The relationship between a master and an apprentice is an important recurring theme in the Star Wars films and in the whole universe. One could rightly ask: how different would young Anakin’s fate be, had he been trained by someone else than Obi-Wan Kenobi? And how would that differ had not Obi-Wan’s master been Qui-Gon Jinn himself?
The chain of master-apprentice teaching goes on, almost akin to a familial bond. After all, Jedi do not have families (well, with some notable exceptions), so the bond with one’s master is the closest one gets to a “family” of sorts. It is inevitable that, despite there being a common Jedi codex and teachings, each of the master-apprentice lineages is different and every master would pass on some wisdom of their own to their Padawan, and they in turn to theirs.
In the films, we can essentially follow only one line of teaching, however containing several peculiar forks in the road. If we look at what we know, starting chronologically from Episode I, the original line goes like this: Yoda – Dooku – Qui-Gon – Obi-Wan – Anakin. This is a straight succession of teachers and their Padawans. Already looking at this list, one can be struck by some amazing details. For example: the last one on the list is responsible for the deaths of two others on the very same list. Likewise, both the second and fifth name on this list could be replaced by their Sith alter-egos (Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader, respectively). Just the fact that two Sith Lords appeared in this line of succession does not bode very well for their respective teachers. If the Jedi had some sort of inquisition overseeing the purity of Jedi teachings and cutting off “rotten branches” with suspicious teachings, I would suggest to them examining closely this particular branch. One can’t simply ignore the question: wasn’t there something ultimately wrong with Yoda, something which he had passed on to his pupils and they on to theirs? After all, weren’t there thousands of other Jedi Masters and their students, who were perfect paragons of virtue of their order? Why was the problem concentrated in this single line of succession? One feels like asking: shouldn’t someone just have stopped Yoda from teaching Dooku, as obviously the seed he had planted just there and then managed to grow into a tree full of Sith fruit?
Even though I would like to have an answer ready, I sadly can’t supply one, even after looking at Yoda’s teachings from all possible sources. The problem, I believe, does not have a simple solution – however much we humans enjoy simple explanations. For one, the historical context of the era certainly played its part. The Republic was falling, there is no doubt about that, and the Jedi Order itself was on decline as well. Also, Yoda, we are told, had been teaching Jedi for nine hundred years – and only at this point we perceive such a major lapse. The blame, therefore, cannot be placed entirely just on Yoda’s shoulders.
Maybe then, one might say, let us try to seek the fault in Dooku, and his lineage? That would be already much more promising start, even though it does not give us a ready answer for Dooku’s personal fall, and it would again reflect badly on Yoda for not recognising the danger in Dooku early enough (just as it does not reflect well on Obi-Wan not to recognise the danger in Anakin). But we can see at least a pattern there. Dooku was a political idealist, seeing the corruption in the Senate and the decline of the Jedi Order. He felt constrained by the Order’s teachings and eventually left it, but his rebellious nature and disrespect for authority reflects on his padawan – Qui-Gon – who, as we are told in Episode I, was otherwise good enough to become part of the Jedi Council, if it weren’t for his occassional defiance of its rules. Qui-Gon Jinn was certainly a good teacher, we see plenty evidence of it, but… one has to wonder if there was some connection between what he had received from his master, what he passed on, and Anakin’s eventual fall. We are told that Qui-Gon wasn’t exactly “the Jedi he should be”, and for those interested in the old canon (now of uncertain status, because even though the events preceding Episode I do not contradict the new films, it is not yet clear whether they will be incorporated into the new canon or not), there were cases of Qui-Gon for example at one point developing romantic feelings for a fellow Jedi Knight (his childhood friend Tahl) and having really difficult time because of it. As we know, the Jedi ideal was to let go of all attachments so that one could become impartial and purely in line with the Force’s will. It is unnecessary to remind anyone about how Anakin Skywalker’s relationship with Padmé ended.
But let us backtrack a bit. The master-apprentice line following from Yoda through Dooku does not end with Anakin Skywalker. There is the first fork in the road, because after the dead end, Obi-Wan took another apprentice – albeit shortly – in Luke Skywalker. Until recently, we could have regarded it as a happy conclusion to the story, but with Episode VII, we now have a new problematic line of succession, with another fork in the road which we may hope to amend the previous mistake: Obi-Wan – Luke – Ben Skywalker aka Kylo Ren (dead end?); Luke – Rey.
It of course remains to be seen how the future films are going to be concluded. Kylo Ren may get redeemed in a similar manner Anakin Skywalker was, or (which would be more interesting and also more promising if we compare the patterns in the lineages) maybe he will get rehabilitated on a deeper level and Luke could actually boast about having two apprentices who did something right? Maybe. Or maybe not at all. We don’t know yet.
Based on what we know, however, can there be a satisfying conclusion to the question “what makes a bad master/apprentice”? Is there something, we could say, a Jedi master should avoid passing on to their students? Yoda, Obi-Wan and now Luke all have the record of having a “bad apprentice”. We know next to nothing about what kind of teacher Luke was, but Yoda and Obi-Wan certainly can’t be blamed about giving their apprentices too much freedom, or not warning them enough about the temptation of the Dark Side. But large part of the blame certainly lies with the Padawans. Dooku and Anakin were both champions of justice (we don’t know about young Ben), but had problem with authorities (somehow I don’t think that would really be such a big problem for Kylo Ren who didn’t have any actual Council but just one master – even though he might have been persuaded by the First Order to see the New Republic as corrupt). Also all three of them had been approached by some emissary of the Dark Side (Darth Sidious in the case of the first two Padawans, Snoke in the case of Ben Skywalker), who picked them for a reason – because of their potential.
So maybe the main problem these three had was that they were too promising pupils and thus became easy prey to the Dark Side? With great power comes greater temptation. Dooku was supposed to be a genius of his own kind (that’s why Yoda originally took interest in him), hungry for knowledge and very strong in the ways of the Force (especially when it came to the telekinetic powers, as he demonstrated in his duel with Yoda at the end of Episode II). Anakin was the Chosen One and Ben was next in the Skywalker family line. Now that we have been told that Rey seems to be equally promising, we may begin to worry.
But that said, this is all just speculation. The succession line, started by master Yoda, still continues, and the chief indicators of the path to the Dark Side remain, as they always were: fear, anger, hate. As long as the Jedi is in control of these emotions, they remain Jedi. It is the job of their masters to warn them about this – and of the apprentices to heed the warning. We can only follow the tale of every new apprentice and see how they unfold.