The Failure of the Jedi

A young man runs through the jungle, with what appears to be a wrinkled green-and-tan pack on his back.  He climbs up a slender vine, grabs another and swings, Tarzan-style, to the ground.  He does a forward somersault over a log and keeps running.

Then what had appeared to be a backpack begins to speak, in an odd croaking voice.


“Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

Pausing to catch his breath, the young man mutters ominously, “Vader.”  And then half turning, asks, “Is the dark side stronger?”

The froglike little creature clinging to his back says, “No, no, no.  Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

“But how am I to know the good side from the bad?” the young man asks.

“You will know,” says the diminutive Jedi Master.  “When you are calm.  At peace.  Passive.  A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense.  Never for attack.”


So… being sick allows me the opportunity to talk about a couple things that have been bouncing around in my head for a while.  Among which being…  Jedi.

There was a thing in Australia where people were writing “Jedi” as their religion on census forms, because urban myth said that if enough people did that then the government would legally have to recognize it as a religion.  That thing has skyrocketed.  There is now an officially recognized (whatever that means) Jedi Church, which is growing in popularity.  (Perhaps predictably, a Sith Church has been created in mockery.)  And, while the seriousness of these institutions are in question, I think it’s safe to say that the philosophy and belief system that the Star Wars films describes the Jedi as having are fairly appealing–not just the laser swording and ability to have an influence on the weak-minded.

But… if the Star Wars movies are describing this mystical brotherhood of ninja-esque warrior-monks for us… certain things puzzle me.  Certain inconsistencies.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m a huge fan of the Star Wars f… Er, I should say, I’m a huge fan of the ORIGINAL Star Wars films.  I’m just wondering about the way that these movies portray the Jedi.

So let’s look at what we’re shown.

The Jedi belief structure focuses on an impersonal energy field that permeates the universe.  “Life creates it, makes it grow.  Its energy surrounds us and bids us…  here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.”  This energy field is divided into two halves.  The negative side, the “Dark Side,” is characterized by violence and aggression, and generated by raw emotion: by anger, fear, love, hatred.  The positive side (never referred to as such but presumably called the “Light Side”) is characterized by tranquility, emotionlessness, passivity, and defense, and is generated by life.

(Many have pointed out the similarity between this and certain Eastern paradigms such as Buddhism…  Well, yes and no.  Yes in the impersonality, in the dualism…  But there are also a lot of very Western ideas in there.  The Dark side with its untamed emotions are portrayed as being Evil with a capital e, the fight between Jedi and Sith is the fight between Good and Evil [or Democracy and Fascism] as much as the fight between Order and Chaos.  More on this in a bit…)

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”  –Yoda to Anakin

As much as I hate to legitimize the prequels, let’s go about this in order.

In the midst of a petty trade dispute that masks a despot playing both sides of the field to assist his rise to power, we are introduced to “Little Ani” (*gag*).  Anakin is a Tatooine slave who has innate Jedi powers, and has the potential to be the greatest Jedi ever.  During a scene in which Qui-Gon is hitting on Anakin’s mother, we discover that his powers are partially due to his virgin birth–he is “conceived by the midichlorians” (*gag*).  This may indicate that he is The Chosen One, the one destined “to bring balance to the Force.”

“Fook was losing patience. He pushed his notebook aside and muttered, ‘I think this is getting needlessly messianic.'”  –Douglas Adams, HGTTG

Anakin comes before the Jedi Council, who acknowledges his potential but refuses to train him because it would break with convention–he has not been theirs to train since birth.  So Qui-Gon gets him in through a backdoor loophole, taking him on as apprentice.  However, in the midst of the aforementioned Machiavellian machinations, Qui-Gon is killed and the training of Anakin falls to a young Jedi only just out of apprenticeship himself.  Yoda expresses his misgivings about the situation.  “The Chosen One the boy may be,” he says.  “Nevertheless, grave danger do I fear in his training.”

As they train Anakin, they encourage him over and over again to detach himself from the things of this world, to not allow himself to care for anyone or anything.  They express concern when–of all things–this little boy misses his mother.  Afraid to lose her, I think?” Yoda asks.  Later still, as the boy becomes a whiny teenager with a major crush on a woman five years older than him, they advise him against romantic love; such a thing is forbidden, Jedi are celibate.  (Wouldn’t keeping the Jedi celibate eventually cull the Force-sensitive trait from the gene pool?  I wonder…)  And still later, when he has premonitions of his lover’s death, they advise him against grief.

