Originally published in the Last Jedi special issue of Birth.Movies.Death magazine in 2017.
Luke Skywalker caused ripples in the Star Wars fan continuum when he stated, in The Last Jedi’s debut trailer, that it’s “time for the Jedi to end.” Such an assertion shakes the foundations of the franchise, which has for decades presented its Jedi as heroic ideals, true lightsaber-wielding forces for goodness. But Luke’s on to something that’s quietly been festering in the Star Wars universe for years. The Jedi, as we know them, are profoundly flawed, and it’s entirely possible the order’s existence was a net negative for the Galaxy. Time for change, indeed.
Outside the couple Jedi we see in the Original Trilogy, there was little sense of what the Jedi were like until the prequels rolled around. Turns out, for all their outward championing of peace and justice, their internal management is downright awful. Run by self-important old dudes perched in a literal tower looking down on the rest of Coruscant, the Jedi function on antiquated prophecy and resistance to emotion. Their ascetic obsession with level-headedness forces their members to suppress crucial parts of their personalities from toddlerhood onwards. It’s a clear-cut, culty case of emotional abuse.
Mostly, that approach just ends up creating hypocrites and bores. But in one crucial instance, it also results in the emergence of Darth Vader – a young adult forbidden to pursue a romance that consumes him. Naturally, Anakin’s courtship methods leave much to be desired, but it could be argued that his being denied basic emotions through his adolescence was what led to his lack of interpersonal skills. And the order’s obsession with prophecy and destiny meant it completely failed to see what was going on, thus becoming as much the architect of its own demise as the handful of Sith who executed it.
Did Obi-Wan Kenobi really not see the irony in his proclamation that “only the Sith deal in absolutes”? George Lucas must have. Given his depiction of the Jedi as stuffy, emotionless religious pontificators, he must have intended for them to talk out of their asses at least a little bit. “Hate leads to the dark side,” indeed – but in refusing to allow for exceptions or debate, the Jedi arguably created an environment that fomented resentment against their very organisation.
Here’s the thing about fear and anger and even hatred, though: they’re all part of a normal spectrum of emotions. We all feel these emotions at one point or another, and in many scenarios, they’re healthy. Suppressing negative emotions only leads to that negativity getting bottled up, concentrated, and turned toxic. You can’t be a whole person without at least acknowledging your own dark side, and anyone who thinks they don’t have one – even a little one – is kidding themselves. Darkness gives the light something to illuminate; gives it meaning. Minimising one’s negativity is one thing, but the Jedi’s characterisation of it as entirely evil is laughably shortsighted.
The Sith, of course, aren’t any better. They embrace their fear and anger, but they’re just as emotionally dogmatic as the Jedi – the only difference is that they deny their quote-unquote positive emotions instead. What’s more, the Sith lack the hedonism you might expect from the Jedi’s evil counterparts. Palpatine’s robes might be more luxurious than those of the Jedi, but that comes from his political position – there’s nothing inherent in Sith lifestyle that makes it seem worth it. What’s the point of being evil if you can’t enjoy the spoils? The only thing worse than being a Jedi, surely, must be being a Sith.
Fortunately, Star Wars’ modern era has made significant strides in balancing the Force, so to speak. In Rogue One, we saw non-Jedi Force-users for the first time: unaligned to the light or the dark, navigating their own paths through the mysterious power binding the universe together. The animated series Rebels offers something even more interesting: Tom Baker’s character Bendu, who explicitly sits in the middle of the Force spectrum, utilising elements of the dark and the light in a middle-path approach of which Buddhists would surely approve. The Force isn’t as binary as all that, this new material is saying – and that’s a positive message.
It’s important that Star Wars’ best character – and its most-good – is a Force user who belongs to neither the Jedi nor the Sith. Leia Organa Skywalker didn’t need the Jedi to make her a good person. She feels anger, she feels fear, and yet she’s still fundamentally a strong, kind character – with the ability to enjoy herself, to boot. The same goes for Force-blind characters like Han Solo, Finn, and Poe Dameron, and the Force-sensitive but untrained Rey: characters with light and shade, but all good at heart. Maybe it’s the Jedi’s insistence on having it all one way or all the other that causes the problems. And that’s a question that surely plagues Luke Skywalker in the Sequel Trilogy.
The Force Awakens – and The Last Jedi after it – finds Luke Skywalker soul-searching at the galaxy’s edge, his foray into training new Jedi having resulted in catastrophic failure. Not only was his academy razed to the ground, and his entire student body turned into bodies of students, it spawned Kylo Ren, loose-cannon Dark Side user and the First Order’s secret weapon. That Kylo is Luke’s own nephew – Darth Vader’s grandson – adds personal sting to the wound. It’s enough to spark a major crisis for Luke, requiring self-imposed exile and a ground-up rethink of the order he’d dedicated his life to reviving. Remember that Luke was still just twenty-three years old in Return of the Jedi – easily young enough to believe, arrogantly, that he had all the answers. In The Last Jedi, he’s older, and wise enough to actually question his actions and beliefs. As of writing, it’s unclear what that leads to, but it’s a strong setup for the character to go in truly fascinating, unexpected directions.
Since its creation, Star Wars has operated in moral monochrome – light against dark, Rebels against Empire, Resistance versus First Order. But the world isn’t like that. People are complex; a single individual has the capacity for both good and bad, and often there are no wholly right or wrong answers to problems. Moral absolutism has led to the election of toxic leaders and stalemated governing bodies, and turned every political debate into a potential flashpoint for violence. It’s important, therefore, to recognise that shades of grey exist. The Star Wars of old feels obsolete in today’s climate. Hell, its cultural power may even have contributed to society’s polarisation. There’s so much more it could say, and it feels like the franchise is on the edge of saying it.
The people of the Galactic Republic deserve better than the Jedi and the Sith. It’s time for an order of Force-using heroes that respects its members’ humanity (or the equivalent, for aliens). It’s time that an order of Force users was brought down to Earth (or the equivalent, for alien planets). Hell, maybe it’s time to abandon the notion of “orders” entirely. Most importantly: it’s time for the Jedi to end.