“For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.”
With these lofty words, Obi-Wan Kenobi introduced us to the Jedi. From the very beginning, they were built up as near-mythical beings. Obi-Wan would occasionally admit his own failings, but the Jedi themselves were tragic, angelic, fallen heroes of a bygone era. And then, in the prequel trilogy, we saw them in their prime before the fall. We saw them for what they really were. The galaxy is better off without the order.
To be clear, I’m not celebrating the killing of the younglings and Padawans. Obviously, there were members of the order who were innocent and who did not deserve to be killed by Darth Vader. I’m also not defending the Empire, which was oppressive and evil and needed to be banished from the galaxy. The truth is, though, the Jedi Order betrayed everything it supposedly stood for and was deeply, irredeemably flawed by the time of the Clone Wars. It deserved to be destroyed.
The Myth and Reality of the Jedi
If the Jedi actually lived up to the hype, maybe I’d feel different about their demise. In the original trilogy, all know about the order is what Obi-Wan and Yoda tell us. They do their best to make the Jedi sound amazing. However, before The Empire Strikes Back is over, they’re exposed as liars and frauds.
Obi-Wan lied to Luke from the very beginning, about his father as well as the Jedi Order as a whole. Even when Luke confronted him about this lie, he refused to admit it. Instead, he fed Luke some nonsense about how he had actually told the truth, “from a certain point of view”. This is par for the course with Obi-Wan and the Jedi.
He and Yoda liked to portray themselves as noble, aged warrior monks who were betrayed and exiled. The truth, however, is much different. They possessed an incredibly flexible set of morals, with which they could justify pretty much anything. They were, in fact, fanatics whose sad devotion to an ancient religion led them to do horrible things.
The Machinations of Old Men
Obi-Wan and Yoda were supposed to protect Luke and Leia. And they did, at least until Luke and Leia were useful. Leia was groomed to be a political proxy for the Jedi cause from a very young age. She served as a member of the Imperial Senate and helped her adoptive father form Rebellion while still a teenager. That doesn’t sound safe. And it wasn’t, considering her imprisonment, torture, and near-execution aboard the Death Star. They didn’t care, though.
While Leia was the public face of their cause, Luke was the knife with which they’d exact their revenge. Obi-Wan kept his distance at first. Luke knew him, but only in a mysterious sense. To Luke, he was a “strange old hermit”. Owen called him a “wizard”. Considering Luke grew up on a desert planet, literally farming moisture from the ground, any potential excitement must have piqued his interest instantly. Obi-Wan intrigued him.
Then, he told Luke stories about his father, about whom Luke always wanted to know more. Of course, Obi-Wan didn’t tell the truth. Instead, he told Luke a version of history that’s actually a lie, from any point of view. Obi-Wan said the Jedi were once guardians of all that was good in the galaxy before the “dark times” and the Empire. He said he and Luke’s father fought together in the Clone Wars. He said Darth Vader murdered Luke’s Father.
Of course, Vader didn’t betray Luke’s father. The Jedi actually were one of the primary causes of the Clone Wars as well as the Empire. Obi-Wan and Yoda didn’t even lie to Luke for a noble purpose. It was all part of their plant to convert him to their religion so they could use him to assassinate his own father.
The Jedi Order of the Old Republic
By the time we first see them in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi have come to occupy a strange place in the Republic. The Jedi functioned, effectively, as a fourth branch of the government. The Republic was almost a pseudo-theocracy. The order was a religious body. It wielded far too much influence on galactic politics. In turn, the Republic itself wielded the Jedi against its own citizens, using them to negotiate treaties and end disputes, often with violence.
In short, the order was nothing like what Obi-Wan described in A New Hope. They weren’t guardians of peace and justice, they were a piece of the government. It’s not clear where the Jedi received their funding, but it can be assumed that they were at least partially supported by the Republic. They didn’t live among the people, helping and serving them. Instead, they were on Coruscant. From there, the Senate could send them anywhere in the galaxy to make sure people fell in line.
The Jedi could have used their situation to help people. They could have used their political influence to ensure peace and a good, just government. They didn’t. In fact, they failed at their primary mission.
The Jedi Did Horrible Things. On a Regular Basis.
