If the recent release of Star Wars: The Old Republican is any indication, we will be dealing with lightsaber slinging in that galaxy far, far away for the foreseeable duration. Star Wars has become a part of our popular culture and is still a staple of many in the geek community. It probably helps that it is everywhere. Since 1999 the Star Wars franchise has released four major motion pictures, been sold in box sets twice, enjoyed a successful cartoon miniseries, had an even more successful CGI television show, and more comics and video games than George Lucas can shake his neck-chin at. Oh, and don’t forget that Phantom Menace is being re-released in theaters in 3D soon. In short, Star Wars isn’t going anywhere for a long time.
And almost all of that is because of the Jedi.
At it’s core, Star Wars is really about the constant struggle between laser-sword wielding fanatics of two diametrically opposed belief systems. It’s the only way to explain why the Jedi are centrally featured in all of Star War’s most popular content. Seriously, when’s the last time you played a Star Wars game, read a book, or watched a movie that wasn’t centrally based on a Jedi being the protagonist? It’s also the reason Star Wars remains science fantasy instead of science fiction like its constant frenemy, Star Trek.
I used to love Star Wars when I was a kid. I saw the original trilogy four or five years before Phantom Menace came out, and it was a good time. I got some toys and played a few video games to round out the experience. So why is it the Star Wars franchise has felt weird to me since the end of Revenge of the Sith? Something had been bugging me about the Star Wars universe for quite some time. it was when I happened across Red Letter Media’s lengthy set of reviews on the Star Wars prequels that I started to figure it out…
The newest movies are really, really bad. Seriously, watch these reviews and beware the NSFW elements.
The reviews point out that there is a lot that’s gone wrong with the Star Wars films since The Phantom Menace. And while I could speak to all of that, what I really want to talk about are the way the Jedi have changed in the last 30 years. I remember a time when anyone could be a Jedi, before midichlorians forever locked most of us out of the dream. I remember when being a Jedi was about having a certain kind of spiritual perspective; it embodied something greater than slicing your enemy to death with a magic sword.
Now all you need to be a Jedi is a lightsaber and some choreography. Maybe this is a kind of fetishism that results from a fixation on combat weaponry, the dominance fighting over the spiritualism evoked by Jedi masters in the original trilogy, or a preference for that which can be seen (and filmed) over that which has to be “felt” or imagined. Whatever the case, being a Jedi now is kind of like going to church without believing anything. What’s the point of a Jedi if he doesn’t add some critical wisdom to the mix? What’s to keep any asshole from learning how to swing a laser stick and call himself a Jedi?
I do sometimes wonder if Lucas understands what he was originally filming. The Jedi now solve all of their problems with violence and espouse hollow platitudes that have no relation to any actual insight or wisdom about life and the universe. Instead the Force is about gaining tactical advantage over your opponents. If I could ask George Lucas one question it would be about the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. While fighting Darth Vader, he sacrifices himself rather than sacrifice his values by killing an intergalactic menace. If Obi had stuck out the fight for a while longer, it would have served to help Luke and the others escape. Hell, he may have been able to destroy the guy (he apparently crippled) responsible for galactic terror. Instead he lays down his blade and takes a laser sword to the face. Why?
I suspect it has something to do with showing Darth Vader that he was right about peace and that Vader shouldn’t fear death, but that no longer fits into a Jedi schema based on defeating your opponent with a sword that can cut through anything.
Obi-Wan shut down his weapon because spiritual enlightenment and hard-won emotional discipline was more important than winning the fight. Luke does the same thing at the end of Return of the Jedi. But at some point that changed. Being a Jedi was a job in itself in the Old Republic, and it saw the force less as a spiritual reflection of life than a tool for maiming. The overabundance of the light saber speaks to this (beware profanity):
Aside from fetishism I think it comes back to a fixation with fighting. I suspect a lot of Harry Potter fans would not have liked magic if there was no way fight with it and no advantage to be gained. And it certainly would have been ballyhooed if magic was part of a spiritual practice. People would have asked, “what’s the point?” because magic is no longer a gift in and of itself. Historically speaking, actual belief in magic were originally attached to ideas of spiritualism and relating to the universe/god/gods/all of the above. Now magic is about what it can get you. Magic is only good if you can use it to better your lot or wreck someone else. We have successfully Americanized magic.
What happened to this kind of Jedi?