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I tell you, a Jedi needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his sword perpendicular,
Or swirl in his knight-robes, or cherish his pride?
Qui-Gon Jinn, according to
some, is "the silliest name in the galaxy." It's clearly in the tradition of
vaguely-silly Jedi names begun in 1977 with "Obi-Wan Kenobi." But it is full of
meaning, and a little investigation sheds some valuable light on the character himself.
The name can even be interpreted as a succinct (and to some, surprising) unfolding of
George Lucas' true intention and inspiration for Qui-Gon in the Star Wars saga.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as
sweet," muses Shakespeare's Juliet. But in fiction a well-conceived name can define a
character -- the tradition of coding character attributes, or sometimes irony, in names is
probably as old as literature. George Lucas has always chosen Star Wars names carefully.
Luke Skywalker is a combination of Lucas (as in George, who admits Luke is his avatar,
mirroring his own hopes and fears as he came of age) and the obvious connotations of the
surname, since Luke is one who "walks the sky" both literally as a spacefarer,
and in mythological greatness. Obi-Wan Kenobi is essentially an amalgam of the Japanese
words for "sword" and "belt or sash" -- ken obi is sword belt. It is
therefore a reference to the strong Eastern influence on Star Wars and the Jedi, as well
as to Obi-Wan's association with lightsabres ("laser swords").
It was natural for Star Wars fans to immediately begin inquiring into the meaning of
the name Qui-Gon Jinn, since he was the most significant new character to be added in
Episode I. The first part was easy: qi gong (pronounced "chee goong") is an
Eastern art of qi (also chi or ki) life energy manipulation. Qui-Gon is a master of the
living Force, by name as well as by reputation.
The second part of his name seemed vaguely fitting, but still a puzzle. Jinn (jin,
ginn, djinn, genies) are spirits of Muslim and other middle Eastern legend "capable
of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people,"
elemental spirits that existed before humans and have their origins in desert whirlwinds.
The word connotes something hidden and dangerous, even malevolent. It made some sense, but
not quite enough sense. The relevance of the mythological Jinn to the character was not
clear. I shrugged and admitted my ignorance for a long time, till I finally picked up a
copy of mythology guru Joseph Campbell's The
Hero With a Thousand Faces.
"I think my last mentor was Joe, Joe Campbell, who asked a lot of the interesting
questions and exposed me to a lot of things and made me very interested in a lot more of
the cosmic questions," George Lucas told Bill Moyers in a 1999 PBS/Time Magazine
interview. Campbell passed away in 1987, but not before passing to Lucas a profound
respect for the power and value of myth -- Star Wars was based to a tremendous extent on
Campbell's seminal writings. I only had to get to page 8 of Hero to realize how
much George still relies on his old mentor's insight:
"(in the "unsuspected Aladdin caves" of our subconscious) not
only jewels but dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers
that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives.... These are dangerous
because they threaten the fabric of security into which we have built ourselves and our
family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole
realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the
world we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful
reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life..."
The astute fan will recognize this almost instantly as an insightful description of the
role of Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars saga. It really seems to me apparent that
Lucas took Joe Campbell's jinn and created his Jinn therefrom. (Qui-Gon) Jinn is the
"dangerous" intuitive power ("feel, don't think") that destroys (leads
to the fall of the Jedi order) but also holds much wonder, leads us on adventures of
self-discovery (Luke's hero journey, etc), and eventually brings great renewal (the
balancing of the Force and the fall of the Sith/Empire).
With this insight from Campbell, Qui-Gon Jinn becomes the impetus behind everything
that comes after. It is because of this character that Anakin grows and matures as a
Force-user, makes his fall to the dark side, and ultimately, with the help of his son
Luke, redeems and renews the universe. This is something many fans have realized already.
It is the insight into Lucas' mythological perspective on the character's significance
that is novel, and clarification of why he fits so beautifully into the much-analyzed
mythology of the original trilogy.
In early drafts of The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a lone Jedi knight who
possessed all the virtues of both the final characters of Qui-Gon and Padawan Obi-Wan.
Lucas decided that it was unrealistic (and uninteresting) for such a young Knight to be so
wise and accomplished -- so essentially perfect. He split the character in two. Obi-Wan
became a talented but slightly green young learner, with a new character as his master, a
wise, aged maverick of a Jedi. This was a little bit of a leap, since most people, Lucas
probably included, had assumed that Obi-Wan was trained by Yoda, everyone's favorite
Muppet-philosopher. Perhaps a re-reading of Campbell cinched the usefulness of this new
character, and gave him a place in the Star Wars cosmology. He became Qui-Gon Jinn, a
powerful Force-adept who relied on his subconscious urges ("the will of the
Force") to a degree that discomfited those around him, a quality destined to bring
both great suffering and, in the end, the salvation of the galaxy.
