We all know the story, right? An ancient order of peacekeeping knight have long awaited the Chosen One, someone promised to them long ago in a prophecy who will bring balance to their world. A more rebellious member of the order and his young apprentice go to some backwater planet/village and stumble upon a young child who shows particular promise, and the knight-proper recognizes the child as the Chosen One, even though he is but a sheep herder or simple farmer or Watto’s junkyard slave. The knight springs him from poverty and brings him before the Knights’ Council, who order the young boy not be trained. He’s too old to become George Lucas’ weird version of a space-buddhist, they say. And that looks to be the end of that, until the older knight, the mentor, gets killed and asks his apprentice (who, it should be noted, has obviously been jealous of the Chosen One and his master’s interest in him up until this point) to train the boy, using his dying wish to assure the prophecy will come true.
From there, the apprentice sticks it to the bureaucratic and possibly (probably) corrupt council, trains the boy just as his master wished, and against all odds they become close friends. And in the end the boy ends up being the Chosen One, retroactively validating the master/mentor from the beginning and giving his death meaning. Sure, there were some losses along the way, great losses, but it was worth it for this.
Only Star Wars does it different, because it turns out Qui-Gon Jinn was just dead wrong about who the Chosen One is. Hell, he might just be wrong about there being a Chosen One at all.
For all the narrative weirdness (or perhaps due to) this reveal is honestly masterfully done, especially considering that a huge majority of the audience knew going in that Qui-Gon was wrong. But by hitting all the trope beats, Lucas earnestly convinces you Qui-Gon might be right. Liam Neeson brings charisma and stoicism to Qui-Gon, and a deep genuineness, and when he discovers Anaian you sort of agree with him that maybe this kid could be the one to bring balance to the force. You like him enough by that point you don’t want to doubt him. And when he brings Anakin in front of the Council and Yoda is dismissive of the prospect of training him, you do feel like Yoda’s being a bit of an unreasonable dick about the whole thing. When Qui-Gon says he’ll just train Anakin himself if the Council isn’t feeling it, you really respect him, and root for him, even though the Council is pretty damn on the money. It’s not even a scenario later where both sides were “a little wrong” – what Yoda outlines as his rationale for avoiding training Anakin is pretty much beat for beat how Anakin turns to the dark side.
But the real cincher is when Qui-Gon uses his death wish to get Obi-Wan to promise to train Anakin. In fantasy (in movies in general and for all I know maybe even in life), your death wish is the thing that shapes your legacy and validates your death. Your death was not some brutal act of nonsense – it was a sacrifice required for the greater good.
Game of Thrones has been messing around with fantasy tropes for a while now, and it’s one of the most lauded parts of the show. The righteous and good do not always win, and it’s often their own virtuous traits that eventually betray them. Robb Stark dies because he governed his love life with his heart and not his head. Ned Stark’s blind loyalty to his childhood friend led to his death. But the show still doesn’t defile prophecies. Fans don’t ridicule the concept of Azor Ahai: they only debate who the promised one may be. Most fantasy and sci-fi is willing to deflate prophecies, to make them go wrong in some ways, but most of them don’t allow such noble characters to be the cause of the misdirect. The prequels go on a different bent, and undermine the whole idea of a prophecy, of deeply held convictions.
We’re never told exactly why Anakin doesn’t end up being the Chosen One (and I don’t want any of that junk about him secretly being the Chosen One after all because he ends up killing the Emperor or whatever, or because he sired Luke who, for the record, also didn’t “bring balance to the force”). Maybe the prophecy is just hogwash. Maybe Anakin could be the Chosen One, but Yoda is right about him being too old to train. It’s funny, here, that a prophecy believed by a dead man overrides the Jedi’s long held convictions as to who they are willing to train. For all the suggestions that the Jedi have grown corrupt or strayed from their path, something Anakin suggests over and over again, the only way they’ve really strayed from their path was by training Anakin to begin with.
It’s really astounding because of its stark bleakness, again something more fitting for GoT than for Star Wars as we know it (maybe Rogue One?). Qui-Gon’s dying wish does indeed create his legacy, but it’s not exactly a good one. His faith leads to the destruction of an order that he, while occasionally at odds with, dedicated his life to. His first apprentice, Obi-Wan, honors his wish and in return successfully bonds with Anakin before losing him, the order they belong to, and eventually is killed by his hand. While they duel at Mustafar it’s almost shocking that Obi-Wan doesn’t bring up the fact that Qui-Gon saw potential in Anakin. Okay, he screams: “You were supposed to be the Chosen One!!” but really what he really should be screaming is “Qui-Gon, the man I most admired, died to give your life direction and you betrayed him.” And to compound the tragedy, it strips away a veneer from Obi-Wan’s vision of Qui-Gon too – learning your father figure’s most deeply held beliefs were misguided has to be a horrific experience. And while I know the prequels and originals were made “out of order” if we extend our imagination within the universe of Star Wars its sort of telling that neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan tells Luke about this whack-a-doo prophecy. Maybe because, again, it’s just wrong.
We’ve talked about tragedies and horrors in Star Wars before. It’s silly to wish it would engage in them – Star Wars is Star Wars because it’s operatic, and while there is certainly room for drama in space operas it will always be the louder version, the “You were like a brother to me” variety as opposed to the “you’ve robbed me of fulfilling my father figures legacy and betrayed his vision of the future” variety. But that doesn’t mean those deep veins aren’t there, and that a little part of me wishes they’d take a closer look at them. Even Star Wars itself seems to take a stab at this: Lucas has mentioned (and Yoda alludes to it in the films) that the prophecy may be true, but the interpretation may be wrong- bringing balance to the force may not mean “helping out the Jedi”. It’s a can of worms they never lean into (it looks like Episode 8 might be doing that, with Luke seemingly deciding the best universe contains no Jedi and no Sith, something the prophecy hints at) but the prequels are equally afraid to explore it even as they sniff around it. It’s the sort of thing that could have added depth without taking away the fun or the mysticism of Star Wars (or at least no more than the prequels already do – if we’re going to get into Trade Federation politics its not like getting into the nitty gritty of a prophecy is going to take away any of the shine). Even an investigation of where the prophecy came from could have added layers and intrigue to what is instead a weirdly flat and unexplored central tenant of the prequel story.
The prequels finally fail because they are brave enough to upend this trope but not brave enough to explore what upending it means. At the end of the day I buy that Anakin is the Chosen One and that the Jedi, in fulfilling the prophecy have wrought their own destruction: that the prophecy may foretell a better universe with a balanced force, and that the better universe foretold requires the death of the Jedi. That’s an intriguing concept, and could have a huge emotional exploration for Jedi who are told to put others before themselves. If the Jedi, in unlocking the truth about the prophecy, clung to their order they would have finally become corrupt, and Anakin, though motivated by evil, would have been right in wiping them out. The issue is that Lucas doesn’t go down the path he sets out on, too mired in good v. evil, which displacing this trope fails to lend itself too. Because of this, it boils down to the same old same old ending, which is a conflict without meaning. Weird Al’s Phantom Menace parody song has more pathos in the final verse than all three prequels have on screen. So maybe taking a look at how all this subversion would have messed with the characters would have been a good idea.