The Saddest Moment in Star Wars

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Or, alternately: Let Me Ramble About Star Wars for Around Two-Thousand Words. 

When you read that title, I imagine there are a lot of scenes that are conjured up in a typical Star Wars fan’s head.

Most famously, maybe it’s Anakin and Obi-Wans heartbreaking confrontation on Mustafar. Maybe it’s Vader and Luke sharing a soft and final moment as father and son at the end of Episode 6. Or maybe for you, it’s some of the terrible moments from Clone Wars: Feral Opress’ death. Satine Kryze’s death. Ahsoka leaving a heartbroken Anakin on the steps of the Jedi Palace, and you know — many, many other scenes I can’t even begin to name without making this article even longer than it already is.

In summary? Star Wars is really frickin’ sad, and all of those moments are perfectly acceptable moments to be emo about. Heck, I’m emo about them. I won’t lie.

But there’s a moment in Star Wars that absolutely ruins me every time I rewatch it. A scene that twists my gut and never fails to make my eyes a little misty. A scene that makes me feel so dreadfully bleak and sad and angry at Lucasfilms for actually making me observe this.

That scene is Qui-Gon Jinn’s death.

And I know what you’re thinking: really? Are you serious? That scene from Phantom Menace, a.k.a the movie most widely regarded as the worst installment of Star Wars because of the Gungan Who Shall Not Be Named? Yes. I am talking about that movie and that scene. And listen, it’s not the effects or anything that make Qui-Gon’s death so awful for me (because let’s be real, they’re pretty terrible). It’s the acting, and the context of the relationships between the characters involved.

The movie spends so much time building up the fact that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are very close. They walk in identical strides, joke around together — Obi-Wan can almost always be seen in this film trotting at his masters heels with the eagerness of both a Padawan and a close friend. That is, of course, until the narrative shifts into Anakins territory and Qui-Gon’s attention, too, shifts.

If you’ve read the “Jedi Apprentice” books by Jude Watson, you know that the origins between this famous Master-Padawan duo were shaky at best. Years ago, Qui-Gon was still hurting from the figurative loss of his last Padawan, Xanatos, and was not eager to take a new Padawan despite Yoda’s encouragements. Obi-Wan had to beg, plead, negotiate, and even save Qui-Gon’s life multiple times before the man even began to warm up to the idea of taking him as a Padawan.

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Qui-Gon, fighting his ex-Padawan Xanatos, who looks suspiciously like Obi-Wan. Hmmm….

In short? Qui-Gon was really, really insensitive and dismissive. Obi-Wan had to prove himself time and time again and go above and beyond at just thirteen years old in order to even catch the faintest glimpse of Qui-Gon’s approval. It wasn’t fair at all, even though they eventually became the inseparable duo we see them to be in the beginnings of Phantom Menace.

I promise, I’m getting to my point. One of the things that really upsets me about Qui-Gon’s death in this movie is the terrible state of he and Obi-Wan’s relationship during the time of his death despite their clear closeness and the very accurate characterization of Qui-Gon and his insensitivity in his final moments.

Qui-Gon knows what he and Obi-Wan have been through together. Yet even with him standing right by when they faced the Council together, he tosses him away to the Jedi Knight Trials without even speaking to him about it beforehand and asks the Council to give Anakin to him as a Padawan. The betrayal and dismay on Obi-Wan’s expression in his moment is nothing short of gut wrenching.

All this is to say that Qui-Gon died without ever apologizing for that, without ever exposing to his Padawan his personal intentions in taking Anakin on so hastily in contrast to how slowly he had to win his approval. Obi-Wan watched him die without ever really learning of his Master’s true feelings toward him — if he really valued their friendship, or his responsibility for their very new friend Anakin more.

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Qui-Gon and Anakin in Episode 1: Phantom Menace (1999).

The fact that these two left so much unsaid between them is what makes me so terribly sad in the moment when Obi-Wan is watching him die.

Which brings me to the excellent characterization of Qui-Gon in the moment of his death. The thing is is that he is a very old, very wise Jedi (despite his recklessness) and therefore has a dedication to the greater good, to the truth, and to the thing that’d really be a lightsaber in Anakin’s gut for years to come — the rule of no attachments. As Qui-Gon is dying, he could be lying there, cradled in Obi-Wan’s arms and explaining to him that no, I do value our friendship and partnership. I really am proud of you and the Jedi you’ve grown to be, and I don’t regret all the time we’ve spent together. But Qui-Gon knows full well that in the grand scheme of the universe, these words will mean nothing to anybody but Obi-Wan and his conscience, rendering both he and Anakin’s sacrifices useless.

So instead, Qui-Gon instructs Obi-Wan to “train the boy”. Which of course are extremely cruel last words, seeing as Obi-Wan was essentially replaced by this child and is now expected to take full parental responsibility over him with his Master’s dying breath. But this is where the amazing acting and characterization comes in.

