I have to be careful. If I keep this up, I will have to make an entire section for Star Wars. But I really wanted to articulate something that I have–throughout the years–discussed time and again.
The Jedi Knights.
When I first thought of the Jedi Knights, with what little we were told through the Old Trilogy, I pictured them as something not unlike the X-Men–people born with strange powers–who are somehow also like a galactic police: in that they have their roles as peacekeepers, but they are also a distinct people and citizens of the Republic.
Of course, in the gap between the Old Trilogy and the New, there were other details that formed as well due to the Expanded Universe. Tales of the Jedi established that, at the time, there were many decentralized enclaves of Jedi: with some ancient and wise teachers guiding multiple students of various species, genders, and social backgrounds. Some Jedi had families, partners, spouses, and children while others served as full-time guardians, scholars, and diplomats. Some were born into the Order, others adopted, and still more joined voluntarily. They also had ties to the Galaxy: to people who were not Force-sensitive, while others investigated the glorious mystery that was the galactic energy field known as the Force and defended against the abuses of the Dark Side and injustice.
I admit, I was probably one of those people that was pretty spoiled by reading the Expanded Universe stories after Return of the Jedi and getting used to how Luke Skywalker developed and ran his Jedi Order, and thought it and the precedent in Tales determined how the Jedi Order had always been before its first destruction.
But then, like many others, I found out I was wrong. I found out that the Jedi Order was essentially a highly centralized monastic organization that took children from their parents–mostly willingly–when discovered to have a “high midichlorian count” in their bloodstreams, and trained them to essentially be apart from Galactic society while also somehow still serving only the Republic and, well, being a part of its judicial branch. Jedi were not allowed to own anything save their lightsabers–and apparently “the lightsaber is their life” though I always used to think true mastery of the Force was evolving past needing to even use it anymore–and they were not allowed to marry, or have children of their own: though they could have relationships provided that their duty to the Order and the Force came first.
Basically, in the Prequels the Jedi Order became a religious group with various psychokinetic abilities that somehow served to enforce and mediate a Galaxy of secularism and a multitude of other beliefs. And while they were encouraged to accept the diversity and multiculturalism of the Galaxy at large as peacekeepers and diplomats–trained specially to know that everyone and everything has “a certain point of view,” for the most part they couldn’t really apply this philosophy to themselves and their own internal practices.
In short, from my perspective the Prequels made most of the Jedi bland, unrelatable, forgettable and, some cases, really unlikable. These Jedi, compared to the ones of Luke’s time and the ones that predated even them, do not seem to have passion for anything, they do not fight as well and only defensively (which mostly is not in their favour against Dark Side opponents), they seem to have a whole lot of prohibitions–more than just being mindful of your feelings–and they make themselves separate from people who are “not like them.”
There are exceptions–such as the Cerean Master Ki-Adi-Mundi having a polygamous relationship to help save his species–and I even admit I understand the structure involved too. After all, you would want to regulate a group of people with advanced abilities and keep them from potentially misusing them–even by accident–and they have to be very careful in what they do. But there is a point where reasonable caution becomes fear. The irony of course is that in the films and the books, the Jedi like to say that, “Fear is a path to the Dark Side.” But here the Jedi are, trying to eliminate the potential for attachments and conflicting interests in their initiates before they are even cognizant of them for fear that they might turn to the Dark Side out of passion. Essentially, they were forced to ignore the will of the Force–in their basic reproductive and emotional urges that most life is programmed with–in order to serve the will of the Jedi Council and the Order.
There is interesting story behind the Order becoming an almost purely monastic one: in that there was something called the Ruusan Reformation: where after a major galactic Dark Age the Order instituted all of these reforms after the Sith supposedly “destroyed themselves” to prevent or at least diminish the potential of more Dark Side-users rising. Basically, it is like our world: in that when we have times of peace, we tend to be more liberal as societies, whereas in war or great tragedy we tend to become more repressive or, at best, conservative with many groups within these structures becoming both self-censuring and self-policing. But as I said with regards to the Jedi, this was still something motivated by fear and, well, fear at least indirectly led to the inevitable.
