Analysis

Master & Apprentice: The Importance of Failure

Master & Apprentice reminds us that the Skywalker saga we know may never have happened if many Jedi Masters had never embraced failure.
Meg Dowell
May 16, 2019
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“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” - Yoda

One of the most startling elements of Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice is present from the very beginning of the book.

Thanks to The Phantom Menace, we’re used to seeing Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi work together exceptionally as an unshakable pair. They learn together. Even as the film progresses, they grow together. And when the master meets his untimely end, the apprentice respects him so much that he chooses to break the rules -- something he never does -- in order to fulfill his master’s final request.

But that’s not the duo we are introduced to in Gray’s prequel novel. Quite the opposite, actually. Master & Apprentice, instead of showing us the unbreakable bond between a Jedi and his padawan, shows us what might have happened if the two never learned to work together at all.

The Skywalker saga begins with a battle

In this book’s opening scene, it’s clear that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, as a team, do not work. Qui-Gon gives unclear instructions to his apprentice; Obi-Wan fails to use common sense to successfully execute orders. And the two pretty much disagree on everything, especially when it comes to the Jedi Code and abiding by the rules.

Obi-Wan, as we know, is the rule-follower in this relationship; Qui-Gon, the rule-bender.

As if all this weren’t enough to threaten the partnership, Qui-Gon fails to tell Obi-Wan about his invitation to join the Jedi Council -- an invitation that would mean the young Jedi padawan would be permanently reassigned to a new master. Hurt and plagued with guilt upon learning of the invitation, Obi-Wan feels not only that he has failed his master, but that his master has also failed him. And Qui-Gon feels he has failed his apprentice and broken their relationship beyond repair.

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

By the end of the story, of course, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon begin to show signs of forming a bond that will one day extend beyond the Living Force. It’s because of that bond -- a bond strengthened thanks to struggle and disagreement -- that Obi-Wan kept his promise to his master. Qui-Gon knew there was something different about Anakin Skywalker -- so much so that in his final words, he only asked one thing of his apprentice as a final goodbye.

"Train the boy," Qui-Gon said. And train the boy, Obi-Wan did.

And thus, the Skywalker saga officially began.

What if Anakin Skywalker never became Darth Vader?

We all secretly wonder what would have happened if Anakin Skywalker had never become a Jed. If Qui-Gon had lived, he would have trained The Chosen One. But would he have been able to keep him away from Palpatine’s influence? Would he have been able to change the course of his path?

Qui-Gon, as far as the Skywalker saga is concerned, became more powerful -- and more purposeful -- when he became one with the Force in physical death. Only then could he see the true implications of the prophecies and begin to guide the living Jedi masters according to the will of the Force.

Perhaps Anakin’s fall was always the outcome that was meant to be. Perhaps, immersed in the Cosmic Force, Qui-Gon learned this. And despite all his failures, he set out to train his fellow Jedi to achieve something no Sith ever could -- something that would, one day, allow the Chosen One to save the galaxy once and for all.

In every failure, we become stronger. We learn. We grow. We pass on what we have learned. We watch our apprentices grow. We watch them grow beyond what we will ever become. And only then are all our failures worth it.

What they grow beyond


“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

Qui-Gon Jinn is not, of course, the only Jedi Master who has ever failed. Obi-Wan Kenobi failed. Yoda failed. Luke Skywalker failed. This is a theme woven into nearly every Star Wars story we’ve ever been told. Ultimately, it is the masters who fail that connect with the Force on the deepest level possible. It is the masters who fail that ultimately win.

Yoda probably failed more times than all other Jedi Masters combined -- which only makes sense, since he had 900 years’ worth of chances to both achieve success and accept failure.
Dooku: Jedi Lost showed us one of Yoda’s many shortcomings: Thinking a young Jedi apprentice was strong enough to resist the temptations that waited for him on his homeworld.

He battles Dooku again years later at the front end of the Clone Wars, only to fail again as he allows the Sith apprentice to make his grand escape from Geonosis in order to save two of his own. And in one of the most unique and eye-opening Star Wars film novelizations of all time, Matthew Stover shows us a broken and defeated Yoda in the aftermath of his battle with Darth Sidious -- a defeat that sends him into exile, where he waits to train another Skywalker.

Yet despite his mistakes, Yoda is still known as one of the most powerful Force-users who ever lived. Even in death, he overcame his failures and returned to a former apprentice to teach him a lesson. Again. Every Jedi Master we have seen make errors that affected the greater Skywalker saga have gone on to become more powerful than we could have ever possibly imagined.

Where would we be, if they hadn’t failed?

Where would we be, if Qui-Gon hadn’t clashed with his Padawan all those years ago?

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”

It is our heroes’ failures that will prepare them for the dark battles ahead -- and prepare them to win. Just as it is our own failures that will teach us all we need to know to learn, and grow, and pass on all we know to those who will succeed us and accomplish what we, the masters, could not.

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