Published on May 4th, 2015 | by Michael0
Star Wars Day: The Jedi Order – A Hive of Scum and Villainy
Your parents lied to you. The films deceived you. Everything he believed as a child was a lie. Consider the following: X is a fundamentalist religious organisation, a warrior caste, a self-appointed, self-perpetuating, unaccountable body which charges itself with enforcing law and order in all its territories. Disobedience is punished by exile or death. Stay on the path of the righteous, or be killed like a dog, infidel.
Now what does X refer to there, the Taliban or the Jedi? Despite what George Lucas would have you believe, the Jedi are not the last bastions of peace and morality in the Galaxy. On the contrary, I intend to argue that the Jedi are all complete shitheels, incompetent shitheels at that. First a couple of caveats: I have not read any extended universe materials and don’t intend to use evidence from them here. I accept that there may be useful or illuminating passages in there that I will not be aware of. This is unavoidable (and hilariously it’s all be ditched as not canon anyway). Secondly, I will be referencing all six films so far, so apologies if making repeated references to the prequel trilogy upsets your sensibilities. Rest assured there is plenty of evidence in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi that the Jedi are wrong ‘uns; not all of life’s ills can be blamed on The Phantom Menace.
Part I – In which the Jedi are revealed to be fundamentalists
George Lucas envisioned the Jedi as being warrior monks, of a sort. Like the samurai in the Akira Kurosawa films, the Jedi are supposed to combine wisdom, courage and altruism with formidable fighting skills. The name itself is probably derived from ‘jidaigeki’, the name given to the genre of historical Japanese films that inspired Lucas. The most obvious influence on Star Wars of these films is The Hidden Fortress, which has not only a fearsome Samurai General (inevitable played by the magnificent Toshiro Mifune, the original choice to play Obi Wan Kenobi) but also a pair of bickering ‘everymen’ peasants, who clearly inspired the robot duo of C3PO and R2D2. What Lucas didn’t pick up on, or chose to ignore, is that the film’s Japanese title, Kakushi toride no san akunin, translates as ‘The Three Villains of The Hidden Fortress’. That’s right; Kurosawa thought that the obstinate, violent General played by Mifune is every bit as villainous as the greedy farmers, despite or perhaps because of his unwavering devotion to his task.
There is no such subtlety in Star Wars of course, a cinematic series not known for its nuance. No, the Jedi are portrayed as virtually flawless heroes, set of the course of righteousness. Taking the original films first, we can see what sort of people the Jedi are. Ben Kenobi, an old man who lives in a cave, convinces a local idiot that said idiot is a great man destined to save the galaxy. He also lies through his teeth concerning the idiot’s father, in order to recruit him to the cause. The old man fills the local idiot’s head with religious fervour and Manichean twaddle. ‘Manichaeism’, for those for think I’m being needlessly pretentious, is an old Persian religion which taught of an eternal struggle between a world of light and a world of darkness. More recently, ‘Manichean’ has come to mean the easy dividing of two factions, usually along the lines of good and evil. Either definition describes the world of Star Wars well. It’s childish claptrap, essentially, something that should be consigned to Saturday morning kids cartoons in which the villains live in evil lairs and are thoroughly evil just because. No narrative can be compelling when broken down the good versus evil. It’s why Saga is better than Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire is better than Lord of The Rings and frankly it’s part of the reason why competitive sport is better than bloody wrestling. Nothing in life is broken down into good versus evil, not really, so why compromise your fiction by introducing it?
As Ben teaches Luke, and as the film series constantly reinforces, when you are a Jedi, there is a light side and there is a dark side. The light side are the virtuous, selfless Jedi, the dark side are the Sith (although this term is no uttered in the original films). Already we’ve hit a problem. Answer me this, readers; who, in the history of human conflict, has ever considered their side to be the evil one? So why would the Emperor, Vader and their ilk so gleefully call themselves the dark side? It’s twaddle, is what it is. ‘But Michael’ you might say ‘surely the fault there lies with George Lucas and not with the Jedi?’. You’d be correct, of course. The Jedi aren’t responsible for the failings of their creator. Indeed, Lucas’ worldview colours the Star Wars universe from top to bottom. After all, this is the man that was so upset that people weren’t taking from the films the messages he wanted that he ceaselessly tinkered with them, to the amusement of no-one. I am firmly of the belief that the author of a work is not the sole arbiter of that work’s meaning – the audience is free to take from it as they see fit. For Lucas to turn around and change the details after the fact (chiefly with the Han/Greedo encounter) is really not on. Then there are the various computer games in which the player can choose whether there character is Sith or Jedi. This choice is rendered almost useless when one learns that whenever such a choice is offered, the official canon always records the choice as Jedi. Lucas seems determined that the Sith be painted as villains and the Jedi as heroes axiomatically, which devalues the whole saga.
