In the months leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a few devious minds on the internet wrote articles decrying the Jedi as mystical thugs who were nothing less than the true villains of the Star Wars saga. These articles cited a number of reasons, including midi-chlorians leading to genetic superiority, the arrogance of the Jedi Council, the aloofness of the Jedi Order, and even the Jedi mind trick.
It was disheartening for me to see so many people eating up Emperor Palpatine’s smear campaign. The Jedi certainly have their shortcomings: if they were perfect then it stands to reason they would have avoided being wiped out by the time of the original trilogy, and the Jedi Order we see in the prequel trilogy has grown complacent and arguably corrupt.
It’s easy to see them as monstrous: they wield an invisible energy that affects the external, visible world to awesome effect and can have a “strong influence on the weak-minded,” they train for combat using weapons that can cut through and deflect nearly anything, and they induct children into their ranks practically from birth while denying them contact with their families of origin. One might argue that the better Jedi way might be to eschew outward mastery of the Force for meditation on the oneness of all things, train only using unarmed techniques, and to find a way to foster the growth of their ranks without cutting their members off from their loved ones.
In spite of that, they’re hardly the power-mad, vicious, or manipulative hucksters some have made them out to be. These are a group of beings who are tied to the Living Force, and over millennia they have earned the trust of the galaxy so that they are asked to intervene in times of conflict. These are principled individuals with rich, contemplative history to govern their actions. Samurai had bushido, Hamilton had the “Ten Duel Commandments,” and the Jedi had their Code. As viewers, we can learn from the struggles and success of these paragons of the Light Side as they strive to adhere to its mores, and on close examination we see that the characters on page and screen are simple living beings trying to do right by their fellow sentients.
The Jedi Code reads as follows:
“There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.”
The Jedi Code is never uttered on screen. Like many hallowed artifacts of Star Wars lore, the Code was first mentioned in the West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying game. In the Star Wars Legends novel Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn drew on that source material directly and demonstrated Luke Skywalker’s knowledge of the code as he faces the vast dark emptiness of space trapped in his tiny X-Wing cockpit: “For the Jedi, there is no emotion; there is peace.” In that way, in the real world, the Code is reverse-engineered; it’s the RNA strand from which the model Jedi’s DNA is replicated.
The Code made its way into everything, from the Legends books, to allusions in the prequel trilogy, to video games like the Knights of the Old Republic series and the subsequent MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic set in the same era, and even onto t-shirts.
When Star Wars Legends became non-canon, much of Star Wars history as we know it was washed away. But the Code remained. As the Code reflects the Jedi, it’s invariably come to influence the individuals telling their stories, and we see evidence that the code was derived from the actions and statements of the Jedi characters in the original trilogy. Without the Code we would not have the Jedi, and yet they predate the Code. Going line by line, let’s examine instances where we see the code was inspired by and inspired the actions of the Galaxy’s most beloved plasma-sword-wielding paladins in the films, books, and TV shows.
Obi-Wan Kenobi – “There is no emotion, there is peace”
What better Jedi to start with than the first Jedi we meet in the entire series? In the new canon material, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the only major Jedi character so far to recite the code. In the 2015 novel Dark Disciple, he uses the code as a mantra to calm himself before going to see Yoda in his chambers when he fears that Quinlan Vos, having been sent on a mission to assassinate Count Dooku, has fallen to the dark side. Regulating one’s emotions is the first step toward Jedi-hood. As Yoda warned, “anger, fear, aggression” all are indulgences that lead to the dark side. Yet in watching Obi-Wan, it’s clear that the Jedi aren’t emotionless automatons. In fact, throughout much of the series, Obi-Wan is down-right sarcastic, impatient with his apprentice, prickly and moody, while also given to fits of good humor and wit. He is, in many ways, as brash as Anakin Skywalker, a fact Yoda is quick to point out when Obi-Wan is complaining about his apprentice in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones:
Obi-Wan: “But he still has much to learn, Master. His abilities have made him… well, arrogant.”
