I know this question is not in the original lineup, but I couldn’t answer questions on least favorite romances, unbearable shipping, least favorite couples, without showing you that I can appreciate romance, and without demonstrating that there is one couple in the Star Wars franchise that I ship with all my heart, to the point of inventing not-strictly-canonical conspiracy theories to make it possible. Sometimes I do believe in romance, true love, and soulmates.
He’s a Jedi Master with a long, wearying career behind him: he’s trained three apprentices with varying degrees of success, fought creatures and monsters, gotten disrespect from his peers, seen and heard horrible things, suffered deaths, betrayals, and tortures. On a routine negotiation mission, he and his apprentice are cast into an overwhelming and disturbing chain of events, and he moves from negotiator to bodyguard to the Queen of Naboo. He winds up on Tatooine due to engine trouble, and heads into the hostile alien town in search of parts.
She’s a simple woman invested in the survival, first, of her son, and then of herself. While Anakin’s origin — and what was done to her to result in that — remains mysterious, she fell into slavery as an adolescent, kidnapped by pirates when the rest of her family was killed. She is used to a hard life, has learned to be cynical of a Republic that can’t afford to enforce its laws on the Outer Rim, and she takes the unwanted, uninvited presence of her son into stride. Although a Tatooine resident for only six years, she knows there’s no hope for stranded Republicans here.
They meet when her nine-year-old son Anakin brings in this cluster of strangers right off the street. They could be a man and his daughter (or even, given Tatooine’s culture, a man with his young wife), nonhuman manager, and an astromech droid. Although the girl is smooth-faced and her flowing locks betray unfamiliarity with the desert, and they are obviously outlanders trying not to raise attention, Shmi doesn’t feel the need to distrust them and welcomes them to wait the storm out in their humble hovel. Qui-Gon greets her courteously, explains their presence as Anakin is too distracted to, and offers food to help pay their way at the modest table.
While Padmé and Anakin “play” — he shows off all his boring crap — Qui-Gon and Jar Jar help with dinner. There’s no way of knowing what they talk about, though Qui-Gon does step aside to answer a comm call from Obi-Wan and you can see Shmi there in the background. Dinner conversation is mostly neutral and polite, with the exception of Padmé’s bringing up the slavery issue (you’d think a future senator would show more tact). Anakin brings up his obsession with podracing, and for a moment, anyway, Qui-Gon is distracted by the glimmer of a way out of this mess. And yet, is it Anakin’s mewling, “Mom, you say the biggest problem in this universe is no one helps each other” that convinces her to let her son do this enormously dangerous thing? Or is it Padmé’s gentle reference to Qui-Gon, and the Jedi’s kind eyes as he asks after some friendly person who might help them?
However it was, Qui-Gon tries to resist his feelings for her at the same time the draw of the Force surrounding her son makes it impossible. (On the other hand, they say show kindness to the child and you will attract the mother.) And note how cool he tries to play it as he’s all, “Soooo . . . who was his father?” It’s so easy for Qui-Gon’s dismissive attitude at the end of the Tatooine segment to distract from his feelings for her — first he puts her son in danger, brushes off her concerns, and makes a wager for her son to get free and not her. But, come on, what would Shmi do with freedom if Anakin didn’t have it? Use your gray matter!
Anakin of course wins the Podrace — the Force could hardly allow anything otherwise to happen. Anakin gets his freedom. Qui-Gon knows he can take the boy — whom he consistently refers to as “the boy” — to Coruscant and get him enrolled in Jedi training. Remember he has no intention of training him himself until the Council crosses him! As he sends Anakin off to collect his things and get ready to leave, Qui-Gon steps to Shmi and asks if she’ll be all right. He puts his hand on her shoulder.
Lucas didn’t script this, and, naturally, tried to cut it, but Liam held his ground. It’s a good thing, too, because in many respects Lucas’ Qui-Gon is almost inhumanly callous throughout the last half of the movie. You can attribute it to general incompetence from the director, sure, but I also think — and Liam Neeson must’ve felt it because he put that tender gesture in — that Qui-Gon’s distracted in more ways than one. He’s a man in love.
While the camera is pandering to Anakin’s farewell-droid speech, what is Qui-Gon telling Shmi? “I’ll watch out for him, you have my word,” he says just before the camera cuts, as she opens her mouth as if to speak. What else does Qui-Gon tell her? Does he promise to come back? His harsh, “I didn’t come here to free slaves” from a day or so earlier (Lucas’ timelining, again unclear) was a weak attempt to break his feelings for her. Instead, he has decided he’d rather break his vows.
