Essay: “The Renegade”

This is a repost from matril’s LiveJournal page, with her permission.

If you would just follow the Code, you would be on the Council!

Ah, poor Obi-Wan. He just doesn’t get it. A stickler for the rules, thoroughly dedicated to the Council’s authority, yearning for approval and validation. His master follows a different path, and even after all these years as his Padawan, Obi-Wan still can’t quite understand the inner workings of Qui-Gon’s mind.

You see, Qui-Gon doesn’t care about anyone’s approval. He doesn’t worry about missing out on honors and accolades and positions of authority. He’s not motivated by external metrics of success. The Force alone is his guide; specifically, his personal interpretation of the Force’s will. Above all else, he does it his own way.

Yeah, George Lucas is basically Qui-Gon Jinn. I sincerely doubt he created the character with that intent; from what he’s said, he feels that he started out like Luke but fears he might have become Vader, though he’d prefer to see himself as Yoda. Well, subconsciously or whatever, he invented a near-perfect avatar for his older self – the maverick, the renegade who thoroughly baffles the establishment, the outlier whose feats gain their grudging admiration, who cares not a bit that they refuse to grant him access to the inner circles of their elitist club.

I shall do what I must. The moral renegade follows his own conscience, rarely influenced by popular trends. He’s not immune to missteps. And sometimes his single-minded determination can came across as abrasive or callous.

I know, Padmé. Dealing with a presumptuous Jedi is about as much fun as confronting a corrupt Galactic Senate. What’s really annoying, though? Qui-Gon was absolutely right. Anakin won the race and your ship got repaired, just like he said would happen. That makes it even more irritating.

But of course we have very different metrics for success in the movie-making world. A lot of them are money-based. No one can deny that Lucas became a very successful man in that regard, though they often try to credit anyone but him for the original trilogy’s success. The other metrics are quality-based, which is far more subjective and harder to pin down. Lucas, however, never showed much interest in pleasing critics. At all. Good reviews, bad reviews; whatever, as long as he made the movie he set out to make. When he goes back and changes little things here and there, it’s to satisfy his own artistic sensibilities. Whatever anyone else thinks of it is pretty much irrelevant. This has not endeared him to self-styled purists, although I personally feel a tremendous amount of empathy for an artist’s drive to tinker and tweak with his work. There is a force guiding him too, though not quite so mystic as Qui-Gon’s – the force to put his vision into cinematic form. Whatever you might say about that vision, it’s a far more admirable motivation than money-making. He sold his company for a fortune and immediately donated the bulk of it to charity. Greed is not his driving influence, that’s clear enough.

He is the Chosen One; you must see it!

It’s not all serenity and unconcern for Qui-Gon. There are clashes with the Council, and this last one was portentous. He has made it his quest to bring the boy of prophecy out of slavery and present him for training. And the Council summarily denies his request. Qui-Gon can’t let this one go. It’s too important to him, to the very fate of the Force. I often wonder what he would have done if he survived the Battle of Naboo; if he would have persisted until the Council relented, or, barring that, if he would have ignored the Council entirely and trained Anakin anyway, risking expulsion. I suspect that Qui-Gon still has a loyalty to the Jedi Order even if he doesn’t agree with the Council or Code’s every stricture, so I doubt he would committed such a flagrant transgression as that.

But that’s not what happened. Qui-Gon is killed, while defending the galaxy from the avatar of the very phantom menace threatening to overthrow the Force’s balance. Oh, it’s not Sidious or the Sith alone who throw that balance askew. The Council is so insular, so rigid, so blind and deaf to the world outside the Temple, that they are losing their grasp on the living Force that Qui-Gon was so in tune with. His loss is a symptom of their sickening, their growing weakness. Obi-Wan, only just a Padawan himself, far more prone to the influence of the Code and the Council than his master was, is faced with the overwhelming task of training the Chosen One. And much of Anakin’s conflicting troubles will arise from the fact that in his outlier impulses he’s far more like Qui-Gon, yet he shares Obi-Wan’s yearning for approval and acclaim from the Council. A renegade who needs validation. Qui-Gon rarely had that problem.

It would be absurd to declare that a similar impending doom threatens the Hollywood establishment; the fate of the galaxy hardly hangs in the balance if movies nowadays are more derivative, less imaginative and innovative. There have always been great movies and lousy movies from the very beginning, though I’m deeply sad that none of these new so-called Star Wars films will have the heart and soul that Lucas lent to his six. But some of the battles Lucas has fought have been pretty far-reaching. Just one example: films that have no opening credits, so you can become immediately immersed in the story? You can thank Lucas for that, and it wasn’t an easy battle by any means.

What I do fear is the mean-spiritedness, the nasty sense of entitlement that treats Lucas like some sort of monster simply for making movies the way his artistic conscience leads him to. He’s always done that from the beginning, as much as his resources allowed, and I feel that’s what made Star Wars great. Not the X-Wings or the masked villains or the exploding Death Stars, though those are the fun superficial markings of a deeper world of creativity and storytelling genius. It was the renegade mindset, the man who said, “I shall do what I must” and always remained true to that ethos.

Qui-Gon can be a difficult man, but overall he is generous and kind. When Obi-Wan apologizes for arguing with him, Qui-Gon doesn’t gloat or grab the chance to claim superiority. He praises his Padawan, assuring him that he will be a far greater Jedi than himself. Now look at that video again. Lucas’s AFI tribute was sweet, but also full of a lot of good-natured roasting from all the people he worked with. And he chuckled through the whole thing. Go ahead and tease him, poke fun at him. He knows he’s not perfect. He’s put up with far worse abuse over the years, and I’m astonished it took him this long to finally get a little fed up with the whole thing and go into retirement.

Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you.

May we all have a just a little bit more of that renegade spirit. We could certainly do with less complacency and unoriginal thinking in the world of movies, and the world at large.

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5 Responses to “Essay: “The Renegade””

  1. Shaman McLamie Says:

    Great essay and it’s nice to see the comparisons between George Lucas and on of my favorite Star Wars characters.

  2. susanbowes Says:

    The best tribute to George Lucas that I’ve ever seen. EXCELLENT!

  3. Adam Adelsberger Says:

    Great piece of writing…among the best I’ve read on this site!

  4. solitaryidler Says:

    Thanks for the essay. You always link to such good prequel-friendly stuff that is such a respite from the general vitriol of the internet.

  5. Noah Evans (The Artist) Says:

    Lucas = Qui-Gon, MIND BLOWN!

    The essay itself when it gets to the film industry portion, that’s who I hope to be, practically am right now (creating content that is unique and not to please anyone, both the supportive and the shameless critics)

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