I also think that these back stories, while really clever, are obviously retroactive and kind of a cop-out by George Lucas: made specifically to help the plot in Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side. You can name a whole of cultural precedents for me in our world–the Knights Templar, the Vestal Virgins, the Guardians of Plato’s Kallipolis and many other orders of monks, celibates, idealized communal police forces and their roles–but I still think it is a cop-out.
There were many ways that the Jedi could have been left as peacekeepers and equal galactic citizens while also retaining the tensions that would have led to their destruction. Things that would have allowed them to remain, at least to me, as human and relatable beings while making their deaths that much more horrible. Even Anakin’s fall could have been made even nastier this way. I understand that film has different requirements as a medium for expression as opposed to books and that an idea simply conveyed–especially in a really clear archetypal form–can be the most effective, but that still doesn’t detract from my point.
I’m going to tell you now about the fall of the Galactic Republic as I imagined it. I saw the Jedi living side by side with other Republic citizens: some revering them and others fearing what they can do. Hence my X-Men reference. Palpatine manipulates his way into power and engineers the Clone Wars as per usual: save that when I heard about Clone Wars I thought both–or all sides–used clones in their battles as terrifying and disposable legions of soldiers. It does not take much these days to imagine whole lifeforms being engineered simply for the purposes of warfare: threatening the very nature of the Galaxy and life itself. That is what is at stake.
In the meantime, Palpatine is slowly and surely turning the populace against the Jedi Knights. He is being clever and not coming out and outright saying anti-Jedi rhetoric, but he has others do it for them. Pretty soon, members of the Order have to be watched, are excluded from places, and measures are taken–a few from the EU–to make areas and situations where their powers can be neutralized. Incidents happen where people get into fights with Jedi and, save for the Masters–and in my vision I thought that Masters were the pinnacle of a Jedi’s power and wisdom and on par with Yoda and Obi-Wan–they cannot prevent the conflicts.
Anakin is Luke’s age when Obi-Wan finds him on Tatooine: and he trains him. Yoda is Obi-Wan’s Master and has long evolved past his need to use a lightsaber. Owen Lars is Obi-Wan’s brother: which explains their strained relationship in that Obi-Wan had the Force potential and was the hero, while Owen was essentially a “mundane” and liked being a moisture farmer. Anakin and Obi-Wan go around the Galaxy together and eventually become drinking buddies and friends. Anakin is exposed to all of the conflict going on and he does get befriended by Palpatine. Anakin also meets Padme, or whomever at the time I thought would be his wife, and they plan to have a family and Anakin flat out tells Obi-Wan that he wants his son to have his lightsaber should anything happen to him. I could see Anakin a lot like a combination of Han Solo but with moments of wise Luke: a far more relatable and likeable person than in the Prequels.
But War takes its toll and Anakin starts to go crazy: each conflict inflicting a toil on his stress level and mental well being. Obi-Wan tries to save him, but they are fighting on Mustafar and Anakin accidentally falls into a volcano or gets burned and injured. Obi-Wan thinks Anakin is dead and takes his lightsaber. But Anakin lives on through sheer hate and the belief that Obi-Wan tried to kill him and abandoned him to die. Palpatine retrieves Anakin and influences him further to blame Obi-Wan and the Jedi for the entire War and for Anakin’s injuries. Then we see the slow, painstaking physical transformation of Darth Vader. Then in the third film we see a cybernetic Darth Vader leading an assault on the main Jedi Temple–with now Imperial troopers who can also be birth-born recruits because we all know that normal people can commit atrocities just as well as any clone–and slaughtering powerful Jedi we have come to relate to and care about. You know: the Jedi Purge we expected.
In the meantime, we see Jedi children being taken away by the new Imperial government to places unknown: along with adults and Jedi sympathizers. Collaborators turn them in for bounty and out of fear. But some are still sympathizers and try to hide them. We also see Purge troopers and Jedi hunters come up with energy cages and ysalamiri: creatures that can neutralize the Force around a captive Force-sensitive. This is a nice lead-in for the Dark Times where we see the Jedi fugitives fighting for their lives and being murdered by Darth Vader and friends. It is also made clear that only penultimate masters of the Dark Side can use Force Lightning: and not everyone and their grandmother. And then we see Bail Organa hiding and raising Leia and Obi-Wan taking Luke: and we know that there will be hope for some kind of justice and restoration … and eventually the return of those strange and wonderful Jedi Knights.