Yoda: “Yes. Yes. A flaw more and more common among Jedi. Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones.”
By the time we meet Obi-Wan in Star Wars: A New Hope, he has suffered significant and agonizing loss. He witnessed the death of his Master Qui-Gon Jinn at the hands of Darth Maul, fought in the Clone Wars that ripped the fabric of galactic society apart, and fought and left for dead his friend and former apprentice, Anakin, after the younger Jedi succumbed to the lure of the dark side as a means to personal power.
In the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we learn that Obi-Wan even had a brief and youthful romance with the Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore (no, not that Satine). They engage one another with the ease of old friends, and it’s through his interactions with her that we learn the most about what he had to overcome to stay on the path of the Jedi. In a pivotal moment in “Voyage of Temptation,” the two confess their lasting love for one another, and Obi-Wan confides that he would have left the Jedi Order if she had asked him. It is through her death at the hands of Darth Maul (yes, he survived Star Wars: The Phantom Menace!) that we see his grief at its sharpest. And yet he perseveres in his duty, returning to serve the galaxy, though surely diminished for the loss of one so close.
At each adverse moment in his journey, Obi-Wan learns to accept loss or setback with a muted calm, up until even the moment of his own passing into the beyond and becoming one with the Force. That is the true lesson of this line of the Code – it is not that emotion is forbidden; it is for Jedi to acknowledge emotion, and let it pass. Jedi are meant to be genius-level practitioners of cognitive behavioral therapy, adapting to their emotions and quieting their fears in the moment. It is why Obi-Wan counsels Luke to let go of his “conscious self, and act on instinct.” Obi-Wan, as a mentor to Luke, is a pillar of rational calm, insistent but never angry, and cautious as he brings a vulnerable young man into the heart of the Galactic Civil War.
Yoda – “There is no ignorance, there is knowledge”
In 900 years of life, Yoda has become a living university course curriculum. One might take Darth Sidious’ brash derision of the “the dogmatic narrow view of the Jedi” at face value, but Yoda, in his pursuit of knowledge over ignorance, even came to know and face down the dark side directly. In fact, he encouraged others to master the darkness within themselves.
When Luke becomes curious about the cave on Dagobah, Yoda does not stop him from entering the cave; he encourages Luke to go, but warns him of the risk of taking his weapons. It is because Yoda knows and understands the danger of indulging our darker natures that he gives Luke this warning. We see in the films and in the TV shows that, in addition to being a wise counselor to the Jedi, Yoda has a practical knowledge of the dark side and its lore that comes from facing it directly and choosing not to walk its path. In The Phantom Menace, Yoda rightly identifies that the Sith have returned, knowing that “always two there are…a master, and an apprentice.” This confident pronouncement implies an in-depth study of the Jedi Order’s longtime foe, and a knowledge of their philosophy and practices.
Yoda shows knowledge of Sith techniques in the Force as well. In his duels with Count Dooku and Darth Sidious, Yoda turns Force lightning back against his opponents, much to their surprise. We even see that, despite Yoda being a bright beacon of the light side, he too is not wholly separated from the pull of darkness. In The Clone Wars‘ final episodes, Yoda sets off on a solitary quest to learn the secrets of immortality. In the ultimate example of his knowledge of the mysterious Force, Yoda faces a manifestation of his own Dark nature, and instead of defeating it and pushing it away, he embraces it, knowing it to be a part of himself as much as his own hand. Later in his journey, in an ancient Sith temple on Moraband, Yoda encounters an illusory emanation of Darth Bane, and he recognizes him, even knowing his contribution to the Sith’s philosophy of the Rule of Two.
