Search the Star Wars universe and you’ll not find many characters as underutilized as Qui-Gon Jinn. A major character in Star Wars – The Phantom Menace, Jinn represents, perhaps better than any other character, the strange divide between the first of the prequel films and the other two. His death at the hands of Darth Maul both ended and complicated his story. Rather than see the errors of his headstrong ways or living on as a tragic voice of reason in the face of the Jedi’s decline, Jinn passed out of the Star Wars story, returning only for a name only cameo in Revenge of the Sith. Outside of the films, he has appeared, usually only as a disembodied voice, in only a handful of comic and television stories. That leaves writer Jody Houser a lot of room to make an impression or leverage Jinn’s impact here.
Houser writes a Qui-Gon very much in line with his portrayal in previous fiction. Jinn is something of a mystic, unconcerned with rules and procedure in the face of his own personal connection with the Force. He excuses acts that other Jedi could not abide, such as cavalier usage of the force and risky gambles, and is quick to prioritize the Force’s guidance over traditional wisdom, but also serves as a tether to the compassionate ideals of the Jedi order. It is not always clear in The Phantom Menace and its sequels whether Jinn’s renegade individuality and focus on results foreshadowed the fall of the Order into militarism or would have been a desperately needed bulwark against it, and it is this contradiction around which Houser builds her story.
Qui-Gon’s sole film appearance was the first to introduce viewers to the concept of bringing balance to the force and so he appears in the aptly titled “Balance.” Houser does a nice job of showing different sides to this problem. Balance can mean compromise, can mean allowing both sides a place, but some balances cannot be found this way. Some balances are lopsided, needing greater concessions to one side or another, and some are too fine to make everyone happy. Qui-Gon triumphs by holding true to his Jedi ideals and finding balance peacefully, but he also acknowledges that the balance between peace and force must be determined by the situation at hand.
This is a thoughtful, and regrettably timely, consideration, but the issue doesn’t always live up to it. Though much can be laid at the page count’s feet, the scenario presented is, by and large, too simple for this philosophy and too broad for that simplicity to feel earned. The planet of Bri’n is divided between the Metal Clan and the followers of the Priestess of Wood. One wants to cut down the trees and one wants to protect them. We learn little more than this and questions of necessity, society, and history are left completely off the table in favor of two opposite extremists, spherical and in a vacuum. There’s a little good and a fair amount of bad in both of them. They certainly both speak like villains and have little patience for anything but their own way. But the Priestess certainly seems to care about life and the Metal Clan hold to tribal laws, even if Houser doesn’t quite make the distinction between figure of speech and code of honor that Qui-Gon bases all his actions around.
The natives of Bri’n aren’t characters though, they’re really more a problem for Qui-Gon to solve and they play that part admirably enough. They’re clear in their needs and have enough presence to keep readers engaged as they state them.
Likewise, Qui-Gon finds an enjoyable dialectic opponent in the form of Yoda. Houser writes a great Yoda. His intonations are clear and familiar and his syntax is true to character, avoiding the word soup that some unwary writers can end up with.
Unfortunately, her Yoda is almost too likable. Still the thoughtful Jedi master of our youth, Yoda reacts to each challenge with wisdom and care and, as such, doesn’t actually provide an antithesis to Qui-Gon’s thesis. It’s almost as though the issue isn’t willing to portray Yoda or Qui-Gon as being wrong and suffers for it. When each one talks they’re speaking reason and only by defining their positions through the other’s reply does Houser present their arguments as irreconcilable. You can usually notice these moments, as they’re the weakest or most confusing line in an interaction between the two. It also is the part of the issue that reflects most poorly on Qui-Gon.
I don’t think that anyone would want Jinn recast as a loose cannon Space-John McClane, but the script’s attempts to demonstrate how he ignored the Jedi Council while staying enough on the right side of them are much less pronounced than his opinions out of their sight. This politeness tones down Jinn’s maverick image, making it seem grossly over hyped and can leave this Qui-Gon oddly conflict averse at best and skirting by on faux politeness at worst.
Though these elements don’t entirely align with the film, I happily praise Houser’s well-trained Star Wars tone. From the sudden introduction to the triumphant escape, the entire opening scene has undeniable movie feel to it. The musings at the Jedi Temple and visions in some forgotten Force nexus do too and it draws attention to just how well the script positions the art team.
Houser collaborates with Cory Smith and Walden Wong. Smith has an obvious talent for replicating the effect of camera speed. When you look at a panel, you have a sense of how long a film would linger on this frame and how forcefully the characters are moving. Qui-Gon’s escape on Bri’n captures the urgency of the moment, while the focus on the backgrounds about the Jedi Temple immediately conjures elements of the Force Theme. The framings and backgrounds are unusually strong and Smith and Wong seemingly get a kick out of the wild locations that Houser sends our Jedi protagonist.
Characters can occasionally feel slightly smoothed down, with Qui-Gon becoming somewhat waxy and Yoda’s wrinkles losing connection to the age they’re supposed to represent. Additionally, there are a few places where page layouts just feel off and a couple more where characters look like they failed to capture the spirit of a reference image. These weaknesses are scattered and varied, but there are enough of them to affect the aesthetic of the book. It’s very attractively put together work, but it doesn’t often feel like A-list art.
All that being said, at its best, the book is visually lovely. Qui-Gon’s vision is set up to be clear, but the artists make it beautiful as well. Free to exaggerate or do away with panels entirely, Smith makes the mind-bending legible. The style of this sequence is more detailed but without becoming fussy and that doesn’t distract from his usual talents. One page in particular really shows off what Smith can do with a lightsaber.
Of course this section particularly shows off the work of colorist Java Tartaglia. The symbolic contrast of red and blue is not only pleasing but really brings out the best of Smith and Wong. It would have been easy to delineate very cleanly, perhaps dramatically for effect, but Tartaglia uses the blending of these colors at the margins to not only make a point about Qui-Gon but also to imbue the scenes with real beauty. And it’s not just these striking palettes that shine. The interplay of Qui-Gon’s robes with his surroundings, the gradient of the Coruscant sky, the luster of the Jedi’s hair all come alive in this issue.
Star Wars: Age of Republic – Qui-Gon Jinn reaches out for lofty concepts but, despite some solid storytelling, isn’t able to provide the depth that they require. Houser locks onto the core question of the character almost immediately but the issue fails to pose it effectively. The conflict on Bri’n could probably have been replaced with an old Jedi parable if not for the lack of an action scene and Qui-Gon and Yoda’s debate feels hollow for its reluctance to take a side. However, Houser captures the tone of the Prequel era, giving Qui-Gon a worthy sense of being one of the Jedi’s best. She builds a strong framework for her artists to build off of and they do not disappoint. Though there are many minor issues with it, the art supports Houser’s greatest strength and delivers a real Star Wars experience.
Qui-Gon Jinn proves an interesting but flawed product and suggests that the Age of Republic mini-series might be best enjoyed à la carte. This offering seems perfect for those who want a one-and-done prequel adventure or love interrogating Jedi philosophy, but I left the issue feeling like there was more that could have been done with it.
Star Wars: Age of Republic – Qui-Gon Jinn is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.