Young Obi-Wan would learn from him a commitment to trusting his instincts, something he
would pass on to Luke decades later ("trust your feelings!"). But Obi-Wan also
doubted the wisdom of Qui-Gon's vision, because he saw its danger. It appears that up
until Anakin's final redemption in Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan still doubts that any
ultimate good will come of Qui-Gon's insisting upon Anakin's training. We can only
imagine what the ghost of Obi-Wan thinks of this, but by the time of Darth Vader's funeral
he seems at peace with it and accepts the redeemed Anakin.
I've realized in reading Campbell the strong influence of psychoanalysis (Freud and
Jung) on the Force. Campbell relies on these early pop-psych thinkers heavily in Hero
to show how myth achieves its universality as a product of the human psychological
experience, and conversely how these life experiences and subconscious urges can be
explained in terms of myth (echoing psychoanalytical dream interpretation). He
eschews spiritual explanations in favor of psychology.
In Star Wars, there is more ambiguity -- "use the Force" and "use your
instincts" are synonymous, and yet one implies faith in the supernatural and one
implies faith in the self. I explain this as two different ways to characterize the
intuitive impulses that well from within us. Are they our own subconscious mind or the
whisperings of God (and could this be what is really intended by the living Force/cosmic
Force dichotomy The Phantom Menace suggests)? That is the great mystery for each to
decide, the question Lucas is prompting the viewer to ask him or herself (he has said many
times that he believes "the important thing is to ask the question" about
whether there is a God). Qui-Gon represents Star Wars' purest, least-critical
embrace of this upwelling of intuition -- listmember Lyta Alexander coined the phrase
"pure vessel" to describe his passive acceptance, his true faith.
But for the Jedi Council, and to an extent for Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon is truly a
"dangerous jinni," a capricious spirit with the potential to threaten their very
existence -- and so he shall, however unintentionally. Qui-Gon, like the jinn of folklore,
is an elemental force, driven by his powerful instincts (which he call "the will of
the Force"). This absolute faith brings both pain and reward, and while he is denied
a seat on the Jedi Council and deemed a "maverick," his "focused
sensitivity to the Force" is still admired by others. Because of Qui-Gon, Anakin will
nearly annihilate the Jedi order, and also because of Qui-Gon the Force will be balanced
and the Jedi Order renewed. The importance of this renewal to the overall story arc of
Star Wars makes it that much more of a shame that Lucas will not be making the final three
episodes (7-9), in which this would have been depicted.
The "desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self" is the hero
journey that is such a central theme in Star Wars as well as in Campbell. Luke Skywalker's
is the one which most clearly and specifically follows Campbell's model, in which "a
hero ventures forth from the common day world into a region of supernatural wonder:
fabulous forces (Elizabeth: the Force?) are there encountered and a decisive
victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to
bestow boons on his fellow man" -- in Luke's case the evil Empire is defeated and the
foundations laid for the resurrection of the Jedi order, the spiritual and social
revitalization of the galaxy.
I (alas!) can't ask George Lucas whether a rereading of Campbell, and specifically of
the passage on page 8 referring to jinn, spawned Episode I's Jedi Master. But the
evidence for that seems compelling to me. It ties Qui-Gon Jinn into the Star Wars
mythology as well as into Lucas' Campbellian roots in a pleasing, fitting, and plausible
way, something not easy to do with a character being retrofitted into the story.
Truly, a "fiendishly fascinating" Jinn.
When you notice a Jedi in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in the rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
(Apologies to T.S. Eliot, author of "The Naming of Cats," which some will
recognize from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Cats)
Updated March 2005
Campbell Foundation Online - Information on Campbell's life and work
Joseph Campbell - Mythic Reflections
- An interesting Campbell interview.
Hero With a Thousand Faces - at Amazon.com
Of Myth and Men
- Bill Moyers' wonderful George Lucas interview from Time Magazine and the PBS special The
Mythology of Star Wars. Probably the best source for Lucas' views on religion,
mythology, and values in Star Wars.
Qi Gong - Eastern energy
manipulation & healing
Qui-Gon Jinn - on the
Star Wars official site
The Qui-Gon Jinn FAQ -
Frequently asked questions about Qui-Gon Jinn - a wealth of information