Maybe the Jedi were the bad guys

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I grew up watching “Star Wars” and thinking the Jedi were the good guys and the Sith were the bad guys — clear-cut, black-and-white; why would you think anything else? To be fair, I had been watching the original trilogy since before birth. Those movies push an image of perfection: the Jedi are painted as all-powerful, all-knowing and always right, always fighting for the good of the galaxy. Clone Wars-era content like the prequel trilogy and “The Clone Wars” TV show capture a completely different side of the Jedi that the original trilogy fails to: the bureaucracy, the failure, the war crimes and so much more, with the High Jedi Council being the main perpetrators and instigators.  

Any “Star Wars” fan can recite Anakin’s iconic Mustafar duel dialogue, including the beloved line: “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” If you examine the facts of Republic-era Jedi and beyond, however, it’s hard to think the Jedi Order isn’t evil, no matter your point of view.  

In the prequel trilogy, it’s impossible to untangle the mess of political malarkey that entwines the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order. For an organization of so-called pacifists, the Jedi have no problem with the faults of the government that they so obediently serve. Although slavery was outlawed by the Senate, that did not stop it from creeping into its territories, especially those far away from Coruscant that were hard to control as an urban, central government. Even on the same planet as the governing powers, citizens worked and lived in extremely unsafe environments for barely any money. The lowest levels of Coruscant were so toxic that some became completely uninhabitable. With the majority of the population too poor to move closer to the surface, life expectancies decreased severely. When the Clone War broke out and even before, the Jedi Order had no problems with the consequences of a greedy government. In fact, the members of the Order embraced it, becoming extremely elitist and looking down on citizens as if those citizens’ taxes didn’t pay for the lifestyle of the Jedi Order. 

And really, that anti-slavery bill only applies when it’s convenient. After the discovery of an army of clone troopers ready to fight for the Republic, the Jedi do not think twice about putting them on the front lines. These clones are an army of 10-year-old children that go unpaid and uncared for, but no one cares that this is a clear use of slavery. The Jedi had some doubts about the clones at first, but not because of the massive number of human rights violations that went into creating and maintaining such military power; because they didn’t know how loyal they would be. 

In Season 7 of “The Clone Wars,” Ahsoka Tano is aboard a Venator-class Star Destroyer, talking to her commander, when she says, “As a Jedi, we were trained to be keepers of the peace, not soldiers.” And yet the Jedi jump into the soldier role headfirst, becoming Generals and Commanders for the Galactic Republic, acting on the whims of the Senate alone, becoming puppets to the bureaucratic machine without any real, actionable moral stance on anything. This is quite clear throughout “The Clone Wars,” especially as the Jedi are shown to use brute force in executing people without a proper trial, committing genocides of entire peoples who refuse to join them and instituting military law on local communities, undermining democracy (which they claim to fight for) at every step.  

Ahsoka finishes by saying, “… but all I’ve been since I was a Padawan is a soldier.” This was the reality for all Jedi apprentices during the war; Padawans as young as 14 years old were sent into active war zones to not only participate in heinous crimes but lead entire military forces. Even reckless, trigger-happy Anakin Skywalker, who became Ahsoka’s master, agreed that she was too young to be on the front lines. The child endangerment goes far beyond the war, with force-sensitive children being forcefully removed (i.e. kidnapped) from their families if their parents did not give them away willingly. They were taken from their homes and raised in an emotionally repressive environment – the Jedi Code reeks of severe attachment issues – and then the High Jedi Council had the gall to be surprised when they turned out to be not-well-adjusted adults (i.e. Anakin Skywalker).  

Corruption and injustice were allowed to fester within the ranks of the Jedi Order. General Krell, who had the highest clone trooper mortality rates known to the Order, was not questioned and was allowed to continue leading battalions even after all those deaths. Eventually, his allegiance to the Sith was revealed after he sent unknowing Republic forces to kill each other. The Jedi Council once again played the victim, not acknowledging that they had allowed him to operate completely unchecked, killing off thousands of child soldiers.  

Opposingly, when Ahsoka Tano was accused of treason, they immediately expelled her without proper investigation. When she was proven innocent, they couldn’t even apologize to her. Instead, they called it the will of the force. It’s a tactic they commonly use to dodge any sort of responsibility for the messes they create. 

These are no new crimes for the Jedi Order. As “peacekeepers,” they have been wreaking havoc on the galaxy for hundreds of thousands of years. The Post-Great Hyperspace War counter invasion, the Mandalorian Excision, the destruction of the Legions of Lettow, the First and Second Pius Dea Crusades, the list of genocides, wars and general non-peacekeeping goes on. In fact, it was a few disillusioned Jedi who first started the Sith Order, frustrated with the close-mindedness of the Order which they used to serve.  

So really, it’s not very surprising that Anakin turned to the Dark side; he was a slave boy who was “freed” but still forced to obey his masters and turn his back on his mother; who was under constant scrutiny and propped up as the salvation of the Order based on a wishy-washy prophecy; who was denied again and again for craving human connection. The High Jedi Council created Darth Vader, created the Sith that ruled in the original trilogy and created the era of ignorance where the Galactic Empire would rise.  

It would’ve been nice if my childhood heroes, the brave Jedi, were as infallible as the original trilogy and my own mind had made them out to be. It would’ve been nice if there were just the good guys and the bad guys. But growing up is seeing that the Jedi and the Sith were both the “villains” of the story, each with their twisted motivations and supposed justifications as to why the other side deserved to be eradicated. Not even in our silly little space movies can there be black-and-white, clear-cut justice; even there, everyone still lives in a mucky, gross shade of gray.