Obi-Wan and Yoda also failed to mention several key details about the Jedi Order and their history to Luke. For example, it was their practice to “identify” children who were Force-sensitive and then remove them from their families. They typically identified extremely young children, often infants or toddlers. They initially said Anakin Skywalker was too old, because he was nine. The Jedi also kept a list of all Force-sensitive children they’ve identified and their locations. Once they removed the children, they instructed the children to sever all attachment to those families and homes. The Jedi were their family now. Think about that for a moment. Think how downright creepy that sounds. They weren’t just a religious order. They were also a government agency. In what galaxy would this ever be acceptable?
Perhaps the children’s’ families consented to give them over to the Jedi. Even if that is true in some cases, we also know the Jedi don’t have a particularly solid grasp of what “consent” means. Literally the first Force power that we see in A New Hope is the Jedi mind trick. We later learn, through the rest of the films, that this is a common technique for a Jedi. It’s a tool they often use to make things go their way. To put it another way, they routinely take away people’s agency and use their powers to influence decisions. If they’re the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, this doesn’t sound like a very just thing to do.
In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan says “my allegiance is to the Republic, to democracy”. It’s clear, however, that the Jedi had no problem doing very undemocratic things from time to time, as long as it was in their best interest.
The Order’s True Colors Show Through
At the very beginning of Attack of the Clones, Mace Windu tells Chancellor Palpatine “you must realize there aren’t enough Jedi to protect the Republic. We’re keepers of the peace, not soldiers.” The exact time span of events in the movie isn’t explicit, but at most a few days pass between that statement and when the Jedi unquestioningly accept a collective commission as the officers of the Grand Army of the Republic. Master Windu changes his tune rather quickly, doesn’t he? He changes his tune for rather simple reasons.
They realized they might lose some of their power and influence. If the Republic were to lose its status as galactic hegemon, surely the Jedi’s importance would decrease as well. They would no longer have free reign to “identify” children as recruits. Then, suddenly, this huge army appears. The army is a weapon, one with which they can forcefully maintain their grip on power. And they didn’t hesitate to use it, despite their supposed commitment to peace and despite the incredibly sketchy origins of the army itself.
The Separatists never attacked the Republic before the war. The Republic attacked and invaded Geonosis. Yes, the Separatists were building up an army, but wasn’t the Republic debating doing the exact same thing? It surely could’ve given way to a sort of cold war and, eventually, a real war. We don’t know for sure, though. Regardless, the Republic started the war. That is a fact. And, once again, the Jedi betrayed their own supposed values.
The Grand Army of the Republic and the Clone Wars
The Grand Army is, in fact, the most troubling aspect of the entire war. Besides the obvious ethical questions that arise from the idea of large-scale, industrial cloning of human beings, there’s a bigger issue here.
The Clones were, to put it simply, slaves. I honestly cannot think of any other way to describe them. They have no right to self-determination or even the ability to think freely. The Clones were conditioned since birth and trained to do nothing but fight from day one. They were purchased. There’s nothing to indicate that they were every paid for their efforts. And the Jedi had no problem with this, apparently. The Jedi never even discuss the morality of all this.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Qui-Gon Jinn, for example, clearly had no problem with slavery. He only cared about slavery when he wanted one of the slaves to join him as his Padawan.
The Jedi Order are supposedly the guardians of “peace” and “justice” in the Republic. This same order chose to not only fight in but actually lead a war in which a government fights to maintain its monopoly on power. Of course they fought, because they were a part of that same government. They wanted to keep power too. Their army wasn’t made up of volunteer citizens of that government. Instead, the Jedi marched at the head of an army of manufactured slaves bred specifically to die for the Republic.
It was nothing short of poetic justice when the Clones turned on them.
The New Jedi Order
The future of the Jedi is very much an unknown. Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Order seemed to have been on the right track, before Ben Solo destroyed almost all of them. Luke at least understood that the Jedi had failed because they compromised their core values. He understood that they caused their own downfall. As a result, he sought to avoid those same mistakes. He removed the Jedi from their place of power in the Republic’s government. Luke actually seemed to be trying to avoid having any influence over galactic politics at all. He wanted to learn and grow and teach instead of gain more and more power for the order.
At this point, it’s unclear where Rey will take the Jedi Order, if it survives at all. The Republic very well might not survive either, even if the Resistance wins the war. Yoda and Luke, however, seemed confident that she knew all she needed to carry on their legacy. Hopefully, she stays true to what the Jedi were supposed to stand for. Maybe Rey’s Jedi will actually be the Jedi we deserve.
Do you think the Jedi deserved to be destroyed? How do you think Rey will remake the Jedi Order? I want to hear your responses to my very unpopular opinion!