The last few episodes of The Clone Wars have brought up a topic that is not often discussed among Star Wars fans. Was the Jedi Order at the time of the Clone Wars ultimately flawed? Did it fall short of being true to its ideals? Did it ignore the suffering of many, hidden behind its own image of self-righteousness, or did it even indirectly contribute to it? Did it do so by focussing on the war, on defending the status quo of a Republic that had already ceased to be what it should have been? Had it forgotten that there were other, equally, if not more important ways of maintaining peace and justice than swinging lightsaber in the front lines?
Easy To Idealise The Dead
Many avoid this topic and many are scandalised by the very suggestion that the Jedi could be blamed for anything. After all, this is how we were introduced to the Jedi in A New Hope: the paragons of light, guardians of peace et cetera. For that reason, some may think the portrayal of Jedi as in any way imperfect nearly a blasphemy. They may either overlook the flaws of the Jedi in the prequel trilogy (which in turn could lead to complete shock and anger when the sequel trilogy said such things out loud), or criticise the prequel trilogy for showing a picture different from the ideal they imagined.
The problem with the Jedi is this. We were introduced to them when they were already all dead. It is easy to idealise someone when they are already dead. That goes even for our world, both for famous figures and for movements or cultures. Fans of Norse mythology may be idealising the Vikings and their society, focussing for example on its equality aspects and ignoring the whole burning and pillaging thing. Christians may look to the ideals of the early church as the picture of a harmonious community, but ignore the fact that even its first members argued with each other just like normal people do, as evidenced in all their letters.
The Jedi Are Just Human (or Twi’lek)
The boring truth every history student learns at one point is that there has never been an ideal culture on Earth. Humans have always been humans, and in terms of behaviour patterns, majority of them lived the same way people live now – being nice to neighbours and mean to neighbours, giving in to pressure but occasionally standing up. There is no reason to think the Jedi were any different. Just humans, twi’leks, or togrutas with their flaws, and the flaws any institution can have.
Yes, they were supposed to be the noble knightly order with their high moral ideals. Nobody is contesting that. But in practice, they didn’t differ from the Samurai with their code of honour, or from the members of Christian church or from Buddhist monks or anything similar you can think of. In theory, every adherent of these belief systems is called upon to work towards easing the suffering of those around, but in practice, they often fall short. They may do a lot of good, just like the Jedi did. The Jedi protected millions of innocents from being massacred by droids or enslaved by Hutts. But at the same time, there were millions of others they overlooked, and sometimes even indirectly contributed to their suffering. Such as when they helped the Chancellor to run the war that had left millions of beings homeless, impoverished, not to mention dead. And they did so while defending an institution – the Republic – whose ideals may have been noble as well, but where, in practice, corruption thrived and plenty of things demanded fixing.
Who Is To Blame?
We could dissect the question whether the Jedi could have done better with the options they had, but that would be another, long debate. We can agree on one thing – that the Jedi of Anakin’s era did not exactly keep up to their standards and ideals.
After all, Palpatine’s accusation of the Jedi would not have been so widely accepted had the Jedi been seen as completely flawless paragons of light by everyone. RotS, with its limited screentime, could not show everything, but even there it was clear, and we could sense it behind the scenes, that there were things about the Jedi that were not all right. Anakin didn’t suddenly decide that the Jedi were evil, he must have had evidence for thinking so from earlier on. The Clone Wars series had attempted to show it in earlier seasons, and recently again.
It does not mean that the Jedi really were “evil”. I am sure Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and others did what they could and what they deemed best. But – like Yoda said – the shroud of the Dark Side had clouded their vision. That does not simply mean a “spell” cast by the evil Chancellor. We may understand it as a poetic, metaphorical description of the situation. They did not see what they should have.
Was it their “fault”? Not entirely. From what it seems like, it had been a product of millenia of tiny omissions of the Jedi Order that had piled up, until the priorities of the entire order got shuffled in the wrong order. At one point, this unstable pile simply flipped over, with substantial help from the Sith, who had been just waiting for that moment.
Does this then mean that the Galaxy would have been better off without the Jedi? Obviously not. Individual Jedi, or even the Jedi as an institution, was a body that consciously strived for doing good. But with great power comes great responsibility, and a group is also more prone to being targeted as a group for all its failures. The amount of failures of the Jedi was clearly enough to make many citizens of the future Empire think: good riddance.