistic scene portraying the difficulty of a small boy leaving his mother and not knowing if he will ever see her again. The writing here is well done, I think.
Except there is another small problem brought to light by this exchange: does one choose to be Jedi? This is more of an ethical question and not a writing problem. Yoda is against Luke’s training because he is too old and too reckless. He is against Anakin’s training because he is too old, fearful, and angry. It is an accepted truism of the Jedi order that they take Force-sensitive infants to be trained to be Jedi (eliminating the age problem) although that isn’t explicit in the films. The only hint of this is a comment made by Qui-Gon to Shmi Skywalker, when he stated that if Anakin “had been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early” (00.47.10).
But what right do the Jedi have to do this? In this scene Qui-Gon makes a point of ensuring that Anakin knows what is involved in accepting membership in the ranks of the Jedi, and that such a decision must be a conscious choice. Kenobi mirrors this with Luke. The problem is: any conscripted infant never has a chance to make that choice. Even if you ask them later in life, they have already been indoctrinated in the Jedi way of thinking and will be very reluctant to leave it. In hundreds of years of history, only 19-20 Knights ever left the Order (even Qui-Gon, though he is very different than most Jedi, chooses to remain in the Order) giving credence to this fact. This could be a minor point because infant recruitment isn’t really touched on in the films, but the idea seems to be related to the Jedi sanction against attachment that becomes a major theme of both Episode II and III. Such a sanction doesn’t make too much sense, biologically or philosophically, but in either case, it backfires catastrophically with Anakin because no one ever goes back to free his mother, and apparently no one ever allows him to do so, and it is his marriage to Amidala that directly influences his lust for power. I will try to flesh this idea out more in my analysis of key scenes in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but I think that, while not directly bad writing, the recruitment of little kids and the forbidding of personal relationships is bad thinking on the part of the Jedi Order.
Lastly, Maul tracks down the Jedi and is too late to stop them, and Amidala comforts Anakin, but in sandwiched betwixt both scenes is a little moment between Nute Gunray and Sio Bibble back on Naboo. More than anything I suspect this scene exists to remind the viewer that Naboo actually matters when most of the characters seem to have forgotten it. However, Gunray implies that he is starving the residents of the planet. This makes no sense. I’ve said it before, but Gunray is making himself a war criminal and no war criminal will be allowed to retain control of anything, treaty or no treaty. Anybody who has any clue about history knows this. Also, Bibble isn’t much smarter because he claims that Naboo is a democracy “and the people have decided” that no matter what they will resist (01.18.25). Uh huh. I highly doubt the people would support the decisions of elected leaders that nobly decide to sacrifice their own populace because they have high morals about invasions. In general, oppressed, hungry people are not very reasonable. Bibble and other officials might be decided, but I have strong reservations about the resolve of their constituents. I just don’t think that George Lucas understands how invasions and occupations actually work and what their legal ramifications are.
Anyway, Queen Amidala, having finally gotten her car fixed, is on her way to Coruscant.