Of course, being a geek, I've seen it before, so the story wasn't exactly a surprise. Lucas did a lot of the scenes, even ones that do nothing but plot exposition, in 3D, which was interesting. Watching the scenes where tanks and droid soldiers march down the main street, complete with arch and the victory parade at the end tells me that Lucas has watched Triumph of the Will and movies from Paris in 1940 more than a few times. So in addition to robbing Kurosawa blind, he also owes Leni Riefenstahl a beer.
But that's not what struck me as the credits rolled.
What hit me was that all of the turmoil of the remaining five movies was the fault of one character. No, not Palpatine, the Naboo Senator, Republic Chancellor, Emperor of the Galaxy, Sith Lord, and collector of authentic Wookie and Ewok teddy bears.
No, all of it was brought about by Qui-Gon Jin.
Qui-Gon is the master Jedi Knight who is teaching Obi-Wan Kenobi to be a Jedi when the movie begins. He and Obi-Wan are sent on a mission to 'convince' one faction in a trade dispute to stop leaning on another faction. By convince, I mean 'show up wearing light sabers and force them to back down'. You know, the same way that Vito Corleone and Luca Brazi got Johnny Fontaine that movie gig. He fails when the people he was there to put the arm on tried to kill them both, launch a planetary invasion, and arrest/compost most of the opposing side in the dispute. He convinces the leader of the losing side, Queen Amidala, to flee from the scene, lands on Tattooine to find parts, makes off with a slave he thinks might be the Jedi messiah, and deposits both of them on Coruscant, the Republic capital. He picks a fight with the Jedi Council when they tell him that teaching the force to an emotionally unstable former slave is probably not the wisest thing to do. He gives them the rhetorical finger and is sent back to Naboo with a ragtag band of people wearing red shirts. On arrival, he follows the battle plan of a teenage girl, fights an evil Sith that looks like he was born out of a Larry Correia fever dream, and loses because his devoted Padwan was never good at wind sprints. Obi-wan then goes on to finish the job by turning Darth Maul from an innie into an outie, saving the day. Obi-Wan makes a promise to Qui-Gon to teach Anakin Skywalker all of the skills he will need to bring down a democratic regime and murder just about everyone Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon know.
In all of those little plot points, all of the mistakes are made by Qui-Gon, and if he had zigged instead of zagged on any of them, Palpatine would have gone down as being the most affable evil Chancellor the Republic ever had, Anakin Skywalker would be the Jeff Gordon of the podracer circuit, and Amidala wouldn't have passed on the "worst hair styles in a quarter century" gene to her daughter.
Here are the biggest mistakes he made, in your hosts humble opinion:
- Didn't leave JarJar to get turned into cat meat. When Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan trick the Gungun boss to let them go and give them transport so they could get to the Naboo capitol, Qui-Gon also asks that JarJar Binks be released to them. It was done almost as an after thought. If Qui-Gon hadn't done that, JarJar wouldn't have been there in the next movie to hand Palpatine dictatorial powers on a silver platter with a side of fries. We would also have been spared two more movies worth of a bad Caribbean accent.
- Left Naboo with no air cover. After freeing Queen Amidala and her entourage from the droid soldiers, they all decide to run like scalded dogs back to Coruscant. In order to get to the Queen's ship, which apparently was kept ready to go with her wardrobe and hair goop, they have to defeat the droids guarding the hangar. These droids are also guarding the pilots for the fighters that are housed there, because when you're decapitating a government, the last thing you want to do is massacre their elite pilots immediately. After quickly dispatching the droids, the pilots are told to run, and they do. Heaven forfend that they be inspired to jump in the cockpit and defend their queen as she runs to get help. So the ship containing the soon-to-be government in exile takes off with no fighter escort. This probably led directly to the ship being damaged, which necessitates the next stop in their journey: Tattoine. This is the home planet of everyone's favorite Sith Lord in waiting, Anakin Skywalker.
- Going through an elaborate scheme to get parts to fix the ship. Following the Star Wars tradition of using hyperdrive engines made out of paper mache and Coke bottles, our ragtag band of Jedi knights, queens with weird clothes and hair, and amphibious Rastafarians touch down on Tattoine to get parts and make repairs. Qui-Gon goes into town to find parts, where he meets Anakin and discovers that only one junk dealer has the necessary gear, or at least that's what the junk man says. Qui-Gon doesn't seem to check with the competition to see if he might be telling a little fib in order to get the rube in the brown coat to make a purchase. The junk man won't take the money they bring with them, and Jedi mind tricks don't work. Apparently Qui-Gon isn't comfortable using the tactics he would have used on the Trade Federation on this slave-owning cheat of a junk dealer, so he has to find a less direct way of bilking the parts out of him. He comes up with a convoluted plan to put a 9 year old into a dangerous podrace and cheat the junk dealer out of not only the parts, but also his slave. I mean, it's not like he could have just whipped out that light saber and started singing off wings to get the parts or anything. He could have gone to another junk dealer who would have taken his Republic money or fallen for Jedi mind tricks to buy the parts or make a three cornered deal for them with the first guy. Or he could have just sold the broken ship for whatever he could get and arranged transport on another ship. Or heck, just offered to trade R2D2, a valuable repair droid he had brought along with him on this run to Starship Depot, for the parts. That would have gotten him back to Coruscant quicker, spared the galaxy the scourge of Darth Vader, and saved us from all of those "why did the Empire make all of the power receptacles the same size and shape as the USB ports?" jokes.
- Taking Anakin with him to Coruscant. After winning the parts from the junk dealer, Qui-Gon cheats him out of Anakin's freedom. He could have left him there to work as a tradesman or podracer long enough to buy his mother's freedom. That way he could have felt better about saving one slave out of the scores that must have existed on Tattooine, and we'd have been spared Hayden Christensen in the next two films. Instead he thinks that he can make a 9 year old former slave with separation anxiety into an elite mystical warrior that will enforce the will of a democratically elected government that didn't give enough of a damn about his plight as a slave to detail someone to free him and the rest of the human chattel on Tattooine. The word you're looking for here is 'hubris', which is pretty much the reason the rest of the series had a plot line.
It goes on from there. If he had failed to do any of these things, all of the unpleasantness in the remainder of the series wouldn't have happened. No Sith takeover, no massacre of the Jedi, no clone troopers, no Rebellion, no Death Stars, nothing.
So in the end, I have come to believe that the villain of the entire six movie series was not Palpatine. He at least was honestly evil. Qui-Gon was a so-called good guy enforcer who brought down a millennium old Republic because he was "just trying to do the right thing". Kind of like someone taking money from hard working citizens to give to those who don't feel that work is really that necessary, or a politician that would try to tax his way out of fiscal armageddon. But then again, those last two might be too out of left field for anyone to believe. Faster than light ships, laser swords, and sentient robots that are used and abused as slaves but don't rise up and slaughter their former masters are more believable than that.