This post is part of the Flaws of the Jedi series.
A venerable if maverick Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn was a student of the living Force. Qui-Gon lived for the moment, espousing a philosophy of “feel, don’t think — use your instincts.”starwars.com
Qui-Gon Jinn fascinates me. Arrogance and elitism are typical to the Jedi Order, but Qui-Gon also considers himself better than other Jedi. In The Phantom Menace he is dismissive of Jar Jar, Boss Nass, the Queen, Watto, Shmi, Padmé, Obi-Wan, and the Jedi Council. Qui-Gon ignores Jar Jar until he’s useful, ignores Anakin until he’s special, and ignores Padmé, Obi-Wan, and the Council because he’s certain he knows better. He doesn’t listen, he “uses his instincts”.
Qui-Gon’s flaw of indifference is most visible in this exchange with Shmi Skywalker:
QUI-GON: You should be proud of your son. He gives without any thought of reward.
SHMI: Well he knows nothing of greed. He has a…
QUI-GON: He has special powers.
QUI-GON: He can see things before they happen. That’s why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It is a Jedi trait
SHMI: He deserves better than a slave’s life.
QUI-GON: Had he been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early. The Force is unusually strong with him, that much is clear. Who is his father?
SHMI: There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.
SHMI: (cont’d) Can you help him?
QUI-GON: I don’t know. I didn’t actually come here to free slaves.
I don’t expect Qui-Gon Jinn to end slavery in the Outer Rim all by himself. The established authorities in this galaxy — the Order, the Senate, the Republic — should have done something, at some point, to address slavery, but that’s not the point I’m making here.
Qui-Gon is dismissive to the woman who offered him shelter, food, and help. She is allowing her nine year old child to risk his life in order to get Qui-Gon off planet and back on track to his duty. And she is hoping against hope that he will take Anakin with him to a better life far, far away from her. She doesn’t ask for anything for herself, just please help my son. And Qui-Gon answers well, that’s not why I’m here. It’s an honest answer but it’s not compassionate and it’s not necessary.
He could have said “I’ll do what I can.” or just left it at “I don’t know.” instead of telling her it’s not his job. And while the Jedi Order is not responsible for Qui-Gon’s attitude or behavior, Qui-Gon’s attitude and behavior are reflective of the Jedi Order.
The Jedi place so much emphasis on ideals, and so little emphasis on individuals, that in this moment Qui-Gon fails to see Shmi as a person, with feelings that can be hurt. As a person who needs hope, if not help. Instead, he asserts his power over her and over her son’s life. I don’t think he means to treat her so poorly here, but he does, because he’s been conditioned to.
As he comes to believe that Anakin is the Chosen One, and he is here to free one particular slave, Qui-Gon’s attitude towards Shmi shifts.
Shmi Skywalker stood just inside the doorway, staring at him. Their eyes met, and for just an instant it felt to the Jedi Master as if the future had been revealed to him in its entirety. Then Shmi turned away, embarrassed, and disappeared back into her home.The Phantom Menace novelization by Terry Brooks
I read ‘the future’ that ‘had been revealed’ as Qui-Gon’s determination that Anakin is the Chosen One and he must do everything in his power to take him to the Jedi Council. But after this moment Qui-Gon is explicitly supportive and kind to her in the rest of their interactions.
Qui-Gon’s indifference is indicative of a Jedi Order that has stagnated and forgotten that communities are made up of individuals. The stagnation frustrates Qui-Gon himself, leading to his identification as a ‘maverick’. I appreciate that he wants the Jedi to change as I do. But his focus remains on the Order and the Force and the whole and that allows him to ignore suffering and mistreat people under the guise of the greater good. That attitude doesn’t help anybody.