Far from having a “narrow view,” Yoda demonstrates that knowledge both deep and wide, even knowledge of one’s own inner darkness, is as essential to the Jedi as a lightsaber. As a result, we do not have someone who “deals in absolutes,” as Obi-Wan might say, but a truly wise counselor who sees the galaxy for what it is: a vast web of connections. As he famously tells Luke after the young Jedi fails to lift his ship:
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
Luke Skywalker – “There is no passion, there is serenity”
Luke Skywalker begins his journey as the kind of kid who whines about not being able to play with his toys because he has to do chores. Time and again, Luke rushes into the thick of things when dispassionate calm would serve him much better. In A New Hope, he cries out as Obi-Wan is struck down, and only flees after the man speaks from the grave and tells him to run. In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, he buckles on his sword and blaster as he enters the cave on Dagobah only to be forced to cut down an image of himself in anger. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, he starts his appearance in the film by Force-choking Gammorean guards and killing Jabba’s henchmen indiscriminately.
By all of his actions up to that point, Luke appears poised to take a long, hard tumble into the darkest recesses of the Force. In some of the aforementioned articles that called the Jedi villains, the Jedi’s admonition to fight dispassionately is held up as evidence that they must all be psychopaths if they can kill so calmly. At least the Sith have the decency to be angry when they kill, the logic goes.
The 31st chapter of the Tao Te Ching offers the following with regards to battle: it says that “Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man’s tools. He uses them only when he has no choice.” It goes on to say that battle must be conducted like a funeral because any battle means a loss of life, and that “victory must be observed like sorrow.”
Like the the Tao, the Jedi Code insists on a dispassionate calm that feels sadness for the loss of life. In Return of the Jedi, during his climactic confrontation with his father in the Emperor’s throne room, Luke is filled with rage and lops off his own father’s right hand. In that iconic scene, as the rush of adrenaline leaves him, Luke examines his own prosthetic limb and starts to understand a deeper kinship with his father. Rather than continue the fight, Luke throws his lightsaber aside. Luke knows that by fighting to destroy Darth Vader and the Emperor from a place of fury and pain, he will become “an agent of evil” as Yoda warned him. At that moment, he abandons his weapon and finally learns the lesson of the cave. Through this victory, a victory won without conflict, the Jedi finally return to the galaxy.
By being willing to sacrifice himself, and by shunning the rhetoric of power that both Vader and Palpatine have tempted him with, Luke redeems his father Anakin from the grip of the dark side and helps to put an end to the tyrannical rule of a mad Emperor. In being willing to die for the benefit of others, Luke becomes a true Jedi Knight.
Ahsoka Tano – “There is no chaos, there is harmony”
For a sassy teenager who quickly earns the nickname Snips, Ahsoka Tano certainly demonstrates considerable knowledge of team building. Like her master Anakin, Ahsoka is possessed by a zeal for adventure, and at first defines her success as a Jedi through success in combat. She learns, in time, that the true value of her experience in the field comes from camaraderie and connection to others.
Ahsoka has an innate capacity to distinguish herself as a leader and bring disparate individuals together to complete a task. When Ahsoka is captured by Trandoshan slavers and thrown onto a remote planet with lost younglings to be hunted for sport, Ahsoka takes charge and unites the rag-tag band to work as a single unit, saving at least one youngling from drawing on the dark side and foiling the plot of their hunters at every turn. This insight, ingenuity and compassion helps her to forge lasting bonds with those around her.
One such close friendship comes in the form of a bond with a fellow Padawan, Barriss Offee. Together, they face long odds on Geonosis, where again Ahsoka’s quick thinking allowed them to overcome extreme odds and destroy a weapons factory. Later, Ahsoka’s trust in Barriss is betrayed when Barriss hatches a plot to bomb the Jedi Temple and frames Ahsoka. Now wrongfully accused and a fugitive, Ahsoka flees and enlists the help of her old nemesis, the former Dark Jedi and bounty hunter Asajj Ventress. Both fleeing pursuit, they are able to form a remarkably adept team. Though she is captured, tried, and eventually acquitted, Ahsoka’s experience is traumatizing enough that she decides to leave the Jedi Order. The masters on the Jedi Council are shocked at this turn of events, and quickly turn to introspection. It is appropriate, then, that even in stepping away from the only life she has known, Ahsoka becomes an instrument of harmony from chaos. Her abrupt departure serves as a wake-up call to the masters, who realize that suspicion and war have clouded their minds.
