Jedi are Good, Actually

Why rant?

There’s a persistent theme in Star Wars analysis to say that the Jedi are bad, because they spurn attachments. A good example of the arguments can be seen in film theory. I give that as an example not because it’s a bad job, but because Matt is a careful thinker and researcher: this is one of the best researched examples of this.

Let’s do away with one straw-man first: the Jedi being bad does not mean the Sith are right. You can definitely have two horrifyingly bad philosophies which leave destruction in their wake as their proponents fight.

This is not the argument I will make here. That the Sith are bad, and the Galactic Empire is an oppressive regime, cannot be disputed unless you go beyond mere “unreliable narrator”. But that does not pertain to the central question: is the Jedi philosophy wrong-headed?

Jedi beliefs

First, what is the philosophy? The original trilogy has Yoda saying that anger, fear, and hate are contrary to it, but does not, on-screen, give any positive guidance. Anakin is a bit more specific in the prequels, talking about the fine line between attachment and love.

This led many to try to extrapolate incorrectly. My trusted source for Star Wars lore is Wookipedia, which details the Jedi code as:

  • 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.

Space Buddhism

The principles of seeking peace, knowledge, serenity, harmony, and freedom from the fear of death, appear in a real life tradition: Buddhism.

Passion, desires, are identified in Buddhism as the source of pain. When the passion is overcome, there is no more pain. Through meditation, it teaches how to see emotions as something one feels, separate from a sense of self. This is close to “there is no emotion, there is peace”.

Indeed, there is a real-life temple where people study both the philosphy of Buddhism and is committed to training adherents in martial arts: the Shaolin Temple. The temple has not been politically neutral: much like the Jedi, it has served as support for the stability of China.

Jedis as peace-keepers

The Jedi commitment to harmony, peace, and forgoing attachments was critical to public faith in the even-handedness of the Jedi. This is why Jedi are taken, with the consent of their families, to train in the Jedi temple in Coruscant. This allows the Jedi to act as representatives of the Republic as a whole, not their planet of origin.

It is important to note here that nowhere is it implied that the Jedi pressure families to give up their kids, any more than they are honest with the truth: after attachments have been formed, it is dangerous to train someone, force-sensitive though they may be, into the Jedi order. Indeed, Yoda and the council suggested Anakin be returned to his mom rather than trained. The council is fine with allowing kids who are strong in the force to stay with their families, but these kids will not grow up to become Jedis.

Fall of the Jedi

So, if the Jedi are not horribly corrupt, what was the cause of the downfall of the Jedi order? Arrogance on the part of the Jedi was certainly a part of it. But let’s also remember that the Sith have infiltrated the Republic, and staged a galactic war: the so-called “Clone Wars”. In these conflicts, the Jedi, originally trained as peace-keepers and negotiators, were drafted as generals. Why did they accept the position? At the time when the clone wars started, the Republic had no standing army. The clone troops were trained as soldiers and tactical commanders, not as high-level officers.

Part of the reason for this lack of standing military was manipulation by the Sith. The Republic needed people who could gain the trust of the clone troopers, and could lead them in battle. The combination of Jedi arrogance and lack of viable alternatives played into the hand of the careful plan by the Sith.

The Jedi order, distracted by the war, clouded by the dark side, and naively extrapolating from centuries assuming the Sith were not a serious threat, was blind-sided. Qui-Gon Jin, who would have foresaw this, was assassinated. Indeed, the entire plot of the Phantom Menace was probably to get rid of Qui-Gon.

The Jedi order did not fall because their philosophy was a bad philosophy, and did not rise again because it did away with this philosophy. It fell because it was arrogant, lulled into complacency, and carefully manipulated.

Is passion good?

There are those who defend the Sith creed, “Through Passion I gain Strength”. Having worked in an industry where the word “passion” was used to manipulate people, I have seen first-hand the evils of the Sith philosophy. Fighting with passion, giving into the hate, means not caring about collateral damage. This is not a good attitude, though it can be, unfortunately, a successful attitude.