This self-aggrandising arrogance extends from Lucas to his favoured creations. In The Phantom Menace, there is much talk about a prophecy predicting a powerful force user. It is said that this person (thought to be Anakin Skywalker) will be ‘balance to the force’. The Jedi assume that this means he will end the threat of the Sith (in universe it is thought by some Jedi scholars that references to the Sith were added later). In what galaxy does ‘balance’ equate to the utter destruction of one party? It’s typical of the one-eyed thinking displayed by the Jedi. In the event, Anakin’s actions eventually lead to the death of most of the Jedi (ha!) with Obi Wan, Yoda, Anakin himself and Palpatine surviving. Two Jedi and two Sith, a better example of ‘balance’ (although I believe that extended Universe material reveals that more Jedi escaped the purge. But, as we’ve said, it’s not canon anymore!).
Part II – In which the Jedi’s practices are cruel and barbarous
As I’ve previously mentioned, the Jedi see themselves as akin to an order of monks. Discipline, meditation and self-denial are as much a part of being a Jedi as is being handy with a lightsaber. The Jedi are taught to conquer their emotions, such as fear and hate, though they are encouraged to feel compassion. All very well and good, you’d think. But the Jedi are also not allowed to have sexual relations, or develop romantic feelings. The Jedi Order is guilty of creating stunted individuals, denied much of the rich tapestry of life because their religion forbids it. Jedi are brought up from very young, and therefore have no real understanding of what they are eschewing to become a Jedi. Taking the case of Anakin Skywalker, probably the most notorious Jedi turned Sith, his fall came directly because of these draconian rules. He is repeatedly punished for his feelings, from having the temerity to care about the wellbeing of his mother to acting like any other red-blooded human male and falling for Natalie Portman. These feelings, he is told, must be suppressed. Instead they burst up from within him, making him easy prey for the then Senator Palpatine.
You can make the case, of course, that Anakin fell precisely because he didn’t follow the Jedi’s laws, though I’d say that it was the presence of these laws in the first place that caused his inner turmoil. The point is moot, however, because in fairness to the Jedi, they did see this coming. When Anakin was presented to the Jedi Council by Qui Gon Jinn, he is dismissed as being too old to train. He was nine years old. Let me repeat that: At nine years old, Anakin is too old to begin Jedi training. That sentiment should chill you to the bone. Only very young children are acceptable to begin Jedi training, children by definition too young to understand what is happening to them. We have a word for that on our planet, indoctrination. It’s a horrific practice, to be honest, and if you can’t see that then quite frankly fuck you.
It’s not just the Jedi Order’s position on love that I have a problem with, either. While I appreciate that fear and hate must be mastered if one wants to become effective as a warrior or a diplomat, I doubt that dispensing with either entirely is conducive to creating well rounded individuals. As an example, think back to the classic ‘Polymorph’ episode of British Sci-Fi sitcom Red Dwarf. The eponymous Polymorph is a shape-shifting creature which feeds on negative emotions. It uses its abilities to heighten these feelings in its victims, before sucking them dry, leaving them devoid of these emotion. In the event, the Red Dwarf crew are stripped of fear, guilt, anger and vanity respectively. And they cannot function. In the novel that accompanied the series, a neutral bystander explains to them that such emotions are vital to thought processes, and said bystander is a bloody toaster. A toaster that is more dialled in to how sentient life thinks that the entire Jedi order.
Part III – In which the Jedi are shown to be both fascistic and incompetent
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says the word ‘Jedi’? For most people, it’s probably a swinging lightsaber. Proof positive that the Jedi must be hugely ineffective diplomats and peacekeepers if they have to take a sword with them everywhere they go. In the six Star Wars films to date, how many times do the Jedi managed to successfully negotiate a peace without the use of violence? Not very many for an organisation dedicated to peace and harmony. Diplomacy backed up by the ever present threat of force (as opposed to ‘the force’). Being generous, you could ascribe this to incompetence. Less charitably, you could find it fascist.