He flies in the face of the Council more then usual. Is it because he’s so invested in Anakin’s identity as the Chosen One? Or is it because he has no plan B for how to get the mother if the Jedi won’t take her kid?
Qui-Gon has been fighting the Jedi Council for closing in on half a century by now, probably. He’s worn out. If you believe that he loved the Jedi Knight Tahl, then he has a background of one love lost due to the Council’s madness and insane celibacy requirements. (Fun side note — Ki-Adi-Mundi, due to underpopulatino of his homeworld, was granted permission to marry not one, but five women. Celibacy is clearly not demanded by the Force.) He and Obi-Wan are bickering the entire way to Naboo, but is it just because Obi-Wan and the Council are at odds with Qui-Gon about Anakin’s potential? Or is it because his master confided in him that he was taking a giant step and leaving the Order? Obi-Wan has been his apprentice, as close as a son, for 12 years, and is more than ready to take the trials, as they both know. With the Council refusing to take on responsibility for Anakin, Qui-Gon needs his apprentice to step into the gap — and knows Obi-Wan is more than capable. Somehow in the battle for Naboo, he means to fake his death and dodge the Council.
How do I explain Qui-Gon’s actual death scene? Well, let’s be frank. What kills him? He’s clearly caught off guard by a saber in the gut, but would this kill him? Why do people typically die of abdominal wounds? Because the bleeding is so difficult to stop — but that’s a non-issue with a saber because it instantly cauterizes the wound. Peritonitis, inflammation of the tissues lining and surrounding abdominal organs, also causes death in cases of gut injury. Again, not an issue with a lightsaber wound. If Qui-Gon actually dies, I say he suffocates due to a ruptured diaphragm; it’s the only thing that makes sense. What makes more sense is that Obi-Wan knows he isn’t dying. Qui-Gon asks for his promise to train Anakin again because of Obi-Wan’s reluctance, but Obi-Wan, knowing his master will never return to the Jedi, agrees, and knows he must give his master up.
Qui-Gon slips into a healing Force trance, and Obi-Wan cries not over his death but over his separation, knowing he cannot contact him again. He helps Qui-Gon escapes, provides a decoy or Force-illusion body for the funeral (why it’s appropriate to give a non-Nubian a Nubian funeral, I don’t know), and takes on the responsibility for Anakin. Qui-Gon, meantime, buys a ship with his 20,000 Republic dataries, returns to Tatooine, and sells the ship; with local currency, he enlists the support of a widowed trader, Cliegg Lars, and his son Owen. He gives them the money to buy a moisture farm — as Cliegg wants out of the spacelanes — if they agree to buy Shmi, free her, and circulate the story that he married her. The Larses are glad to accommodate, and Shmi finds herself reunited with Qui-Gon, who can court her properly.
I have such a mental image of Qui-Gon in a Tatooine style ranch home, out in the Jundland Wastes, living in peace at last with Shmi and their kids. Qui-Gon’s immense respect for all life forms quickly win over the local Sand People, who regard him almost as one of themselves, and they are frequently around the homestead and help him and his family survive in the harsh environment. In Episode II, Anakin’s inexplicable nightmares — possibly fueled by Palpatine’s influence — drives him back to Tatooine. Word gets around that Anakin’s trying to find his mother, so Cliegg and Owen quickly cook up a story about her death by Sand People. Cliegg’s suspiciously inconsistent story betrays this — he goes from “we’re still looking, I’m not giving up hope” to “she’s dead, son” in under 5 minutes as he tries to discourage Anakin. Some of Qui-Gon’s Tusken friends agree to fake her death, but the consequence of Anakin murdering them was unforeseen by them all. This is why Qui-Gon shouts, “Anakin! No!”
Later, Qui-Gon toys around with Master Yoda, contacting him telepathically through the Force and taunting him with visions of “the netherworld of the Force” and nonsense. In a vision, he encourages Yoda to send Obi-Wan and the boy “Anakin’s son” to Tatooine where he will “train Obi-Wan” to contact him in the Force. In reality, once Obi-Wan is there, Qui-Gon reveals himself in the person, and they move in all neighborly. Obi-Wan’s ridiculous “call” in ANH that startles the Sand People off is really just Qui-Gon’s password to tell them he’s a friend. (He does seem to know an incredible lot about them!)
And so there you have it. I have a vision of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon grilling out bantha flank steaks outside his lodge, Qui-Gon and Shmi’s black-headed kids romping around in Uli dress for sand protection, Shmi warning them not to spoil their appetite before the burgers are done, a beautiful day under the twin suns . . .