Star Wars is seen by many as a classic story of good vs. evil—the good guys vs. the bad guys. In our galaxy far, far away, that’s the story of the Jedi vs. the Sith. We see stories extolling the virtues of the Jedi and showing the faults of the Sith. It’s shown in simple things, like the bad guys wearing black and our heroes wearing white, neutral colors, and even gold in the High Republic era.
But as it should be with any well-written story, the good aren’t always pure, and the bad aren’t always evil. Nuances of traits found in the characters we meet give us time to reflect on each side of this morality discussion. We’ll see that while the Sith may have been sinister, the Jedi weren’t always the good guys.
The Jedi aren’t pure good?
The Jedi put on a pretense of the moral high ground. When any argument would come up or reason was given to trust them, it always came across as, “We’re the Jedi. Of course, we can be trusted!” or “Listen to us, we’re the Jedi.” Now clearly, these are not exact quotes and are subjectively dramatized for our purposes here in this discussion. But that inner sense of the moral high ground is what began to turn people away from the Jedi in the Clone War era. The Jedi got a little too full of themselves. Anakin shows this in Episode II: Attack of the Clones when he gruffly tells the bargoers, “Jedi business. Go back to your drinks.” No explanation is given for their entrance and the disturbance created by the Jedi handling their business.
But let’s look at some other reasons why the Jedi weren’t all that good, as well as the Jedi High Council we see operating during the era of the Clone Wars.
- Removal of young children from their families. The removal of young ones from their loving environment introduces them to a much more sterile and militaristic life. They were not shown the love and strength of family. In addition to their removal, they weren’t given a surrogate family. Instead, they were assigned a Master at some point in their young lives who operated more as a professor or general in an army than a loving friend or father figure. These Force-sensitive children are removed from their homes and turned into child warriors.
- They are taught that attachment is forbidden, removing them from a normality that all humans need. The need for attachment and community. They were not allowed to maintain romantic relationships with anyone. We see the issues this brought about in their lives when we examine Obi-Wan and Duchess Satine, and even more so, the relationship between Anakin and Padme. Opportunities for happiness were removed for what? So that the Sith couldn’t use them against them? Fear of losing something?
- The death of another Jedi didn’t allow for a time of mourning. Since you have no attachments, the Jedi performed a ritualistic and merely functional death ceremony. The ones who had died were now “one with the Force,” or at least that’s what they told the Padawans and others there for the ceremony. That’s if the dead bodies were even returned to the High Council for the ceremony. Many times as we have read and seen in visual media, the dead are just left behind. This is well illustrated in the book by Delilah S. Dawson entitled Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade.
- The Jedi teach their padawans who have the ability to master the trait to employ Jedi Mind Tricks. They are literally forcing people to do things against their will. And yes, when they have done it on camera, we see them doing it for a good reason … to push the story ahead and/or to protect someone needed later. All the same, they have forcibly manipulated and controlled someone against their will.
You could look at those four reasons, and the issue with the high ground and quickly dismiss it, understandably. But put yourself in the shoes of a Padawan. You have been removed from your family, trained to be a warrior from a young age, taught to remove all the attachments from your life, not given a family to replace the one you lost, and if your teacher dies, you don’t gain a new one because of an attachment to that other Jedi. Instead, it’s the next one up principal, typically.
What about the Jedi Order?
During the Prequel era, the Jedi Order allowed themselves to become a militaristic function of the Republic of which they served. The Jedi were supposed to be keepers of the peace, not an army. In doing so, they willingly left behind the principles they were teaching to their padawans. For those in the Council, it became a lesson of “Do as I say, not as I do” to their students. They taught the principles that they upheld less and less.
The Jedi, throughout the course of the Clone Wars, put themselves on a slippery slope and slowly lost footing on that high ground they were clinging to because of this change in their morality. Whether they did it on their own or were tricked by a very powerful Sith to do his bidding is an argument that doesn’t hold water. So elitist in their pursuits, they allowed themselves to become blind to the power of the Sith. Palpatine may have been pulling the strings as their puppet master, but the Jedi have one to blame except the Jedi themselves.
Does this mean that the Sith are good?
The Sith are just as bad, but they are open and honest about it. It’s the devil in plain sight vs. the devil that’s hiding. The Sith do many of the same things that the Jedi do, but they don’t hide behind a veil of purity. That said, I would still trust the Jedi before I trust the Sith. The Sith would try to kill you outright. At least the Jedi would try to protect you. Whether it was for virtuous reasons or to maintain their own moral high ground, the Jedi at least valued life over passion and possession.
So, as you watch Star Wars the next time, know that even though it is a story of good vs. evil, there may be more shades of grey to the story than you initially thought. It is those nuances, those shades of grey, that make for great stories and unforgettable characters. At the same time, they make us think about our own human experience and how we relate to one another, how we treat one another, and how we want to be treated.
Life isn’t a space opera, but exploring the blurred lines between the Sith and the Jedi helps us see that life does imitate art and that the Sith may be bad, but the Jedi aren’t all good. It’s the same way in real life. No one is good or bad, so why should our stories and heroes be any different?
For more breaking Star Wars news, editorials, and other articles about the galaxy far, far away, be sure to follow Dork Side of the Force.