Qui Gon Jin and Obi Wan prepare for battle.

25 Years On, ‘The Phantom Menace’ Still Has One of Star Wars’ Best Characters

It took 25 years, but people are finally starting to lay off 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Is it a perfect movie? Hell no! But it is a good one, and a large part of that is down to its characters.

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Natalie Portman’s Padmé, Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker, and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi are all interesting characters, or I think so anyway, and they’re all the more interesting because their fates are set in stone. I enjoyed spending time with them.

But the person I most enjoyed spending time with was Qui-Gon Jinn, played by the ever-reliable Liam Neeson. He was my first introduction to the world of Jedi Knights since I wasn’t all that into Star Wars before I saw The Phantom Menace at 11 years old. I knew the basics, I knew Jedi were badass robe-wearing wizard types who could use the Force, but that was about it.

Then Qui-Gon came along, a Jedi at the height of his power, and watching him BLEW MY MIND.

Qui-Gon’s serious flaws

Qui-Gon was so, so cool to pre-teen me. He fought battle droids! He burned through metal doors with his lightsaber! He always had an answer and a sensible plan! But as time went on and I got older, I started to see him as a nuanced character as well.

Take the scene where he goes before the Jedi Council to demand Anakin be trained. Mace (Samuel L Jackson) and the other high-ranking Jedi tell him that no, they cannot train Anakin. So Qui-Gon gives the slightest of glances at Obi-Wan, his loyal apprentice, and immediately tosses him aside for the sake of Anakin and the prophecy he represents. “I take Anakin as my Padawan learner,” he declares, while his actual Padawan looks on with hurt in his eyes.

It’s a great scene, with great acting from Neeson and McGregor, and Star Wars prequel fandom is still discussing it to this day. Was it fair for Qui-Gon to ditch Obi-Wan in front of everyone like that, even though he believed the fate of the Chosen One was at stake? What does that say about the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan relationship and the power dynamic within it? Doesn’t such an action prove that Qui-Gon is not a good mentor, and wouldn’t have been for Anakin either? You have Team Qui-Gon and Team Obi-Wan in opposition and it’s an argument I thoroughly expect to last another 25 years. Personally, I think the scene makes my favorite character look like an absolute jerk … and I love it for that.

Qui-Gon’s inevitable death

Sadly, Qui-Gon doesn’t make it through the events of The Phantom Menace. The epic Duel of the Fates sequence ends with his death by lightsaber wound. (Plenty of other Star Wars characters have easily survived wounds that were far worse, but let’s not think too hard about that, mkay?) Qui-Gon’s death scene adds to my appreciation of the character, though, no matter how much I’d have liked him to stick around for longer.

Qui-Gon dies in Obi-Wan’s arms and Obi-Wan is clearly distraught. Jedi aren’t really supposed to grieve (see Yoda’s “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not,” in Revenge of the Sith) but Obi-Wan didn’t get that memo.

As Qui-Gon dies, his last words are for the fate of Anakin and the prophecy. He’s a Jedi and a true believer til the end. He tells Obi-Wan to train the boy, and Obi-Wan instantly agrees.

But Qui-Gon also raises a hand and caresses Obi-Wan’s face in order to comfort him. That’s one of the most tender things we ever see a Jedi do in the prequel trilogy, and I think it sums up Qui-Gon so well. He’s a Jedi to the core and unwavering in his beliefs, but he’s human underneath, and he has a lot of love for Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan will try to pass that love on to Anakin, but he ends up paying the price for it.

Like the movie he appears in, Qui-Gon is far from perfect. He manipulates people to get what he wants— observe how casually he uses Jedi Mind Tricks—he doesn’t listen to anyone, he’s reckless, and he seemingly has little concern for Obi-Wan’s feelings until his last few seconds of life. But WHAT a character. He is my Problematic Fave through and through, and not only Phantom Menace but the entire Star Wars franchise is so much better for having him around.

On May 3, 2024, The Phantom Menace got a theatrical re-release to celebrate its 25th anniversary. What better way to revisit and possibly reassess this unfairly maligned classic?

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)


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Author
Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.