Star Wars is one of the most hotly debated movie worlds of all time. Since its release, everyone has talked about meanings, prophecies, and the subtext of every line in every movie.
There's a debate on how much Lucas planned while writing it. And when it comes to the prequels, there are lots of opinions on quality and intention. How much of the subtext in the prequels is actually there?
But Star Wars survived the prequels and now, after completing the Skywalker saga, seems finally able to shed the baggage and focus on new, original stories.
Disney+ recently launched Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian.
The show goes behind the scenes of The Mandalorian to talk about the tech, direction, and casting of the show, but it also adds another layer. Each episode focuses on themes of the Star Wars universe.
The second episode brings executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and ILM's own John Knoll.
The conversation was interesting, but the real nuggets came when Filoni dove into The Phantom Menace and the meaning of fatherhood in the movie.
If you don't know Filoni, he co-created The Clone Wars with George Lucas and knows more about Star Wars than anyone (except for Lucas).
The guy lives and breathes this world. It's been his whole career and first love.
And I've loved 99% of the things he's done in this universe.
Except for this take.
Do the 'Star Wars' Prequels Reveal That Anakin Has Daddy Issues?
Okay, first things first, let's take a look at most of Filoni's speech from The Making of the Mandalorian TV show. He said, "I love the lightsaber fight with Darth Maul. Not because it’s a lightsaber fight but because George is so good at crafting why that fight’s important...In Phantom Menace, you’re watching these two Jedi in their prime fight this evil villain...What’s at stake is really how is Anakin going to turn out. Because Qui-Gon is different than the rest of the Jedi. You get that in the movie and Qui-Gon is fighting because he knows he’s the father that Anakin needs. Because Qui-Gon hasn’t given up on the fact the Jedi are supposed to actually care and love and that that’s not a bad thing. The rest of the Jedi are so detached and they’ve become so political that they’ve really lost their way and Yoda starts to see that in the second film. But Qui-Gon is ahead of them all. That’s why he’s not part of the Council. So he’s fighting for Anakin. That’s why it’s the “Duel of the Fates.” It’s the fate of this child. And depending on how this fight goes, Anakin’s life is going to be dramatically different."
There's a lot to unpack here...
While I think all these sentiments are beautiful, they don't hold up for me.
This feels a lot like retroactively adding to the story. Was any of this really there?
Well, I rewatched The Phantom Menace last night because I love you all and hate myself, and I can tell you it's not there.
Let's put aside the vaguely problematic "Anakin needs a Daddy to behave" theory and get right into the facts. And by the facts, I mean the facts that are IN The movie. Not the compendiums you read outside, but what is given to us by George Lucas at the time it came out.
Here's what we're working with on the surface level.
- Fact: Anakin Skywalker had no father.
- Fact: Anakin Skywalker was immaculately conceived by the force via midi-chlorians
- Fact: Anakin was raised in the Jedi Temple by the masters along with a ton of other kids.
- Fact: Anakin slaughtered those little kids two movies later.
This is all presented as true by Lucas. So knowing all of that, how could the fight at the center of the movie be about paternal love for a kid? Sorry, but I don't buy this retrofitted "Qui-Gon is not like the rest of the Jedi" stuff.
We never see that.
We open the movie and he's exactly like the rest of the Jedi.
We don't see him in trouble, fighting for the worth of the Gungan, or even testing the council's limits as peacemakers.
He's just a Jedi!
By the time he accidentally meets Anakin, the only thing that's changed is that he learns about a wrinkle in the universe.
He learns about IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
Qui-Gon does not want to be this kid's daddy. He wants to have the council study him, like a science experiment.
Sure, the guy respects the world around him, but we never see examples of how other Jedi don't. And given what we know about Jedi up until this point, from Yoda and old Obi in the earlier films, this does not seem like he's a rebel.
IN FACT, Qui-Gon is the guy who takes Anakin away from his Mom, mercilessly, because he thinks it's important the council study the kid.
As far as the council being too political to care...we see them wage a war in this movie to help struggling people!
Their politics are the politics of peace!
You could almost say they care too much.
To me, this is the dramatic equivalent of saying "Dumbledore is gay."
Sure, it is great and an important aspect, but not if you don't have the courage to talk about it inside the books. And not if you don't spend any of The Phantom Menace's already bloated run time digging into it either.
If Lucas wrote the movie Filoni described we'd have a much more interesting third act. Not just a cool lightsaber duel.
And if Qui-Gon was interested in being a dad, he wouldn't have left Luke alone to fly a fighter jet into a maelstrom.
Again, the actions behind the motivations he explains just are not there.
As iO9's Germain Lussier puts it, "This speech, and much of Filoni’s work, shows an understanding and appreciation of Star Wars on a level few of us ever even think about. That’s why it’s so entertaining to watch and consider."
I love Star Wars. I'm a nerd. But we have to stop trying to retrofit the failings of earlier movies. We should learn from the dramatic failing and stories to make better art now. Instead, we're told why things are great and subtextual, without those implications being there for any casual viewer.
To his credit, Filoni has done this. The characters in Clone Wars are all deep and have amazing arcs.
George Lucas created an imperfect world that the lucky few get a chance to play in.
My hope is that they learn more from what many think he left out than what they think he snuck in.