When I watch this scene, this single moment kills me every time. As Qui-Gon is talking, he lifts his hand and sort of gently brushes his finger against Obi-Wan’s face. To me, this represents Qui-Gon balancing his responsibility to the Jedi Order and to his friendship with Obi-Wan. And isn’t that what his whole character is about — a gray Jedi? One who stretches and bends the rules of the Order while retaining its core principles?

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Let me explain. While Qui-Gon is speaking what he is obligated to say — train the boy, he’s cosmically important, etc. — he is also acting on his familial feelings toward Obi-Wan in touching his face in such a soft, apologetic way. He knows that with his last words he has to make sure Obi-Wan understands the weight of Anakin’s importance … but with the final strength he has, still reaches up to almost consolingly reciprocate Obi-Wan’s physical touch. This moment is so underrated in the fanbase! It’s so sweet, so friendly, so gentle — one of the few nice moments in the whole series! Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship is so important to the development of the prequel trilogy because it sets a precedent for Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship.

What also kills me about this scene is the way Obi-Wan acts as he realizes that his best friend of twelve years is dying. I mean, the agonized “NO!” is pain enough, but I mainly die over the way Obi-Wan cradles him in his arms, acting against what he knows about the rules of attachment in favor of trying to give a man who truthfully needs no comfort, comfort. It kills me the way that he kinda pets Qui-Gon’s face — it’s such a small, childish gesture where it’s hard to tell if he’s doing it for Qui-Gon’s sake or his own.

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The second-to-last detail that really comes for me is the way Qui-Gon stares at Obi-Wan almost unblinking in his final moments. (I love the way Liam Neeson’s eyelashes look in this part, the blankness of his expression. Can you tell I’ve watched this way too many times?) It always makes me wonder what he was thinking as he was about to die. Internally, was his focus more on Anakin and Anakin’s training? Or was he looking at his former Padawan’s face — the last sight he’d ever see — and experiencing remorse? Or did he have the acceptance of an old Jedi and welcome death with neutrality? This kind of stuff keeps me up at night!

Okay, but, really. It’s time I finally talk about the detail that kills me the most in this scene. It’s the actual moment of Qui-Gon’s death, itself — when his eyes close and he falls limp in Obi-Wan’s arms.

What really hits home in this moment is the way that Obi-Wan reacts to this. The way instinctively he catches the other to keep his head upright, and leans down to press his forehead against Qui-Gon’s, face scrunching up as he attempts to keep his composure and hold in un-Jedi-like tears. It’s likely that he and his master never shared a moment of genuine affection like this when he was alive both because of the Jedi rules and because of Qui-Gon’s somewhat conservative nature.

At this point in time, Obi-Wan is twenty five years old. He’s far from a child, and although Qui-Gon could be supposed to be a father figure in his life, their relationship seems to function more as a partnership in its final days. Obi-Wan, as a character, is known to be very reserved and mature, one who follows the Jedi credo strictly — most of the time. I believe that Obi-Wan’s reaction to Qui-Gon’s death is such a beautifully tragic moment of character development for him that is far from talked about in the Star Wars fanbase.

 

I mean, think about it. When Obi-Wan’s quasi – lover, Satine Kryze, died in his arms only thirteen years later with strikingly similar circumstances (same murderer, same method of murder, still in front of Obi-Wan, etc.), Obi-Wan retained his composure brilliantly. But going back to Qui-Gon’s death, Obi-Wan gently holds him in his arms, forehead to forehead.  That single, childish act, to me, represents Obi-Wan’s sort of Jedi coming-of-age. And that makes me sad — the fact that he was somewhat thrust into the life of Jedi knighthood in such a way, all because of Qui-Gon and his hasty choices and somewhat premature death.

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Obi-Wan and Satine Kryze, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

In a few words, his death just wasn’t fair — in any respect, for anyone. And I feel like that really encapsulates a major theme in Star Wars. Sometimes, things happen and they aren’t fair whatsoever — yet they happen nonetheless. Sometimes, a group of rebels die for the greater good of the rebellion, and it isn’t fair. Sometimes, you’re abandoned on Tatooine to live the life of a scavenger, and it isn’t fair. Sometimes, your father figure is killed in front of you by an edgelord Zabrak Sith, and it isn’t fair.

But much like the kids from Rogue One, or Rey, or Obi-Wan Kenobi, the sacrifice of fairness can truly benefit others. And I think that’s a beautiful, selfless theme.

So, yes. In conclusion, there’s a lot of reasons why Qui-Gon’s death will forever be one that shakes me to my core, and it’s not just because I love Qui-Gon’s character a whole lot. His relationship to Obi-Wan plays a huge part in the cinematic beauty of it, I think — and in addition to that, the subtle gesture between each character when taking into account the context and theory of each action. It’s just beautiful and absolutely gut – wrenching every time I watch it. I wish more people talked about it, because even though the more prevalent Star Wars deaths are all tragic and important, Qui-Gon’s is quite underrated in that respect.

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk. If you’ve read this far, I truly wonder … do either of us have anything better to do?

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