The Life, Death, and Life of Qui-Gon Jinn,
or Why the Dead should Stay Dead
by Lucy Gillam
Warning!!!!The following contains massive spoilers for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (duh), season 4 of Babylon 5, and season 5 of Highlander. If you have not seen the movie, or the ending episodes of those seasons, and do not wish to be spoiled, proceed no further!!!!
I warned you that if you didn't start submitting columns, I'd be forced to write them myself. See what happens when you don't listen?
Everyone in fandom who knows me knows I am Happy Ending Girl. I may go down into the deep, dark angst trenches (hi, Em!), but I do want to come up again eventually.
Most people in fandom who know me also know that, overall, I don't read death stories. I'm sure there are many, many well-written ones, and maybe it's wimpy of me not to give them a chance, but I just don't wanna go there. There are lots of reasons for this, and I know it's very hard to reconcile with my admitted worship of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, but the basic fact remains: don't like ‘em.
So why would I write a whole column protesting the abundance of SW:TPM stories that change the ending to allow Qui-Gon to live?
I mean, it's not like I don't adore Liam Neeson. It's not like I didn't love the character of Qui-Gon. And, oddly enough, it's not like I particularly protest when fanfic writers bring back (or "it never happened") other characters (the example that springs most readily to mind is Richie Ryan, although as far as I'm concerned, Highlander ended the episode before Archangel anyway).
So what's different about Qui-Gon?
Context. Context and something called "pregeneric mythoi."
Warning: Lucy is about to invoke some outdated literary theory...prepare yourselves.
Once upon a time, a guy named Northrop Frye identified 4 types of stories, types he called "pregeneric mythoi" (meaning that they existed on a broader level that what we commonly identify as "genres"): Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, and Irony/Satire.
"Romance," in this case, means not kissy-kissy romance, but high Romantic Myth. Key to romance is a unified world view: the bad guys is the bad guys, the good guys is the good guys, black is black, white is white...you get the idea. The prototypical modern Romance? Star Wars (Episode IV, that is). Comedy refers not to laughter, but to the notion of a happy ending: the world is fractured , but put back together. In Tragedy, it is fractured and either not put back together, or put back together through death. The World of Irony/Satire is never together to begin with: it starts fractured and stays fractured.
In this same book, Frye claimed that Shakespeare's *Henry V* was a Romance made Tragic by its implicit context. For those of you who've never seen this play (rent the Kenneth Branagh version!), it ends with Henry conquering France and reasserting his "rightful" claim to the throne. However, as every good Brit (or Shakespeare scholar) knows, Henry dies only a few years later, leaving his throne to an infant son and his country on the verge of the War of the Roses. So, even though the play itself ends in triumph, we know that tragedy is soon to follow.
So, what does this all have to do with The Phantom Menace?
TPM, in and of itself, is not a bad film. Sure, Jar Jar is annoying as heck, and there's not *nearly* enough Obi-Wan, but IMHO, it was a pretty decent piece of fluff.
But...whatever depth, whatever emotional power it has comes from the implicit context, from the foreknowledge of Anakin’s rise and fall, a Fall that mirrors (and precipitates) the fall of the Old Republic and of the Jedi. The true climax of the film, in the Aristotelian sense, is not the light saber duel (cool as it is): it is the moment when Queen Amidala calls for the vote of no confidence. At that moment, the path to tragedy is set.
So why, you ask, was it necessary for Jinn to die? Well, in the sense of "George can't tell the rest of the story without that," it isn't. True, Anakin was supposed to be Obi-Wan’s pupil, but then Ben claimed to have been Yoda’s student. Canon would not necessarily be that hard to reconcile.
However, in a larger sense, it is necessary. Anakin’s road is twisted from the start. He's far older than normal to begin Jedi training; he's been a slave for the first nine years of his life; he's had to leave the only stability he's ever known (his mother) only to immediately lose the person he had been looking to for that stability; he's now in the care and training of a very young, newly knighted Jedi who only days before was expressing serious reservations, calling him "dangerous" within earshot, and who has moreover just lost the closest thing he himself had to a parent.
Qui-Gon’s death sets the stage for Anakin’s fall. It creates the circumstances under which we can see Obi-Wan’s "failure" with Anakin not as gross incompetence, but as a tragic mix of circumstance and misplaced good intentions. To undo that moves the film from implied tragedy to comedy, a move starkly at odds with what we know has to happen.
Moreover, it gives Qui-Gon Jinn the only real depth he himself has as a character. Oh, not that he's deep because he dies. Anyone can die. He is deep because in the moment of his death, his fatal flaw sets the stage for the fall of the Republic and the Jedi. It is unlikely that Obi-Wan would have chosen to train Anakin had his Master not asked it with a dying breath. It is also unlikely that the council would have agreed that Anakin should be trained without Obi-Wan’s insistence and the sympathy generated by Qui-Gon’s death.
In that moment, Qui-Gon ceases to be simply a somewhat generic Wise Mentor. His fatal flaw comes into focus, a fatal flaw which is THE fatal flaw: hubris. Suddenly, his earlier actions, from his quick dismissal of Obi-Wan’s misgivings aboard the Trade Federation ship to his easy "I will do what I must" after the first council meeting, are thrown into new light. In that moment, we are reminded of the fine line between maintaining one’s own ideas and visions, and excessive pride. And we are reminded yet again that it is perfectly possible to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons, a lesson we learned in the Senate chamber, and will doubtless learn over and over again.
Could this lesson have been learned without Qui-Gon’s death? Possibly. And I want to stress that there are some "fixit" stories that maintain a certain tragic integrity (although these are usually AU’s that take the saga in direction Lucas never imagined).
The problem with many of these "fixit" stories, tho’, is that either their sole purpose is to provide a happy ending, to revive a character the author clearly loves, or to keep Qui-Gon around for post-TPM stories. Many of them, even the very well-written ones, remind me of fantasies I devised as a 10-year-old to deal with the ending of "Empire." They're sweet, but in their need to provide a happy ending, they rob both the story and the character of depth and dignity.
I suppose that my own bottom line is that some characters should just stay dead. I can deal with Richie revivals because I found his death pointless. If, however, someone were to revive Marcus Cole, one of my favorite Babylon 5 characters, I'd run screaming, because Marcus in so many ways was defined by his death. He made a heroic, romantic, sacrifice, finally finding the noble death he'd been seeking for so long. To have him come back to life would cheapen his sacrifice, and to simply erase it would leave the character without definition.
I love Qui-Gon Jinn. But for him to be the character I love, he has to die at the end of TPM. Some miracles shouldn't happen. Some fates shouldn't be avoided. And sometimes the dead need to stay dead.