While she severed herself from the Jedi, Ahsoka never truly turned her back on the Jedi ways. In the TV series Star Wars Rebels, we are introduced again to Ahsoka as Fulcrum, a mysterious messenger who coordinates the efforts of distant and disparate rebel cells. Her vision, we see, is far reaching. In the face of a repressive, destructive, and evil regime, she knows that only a coordinated resistance will make progress against the atrocities and abuses of a much larger, infinitely well-equipped foe. At every turn, Ahsoka shows herself to be the exemplar of a philosophy that makes order out of chaos without diminishing the value of the individual, for the Force binds all living things.
Qui-Gon Jinn – “There is no death, there is the Force”
For a character who appeared in only one film, Qui-Gon Jinn has had a far-reaching influence on the Star Wars saga. Though his character is responsible for introducing less-celebrated elements of the franchise (here’s looking at you, midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binks), he is also defined as the origin point for one of the most fantastic feats of the Jedi: Force spirits.
Qui-Gon’s introduction to the series, in many ways, is defined by death. Early in his interactions with Anakin, the young boy dismisses Qui-Gon’s suggestion that he is not a Jedi; Qui-Gon wryly suggested that perhaps he killed a Jedi and took the lightsaber hanging on his belt. “No one can kill a Jedi,” Anakin says, to which Qui-Gon replies, “I wish that were so.” Qui-Gon’s own demise is not far behind, and fans were shocked when this first Jedi to die on screen since Yoda did not dematerialize into rotoscopic ethereal blueness.
That did not mean Qui-Gon was gone forever, of course. A careful listener will hear him calling out to Anakin during the massacre of the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, and we learn later on, in The Clone Wars, that this technique of maintaining one’s consciousness after death was new to the Jedi, and Qui-Gon was one of the few who learned its secrets. During the events on Mortis in The Clone Wars, Obi-Wan has a brief encounter with the specter of Qui-Gon. In the end, Obi-Wan assumes it is an illusion, a trick of the powerful Force energies and his own memories of departed master. But Qui-Gon has much to teach the Jedi about the nature of the Force and how deeply it is involved in the process of life. Near the end of the war, he communes with Yoda and shares the secret: the Force has two distinct aspects, the Living Force which is created by all beings, and the Cosmic Force:
“All energy from the Living Force, from all things that have ever lived, feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding everything…”
Qui-Gon has learned to remain part of the Living Force instead of passing on as other Jedi were believed to do into the Netherworld of the Force. He gives some inclination that he had foreknowledge that the wisdom of the Jedi would need to live on and offer tutelage to Luke, and so he seeks to pass on the knowledge he has attained to those who have a part to play in shaping the balance of the Force. We see Obi-Wan accomplish this task; in sacrificing himself, he ascends to a level of power that is beyond the physical realm.
It is a sad irony that the very thing that drew Anakin away from the Jedi, a quest for immortality, was within the grasp of the man who set him on the path to the knighthood, though not in a form he would come to expect. It is fitting, then, that the ultimate evidence of Anakin’s redemption is when he is able to stand side-by-side with Obi-Wan and Yoda. In accepting death, the Jedi learn to have a degree of mastery over it, and it is Qui-Gon who provides the pathway to this mastery.
Rey and Beyond – “Always in motion is the future.”
We are in an unprecedented era of new stories for the Star Wars universe, and the Jedi of this cycle of tales will undoubtedly shape our perceptions of their order. In Star Wars Rebels, Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger are just now hitting the turning point of their discovery of the Force as they develop their relationship of master and student. In The Force Awakens, we were introduced to a galaxy in which Luke, now a Jedi Master in his own right, has tried and failed to resurrect the Jedi Order.
Now, with Rey offering him a fresh chance to bring the Jedi back from extinction, we will see how the example of their predecessors will shape the course they take in the Galaxy. For years to come, we have the pleasure of watching the Jedi be the shining heroes of the Star Wars universe.