Everything written and spoken about the Jedi speaks about how wonderful they are. In the real world, superb examples of, for instance, quick reflexes, might be described as Jedi. A friend of mine recently spoke of a great bluff being ‘like jedi mind tricks’. In universe, no expense is spared in telling us how effortlessly superior the Jedi are, not only physically, but mentally, spiritually and morally as well. They’re the very definition of Nietzsche’s ‘ubermensch’, or something straight out of an Ayn Rand novel (although admittedly a tad less individualistic). There’s even a quantifiable factor to prove with maths how a Jedi is superior to every day folk, midi-chlorians. Don’t have the midi-chlorians? Sorry, you can’t be a Jedi. Using science, even fictional science, to ‘prove’ how one class of people is superior to another does not sit well with me.
And yet, is the Jedi are so fucking great, as the Star Wars universe keeps telling me, then why are there none of them left by the events of the first film? Why has Han Solo barely even heard of them? How can one old man, one moody kid and a bunch of Stormtroopers (historically terrible henchmen) wipe them all out? It seems to me that Lucas has tried to eat his cake and have it too. For A New Hope, it makes sense that Obi Wan and Luke be nearly all alone against the might of the Empire. That makes sense and it is very satisfying narratively. Lone hero (ish) goes on a great journey to bring down evil. Of course, this brings with it its own problems. George Lucas has made no secret of the fact that he was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell’s non-fiction work ‘The Hero With a A Thousand Faces’ which expounds the theory of ‘monomyth’. Monomyth is the idea that there is one story structure, known as ‘the hero’s journey’, which much of fiction fits in to. It’s a sort archetype, one which countless works of fiction and myth fit in to. Science Fiction writer Norman Spinrad, however, has argued that the idea of monomyth is inherently fascist in both his non-fiction book ‘Science Fiction in the Real World’ and his satirical novel ‘The Iron Dream’, in which an analogue of Adolf Hitler is cast as the hero on his journey.
Spinrad talks about the logical end point of a hero’s journey. He argues that a truly successful hero’s journey ends with our protagonist becoming ‘Emperor of Everything’ (Spinrad cites Paul Atreides as an example). Of course, the villain Palpatine is indeed ‘Emperor of Everything’ during the original Star Wars trilogy but he is dethroned by Luke Skywalker, our hero. Is Luke going to become the new ruler? And what happens now that the rebels have created a huge power vacuum? Such questions are largely ignored, in the films at least, in favour of a simple good versus evil narrative.
So the Jedi end up being wiped out despite their alleged prowess. This flies in the face of the fact that the Jedi have apparently elected themselves as guardians of the galaxy. They are in charge of their own recruitment and unaccountable to any higher office or democratic will. They even have their own super-secret criteria for membership, no geek off the street can apply to become a Jedi. This is all underpinned by a shared belief that they are indeed the best people for the job. And yet, when they are tested, they fail spectacularly. They are outmanoeuvred politically and annihilated militarily by Palpatine and his forces. So what right did they have to appoint themselves guardians in the first place? Apparently, none at all.
Palpatine was a hugely powerful Sith lord, of course. He was able to shield his true intentions from the Jedi Council who didn’t suspect him, despite knowing a Sith lord was probably out there. How could he possibly achieve this, though? Surely the Jedi could find him by looking at the gaps? In the Futurama film ‘Into The Great Green Yonder’, Fry must locate a creature known as ‘The Dark One’ in order to save the Galaxy. He has accidentally gained the power to read minds but knows the Dark One’s mind cannot be read. He eventually works out how the find the Dark One, by finding the one mind he cannot read. Fucking Fry can work this out, why cannot the Jedi? Palpatine’s office is about two doors down from their own but they don’t find him until it is far too late.
The Jedi were failing the galaxy anyway, before Palpatine’s uprising. Remember how I mentioned Anakin was concerned with the wellbeing of his Mother? Well that was due to that fact that when he was rescued from slavery, she was left behind. The great Jedi were insufficiently skilled to free a woman from slavery, a practice no decent people who have tolerated in the first place. A quote from the Greek philosopher Epicurus expands of my point here:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
Following Epicurus’ line of thinking, are the Jedi against the practice of slavery, but unable to prevent it? Or are they merely willing to tolerate it? In either instance, it doesn’t paint them in a good light.
In conclusion then, despite being granted physical and mental advantages by the use of the force, the Jedi prove themselves to be ineffectual at best during their time ‘serving’ the republic and their reign is eventually brought crashing down by the machinations of one man. In addition they indoctrinate children to serve as their army, permit slavery, poverty and all manner of crimes of their watch and basically fail in every aspect of their endeavours. But somehow, they remain revered, in this galaxy and in one far, far away
Special thanks to Alison Brooks, whose text ‘Who were the Bad Guys in the Original Star Wars Trilogy’ inspired this article. It can be read here.