Star Wars Finally Delivers the Missing Piece of The Phantom Menace
Star Wars canon just fleshed out the story of one of the Prequel Trilogy's most enigmatic characters.
This Star Wars article contains spoilers for Tales of the Jedi.
Back when he still had full creative control of Star Wars, George Lucas spent a lot of time revisiting and tweaking his finished films, much to the frustration of fans who’d grown up with the theatrical releases. Using (at the time) innovative CGI, the creator retroactively added characters to scenes where they hadn’t appeared before, or completely changed how iconic moments played out (e.g. Han shot first). It began with the Star Wars Special Editions in the late ’90s, which remastered the Original Trilogy for a new generation of fans, and Lucas continued to re-cut these classic movies until right before he sold his studio to Disney. It’s why when the first three Star Wars movies dropped on Disney+, Greedo now said “Maclunkey” to Han right before the scoundrel killed him, further complicating an already controversial scene. It’s not surprising, then, that when Lucas sold Star Wars in 2012, some Original Trilogy fans breathed a sigh of relief.
What’s interesting is that Disney has continued to retroactively add things to the continuity of Lucas’ six movies — just not within the films themselves. The final season of The Clone Wars, for example, directly ties Ahsoka’s adventures to the events of Revenge of the Sith, finally answering the question of how she escaped Order 66. Meanwhile, books like The Princess and the Scoundrel address questions never answered by the films, such as how Leia could remember her mother despite Padme dying minutes after giving birth to her twins in the Prequel Trilogy.
Now we also have Tales of the Jedi, an animated anthology series that acts as a prequel to the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars but also ties directly into the events of The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith. Thanks to Tales of the Jedi, we finally know why Jedi Master Yaddle disappeared after Episode I and that Ahsoka was present during Padme’s funeral on Naboo in the final minutes of Episode III. And the anthology series reveals yet one more hidden scene from the Prequels that we never got to watch on the big screen but that adds important context to what’s happening behind the scenes at the Jedi Temple when Qui-Gon returns to Coruscant in The Phantom Menace.
In episode 4, “The Sith Lord,” we finally learn what the treacherous Count Dooku was up to during the opening chapter of the Prequel Trilogy. We follow him through the Jedi Temple, as he slips into the Archives and erases Kamino from the records. This is of course a moment that sets up one of Attack of the Clones‘ central mysteries, but an even bigger scene is yet to come.
Once he’s concealed the existence of the cloners’ home world, where the Grand Army of the Republic is already being genetically engineered in secret, Dooku is reunited with his former apprentice Qui-Gon Jinn, who brings grave news to Coruscant: he believes he’s encountered a Sith Lord on Tatooine. This is of course referring the earlier scene in The Phantom Menace when Qui-Gon escaped Maul in the desert by the skin of his teeth.
The news is alarming, to say the least, since the Jedi have spent years believing their worst enemies were all but extinct. Of course, even as Dooku feigns curiosity about “the mysterious attacker” on Tatooine, we know that he already knows all about Darth Maul and his master, and that the truth is even worse than that: the Jedi Master is actually working with the villains who will eventually kill his apprentice and years later destroy the rest of the Order.
Which is why it’s so ironic when, during their short reunion, Dooku warns Qui-Gon that he must take care of himself as a Sith Lord is “not to be trifled with.” The Jedi Master reminds his apprentice that he can no longer be there to protect him, even as he works to manipulate the events that will indirectly lead to Qui-Gon’s death. But “The Sith Lord” also makes clear that this treachery isn’t so black and white.
Later, when Dooku meets Darth Sidious on Coruscant, he is clearly upset about the death of Qui-Gon. For a moment Dooku even feels regret. He’s been so hellbent on bringing true justice and order to the galaxy, something he feels the “corrupt” Jedi Order can no longer provide, that he never truly considered the consequences of signing away his soul to the Dark Lord of the Sith. In this way, Tales of the Jedi brings the previously unseen tragedy of Count Dooku into full view, a storyline that the Prequel films never had a chance to explore in detail (let’s face it: Dooku is more caricature than fleshed-out baddie in the movies).
By the time we meet Christopher Lee’s smug Separatist leader in Attack of the Clones, his fall to the dark side has already happened. Dooku is secretly Sith Lord Darth Tyranus, Palpatine’s apprentice. In the more traditional black-and-white language of the first six Star Wars films, Dooku plays an absolute villain with few (if any) redeemable qualities — he’s the guy Sidious has sent out to kill a senator, spark a galactic war, and build the Death Star. But what Tales of the Jedi makes clear is that there’s more to Dooku’s story than that.
What begins as good intentions — Dooku believes the Jedi have been corrupted, doing the bidding of the elites who wield all of the power instead of protecting those who really need their help — sends the Jedi Master down a dark path. By the time he’s indirectly caused the death of Qui-Gon, it’s too late for Dooku to turn back on his quest for a more just society, and slaying Yaddle when she discovers this betrayal is the final step in Dooku’s transformation into Lord Tyranus. By the end of The Phantom Menace, Dooku’s scheming has resulted in the deaths of two of his closest friends, and the loss of whatever soul he had left.
It certainly would have been interesting to see this tragedy play out a bit more on screen in The Phantom Menace to show how Palpatine’s plan extended far beyond Maul and Naboo, and to explore who Dooku was before his ultimate fall to the dark side. And it would have made Dooku’s introduction in Attack of the Clones feel a little less jarring, too.
Tales of the Jedi is streaming now on Disney+.