The battle between the Jedi and the Sith is one that runs through all of Star Wars. As Obi-Wan once said, “Sith Lords are our specialty.” So why was it that Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi who by all accounts was a skillful and respected member of the Order, was defeated and killed by Darth Maul, who himself was still a Sith apprentice?
To answer that question we need to take a look at a few different factors that lead to the duel on Naboo where Qui-Gon ultimately lost his life. First of all, it was stated earlier in the film by Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, that the Sith have been extinct for a millennium at that point. The Sith and their deeds are still well known throughout the Order, but Qui-Gon had obviously never encountered one before, nor had almost any of the current Jedi, or even the generation that had trained the current Jedi. Even some of the longest-living Jedi such as Yoda would still have not been part of the Jedi Order at the time of the last recorded instance of a Sith Lord. Upon Darth Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon found himself in virtually uncharted territory.
This long absence of the Sith also means that while Jedi have clearly still trained in lightsaber combat, in practice Jedi’s were rarely confronted with instances of having to go against an opponent wielding a lightsaber. Sure, there are other tools and weapons in the galaxy that might mimic the lightsaber when it comes to combat, but without a doubt, coming face to face with a lightsaber and an opponent that can expertly wield the weapon is still something in a class of its own.
Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn
Quite simply, Qui-Gon did not have much training when it came to trying to combat Sith Lords, and at the time, it would have been irresponsible for the Jedi Counsel to spend any additional time concerning a threat that was considered long extinct, especially when you add to the fact that they believed they would be able to sense a Sith Lord resurgence should there ever be one.
Then we can contrast Qui-Gon’s training with that of Darth Maul’s, who from a very young age was trained specifically for the purpose of fighting and killing Jedi Knights. We can see, from their very brief encounter on Tatooine, just how much his duel with Darth Maul drained Qui-Gon. This is the case of Qui-Gon having to adapt his skill set on the fly to defend against Maul’s honed skill set in an environment and a situation that Maul had been specifically training for his entire life. The fact that Qui-Gon was able to hold his own in that duel long enough for this ship to escape with him on board is a testament to how strong of a Jedi he really is.
The final thing that is worth highlighting is the final maneuver used by Darth Maul to finally defeat Qui-Gon on Naboo. Just like battling Sith Lords was no longer a primary focus of Jedi training by the time Qui-Gon joined the Jedi Order, fighting against a double-bladed lightsaber was also something that was never focused on as the weapon had largely faded into obscurity at the time and, as far as the Jedi knew, was only used in a few specific training instances in the Jedi temple by this point.
Qui-Gon was ultimately defeated by a move that can only be done with a double-bladed lightsaber as Darth Maul used the handle of the weapon, striking Qui-Gon physically on the chin, stunning him for just long enough to deliver the killing blow.
In a testament to a Jedi’s training and adaptability, it should also be noted that moments after this, Obi-Wan would attack the center of Darth Maul’s handle, making it impossible for the move to be repeated on him. However, as Qui-Gon was the first-recorded Jedi in over a thousand years to not only face a Sith Lord, but face a double-bladed lightsaber alone as well, it’s understandable why he was ultimately defeated by Darth Maul.