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”  –Yoda

But this isn’t enough for Anakin–and as a Western audience, we sympathize with him.  Anakin has a very real, human, need–to grieve, to love, to interact emotionally with those around them.  The Jedi Order does not permit him this.  They do not allow him his humanity.

Which is conflicting with us fans of the original trilogy–we grew up thinking of the Jedi as the good guys, as superheroes.  Here they are coming across more like a conservative Southern Baptist church’s elder board than anything else.  We know the Jedi are the good side but… ye gods, they’re stodgy!  All these bloody rules…

It is perhaps inevitable that Anakin will buck the rules, will rebel against his teacher (who himself isn’t confident enough in his role as mentor to lay down the law when Anakin gets uppity).  And while his rebellion in the last prequel is far more convoluted and complex (and stupid) than it had to be, we saw it coming.  He was young and in love; he had lost his mother to a violent death; his wife was going to die.  These are ingredients for strong emotion, and emotion is antithetical to the Jedi.

“There is no emotion; there is peace.  There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.  There is no passion; there is serenity.  There is no chaos: there is harmony.  There is no death; there is the Force.”  –The Jedi Code

Now we have this messianic figure, this Chosen One Who Will Bring Balance To The Force, who turns evil.  Makes your casual moviewatcher scratch his head, but there are two possible interpretations of this.  First–that at the very end of the series, Anakin turns good again just long enough to kill the emperor and remove the Sith from the universe for good.  That’s one way to look at it–that Balance To The Force means the end of the Sith Order.  Another interpretation says that the Jedi had “Balance” all wrong–that they thought Balance would be a good thing.  But what did Anakin do?  He destroyed all the Jedi except two, Obi-Wan and Yoda.  Two Jedi… two Sith.  At the end of Ep III those two pair have fought each other basically to a standstill (a bit of high ground notwithstanding), right to the point where in both the Yoda/Palpatine fight and the ObiWan/Anakin fight they Force-push at each other and cancel each other out.  Balance.

I’d like to submit a third interpretation.

In the original (and vastly superior, classic) movies, Luke is trained in what we now see is a very unorthodox manner.  For starters he’s only getting his first training at age eighteen.  For Anakin, eight was considered too old!  Secondarily his training is minimal–a bit from Obi-Wan, a bit from Yoda, all interrupted and half-finished.  He never has any of the Jedi stodginess forced on him because his mentors didn’t have the time to really teach it to him.  He chooses the Light side ultimately but skirts around the edge of the Dark–fear of Vader, the desire to protect his friends… compassion for his father.

It’s this last one that really puts him in conflict with the two older (one deceased) Jedi.

Luke: There is still good in him.
Obi-Wan: He’s more machine now than man; twisted and evil.
Luke: I can’t do it, Ben.
Obi-Wan: You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.
Luke: I can’t kill my own father.
Obi-Wan: *shrugs ruefully*  Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.

Obi-Wan and Yoda want Luke to defeat both Anakin and the Emperor.  He says he can’t.  When given the opportunity, he doesn’t.  He insists there is “still good” in Anakin.

And in the end, Anakin destroys his master rather than see his son killed.  The word isn’t used, but a word exists for such sacrificial familial affection…

…and such affection is still antithetical to the Jedi.

The Prequels, for all their (many, many) flaws, put the original three movies in perspective.  When taken together, all six movies have a common theme: the failure of the Jedi.  The Jedi Order was flawed.  It suppressed and repressed basic human emotional needs, leading to the rebellion of its own.  (Palpatine never seemed to be short of recruits–how many disavowed fallen Jedi were there out there?)  Eventually, it led to the Order’s own self-destruction… But similar seeds were sown for the Sith Order’s self-destruction.

Neither camp was humanly compelling (the Jedi demanding total Stoicism from its adherents, the Sith stuck in a “Nyah nyah nyah, I’m evil, come be evil with me!” motif).  Neither camp allowed the familial bond (one considering it dangerous attachment, the other demanding the destruction of such bonds).  Thus, both Orders slipped into eventual irrelevance.

Balance to the Force.  The slate was wiped clean.  All the old Jedi are dead, all the Sith are dead.  (Luke goes on to found a New Jedi Order, sure, but it is far different from the original Order: its members are not celibate, not bound to a restrictive and Pharisaical code of behavior.)  Balance is restored via a purge of both camps, like a forest fire removing old growth. 

One can only hope that the New Jedi Order doesn’t let similar bonds of tradition and philosophy ossify it to the point of irrelevance the way its predecessors did.

(I give it fifty years, tops.)

The preceeding post was written while the author had a temperature of 101 F, and thus makes no claims regarding cohesiveness, coherence, or clarity.


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