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It Was Qui-Gon All Along

by on February 19, 2022

I was rewatching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace today (yes, I know, but Kenobi is coming out soon), and something occurred to me. I’m not as learned in Star Wars canon as others: I’ve read some of the books but it’s been a while, and from I understand it’s all Legends now anyway. I’ve seen Boba Fett and The Mandalorian, but not the Clone Wars, Rebels, or Bad Batch shows. So, bona fides established, here’s my problem.

There’s one moment in Phantom Menace that stood out to me on the rewatch. I’ll skip the detailed recap since I assume you’re reasonably familiar with it anyway, but to sum up, our heroes are trying to get Padme Amidala to Coruscant so she can rally the Galactic Senate to stop the Trade Federation from its occupation of Padme’s planet Naboo. For plot reasons, they’ve wound up on Tatooine, everyone’s favorite Wretched Hive of Scum and VIllainy, wherein they’re trying to acquire parts to repair their hyperdrive and proceed on with the mission. This results in finding little Anakin Skywalker and his mother Shmi, who unfortunately are slaves owned by junk dealer Watto. After more plot, Qui-Gon cuts a deal to wager that Anakin will win the upcoming pod race and if he does, Qui-Gon and Co. get their parts from Watto and Watto keeps the winnings; if he doesn’t, Watto keeps the ship. Anakin wins of course, and the story goes on from there.

There’s one more bit though. Right before the race, as you know, Watto mentions that he bet heavily against Anakin to win. Qui-Gon suggests a side bet: Anakin’s racing pod against Anakin and Shmi Skywalker’s freedom. Watto says nope, pod’s not worth two people, just one, but hey, let’s roll the dice on it. He pulls out what he calls a chance cube: red for Anakin, blue for Shmi. Qui-Gon uses the Force (natch) to make the thing land on red. And so he ends up with Anakin, Shmi stays behind on the planet with Watto, and the movie rolls on.

I understand there’s a theory out there that if Qui-Gon hadn’t been killed by Darth Maul, he might’ve gone back later and freed Shmi. But he says nothing in the film that indicates this. He tells Anakin that he tried to free Shmi, “but Watto wouldn’t have it.” (an interesting phrasing that conveniently leaves out the game of chance). He tells Shmi he’ll watch over Anakin, but I don’t recall that he says anything about “Oh, and hey, I’m coming back for you later.” Indeed, at several points during his visit to Tatooine he makes clear that he is not there to free the slaves. He only freed Anakin because he sensed Anakin was significant in the Force. Especially when you consider Qui-Gon’s view of the Living Force and his focus on keeping concentration in the “here and now”, I’m not entirely sure he would ever have gone back to Tatooine at all even if he had survived to train Anakin.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? He focused on the here and now, ignored the obvious problem of the Republic tolerating slavery on the Outer Rim, and made the snap decision to separate Anakin from his mother (without checking with her first, incidentally). He did this without considering the possibilities: i.e., assuming that he might not be the one to train Anakin, or that it might not be a good idea to train Anakin at all, or especially that separating Anakin from the only parent he’s known and leaving said parent on a planet like Tatooine might not work out so well in the long run. Qui-Gon doesn’t do long-run, remember? He does here and now.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, hey, Anakin becoming a Jedi meant he wouldn’t have seen Shmi again anyway. Perhaps, but suppose Qui-Gon had managed to effect Shmi’s freedom and get her away somehow. Suppose he’d thought to make a second bet, or threatened Watto with his lightsaber, or found the detonator to the bomb planted inside Shmi, whatever. There’s always a way. Or maybe he refuses to make the initial bet and manages to liberate both of them later. The point is, there would’ve been a difference between leaving Shmi somewhere safe, with Anakin knowing she was safe, and leaving her in slavery in Tatooine with Anakin not knowing that. Qui-Gon made that choice in a blink and a roll of a chance cube.

Didn’t quite go his way in the end, did it?

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