I know there is a great irony implicit in this essentially fanboy rage article: in that my previous post dealt with how I hated how dark Star Wars had become beyond what was necessary. However, I recognize that the events leading to the Empire and Darth Vader and the genocide of the Jedi were not pleasant moments. But it could have still been Dark and very real: something visceral that people could relate to. What would you relate to more: seeing a bunch of distant Knights you barely know get shot by some command predisposed clone troopers, or some characters you know and families you saw even tangentially being carted away to the Imperial Palace for death … or worse. Or even seeing some well-developed characters die because of how they were born. And then when Luke has his confrontation in the Old Trilogy, you know what is at stake and you see Vader too beginning to actually realize what a fool he has been and we could have watched as he acts accordingly. You also see that even though what Luke and Anakin do can never truly make up for what was lost, there is a least, you know, “a new hope.”
Instead, we got a cookie-cutter “Execute Order 66” on some people we barely knew and saw a bunch of relatively forced characters fight. That is how I feel, and the sad thing is I also feel like it could have been so much better than it was. I was really disappointed about how the Jedi were portrayed. I expected better. A lot better.
I am almost finished this. I could easily end this off by stating that my issue with the Prequels and the Jedi in them was not that they were the lead-up to a tragedy, but they were a lead-up to a very contrived tragedy. No. I think what also really annoys me is what happened afterwards.
In the Expanded Universe, there was a book called Traitor. It was written by Matthew Stover, before his excellent adaptation of Revenge of the Sith. And in this book, Darth Vader’s grandson Jacen Solo essentially touches both sides of the Force and is taught through some hard, brutal but necessary lessons that the Force has no sides. The Light and Dark Side come from within the practitioner and not the Force itself. It was a well-written and well-reasoned book. Unfortunately, writers afterwards came to take Vergere — Jacen Solo’s Master’s — words as complete literal truth: that “everything I tell you is a lie.”
It turns out that Vergere was a secret Sith and she was feeding Jacen something called The Potentium Heresy: a philosophy that states that as long as a Force practitioner intends no wrong, they can do no wrong. In the end, Vergere was working with another Sith who eventually turns Jacen into something like his grandfather: even though he should have really known better.
Of course, neither this Heresy nor the “shades of grey” approach are mutually inclusive things. The fact is: whether the Force has two exact sides is irrelevant. If you seriously take the time to look at your actions and guide them appropriately, it is beyond this really simplistic binary opposition of black and white. No person is either pure good or pure evil. The view of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force is really Manichean–an absolutist dual morality of good verses evil–and even the Old Trilogy questions it when Luke almost a few times gives into his anger, but ultimately looks deep into himself and stops. Hell, I can even argue that just as the Force influences peoples’ actions in Star Wars, people’s actions influence the Force and create its Light and Dark Sides: though that becomes a question of the chicken or the egg.
And also, in the Expanded Universe, there are species that have no concept of Light and Dark and have different forms of morality. Some have entirely different spectrums: like the Aing-Tii monks. So how do you deal with that?
There are some who said the retconning back to an absolutist Light verses Dark mentality after Traitor was due to the dislike of some fans, but I also read somewhere that it was Lucas himself, or his company, that essentially towed the line of the Force having a Light and a Dark Side, and nothing in-between: which was what Revenge of the Sith was apparently made to illustrate. And this in itself doesn’t even have to downplay or render everything someone like Jacen learned. As I said, the Force–no matter what it is or midichlorians or not–is only part of the equation. There is the freewill, sentient part of the character to put into question as well: the very thing that makes a person stand out. Especially a Jedi Knight.
Of course, you can argue that this last part of my post is neither here nor there: in that it is not a part of the films. But all I am saying is that the Jedi Order, and the Force itself, could have been handled in a much more mature and nuanced manner–one that adults and children could have related to–than how it had been.
I am only hoping that the next films at the very least allow Jedi Knights to have families: to have a network of friends and allies so that nothing that happened in the Revenge that was, and the Revenge that could have been, will ever happen again in the same way. It is one of my only hopes.