Heroes on both sides (in The Force Awakens)?

Here’s a thought I’ve had in the back of my mind ever since seeing The Phantom Menace 15 years ago:

The Jedi should never have placed themselves so close to the galaxy’s political centre, either spatially or philosophically. It’s what allowed them to be manipulated into fighting in a manufactured war and it’s what allowed Palpatine to declare them traitors and usurpers.

And let’s face it, when Yoda trained Luke on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, many of us took that to be a typical example of Jedi initiation. We didn’t picture the Jedi as being urban bureaucrats locked away in an almost-literal ivory tower; instead we imagined a largely decentralised sect of warrior-monks who were a bit like superheroes, fighting for peace and justice but not officially a branch of the government.

I suspect, however, the disparity between the way Jedi should have been versus what they became was half the point. Their philosophy over the years became disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people, and worse still, they allowed themselves to be corrupted by participating in a fruitless war which let the galaxy slide towards fascism.

The Clone Wars were the major turning point for the Jedi. As both the Clone Wars series and Revenge of the Sith make clear, there were “heroes on both sides” and yet the Jedi continue to fight against people who recognise the corruption of the Republic. “What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?” Padme asks in Sith.

This theme of heroes existing on both sides will, it seems, continue into The Force Awakens. There’s a very solid rumour that John Boyega’s character will start the film as a TIE fighter pilot; meanwhile, in the lead-up to the release of The Force Awakens, a young adult novel will be released focusing on a “Romeo and Juliet”-style relationship between an Imperial and a Rebel.

The point is, I suspect, that the Force has no business being brought into politics and war. The Jedi should exist completely outside the government, acting as noble warriors who fight for the people, not on behalf of the elite.

And maybe that’s what the title “The Force Awakens” refers to: the Jedi may have returned in a theoretical sense, but the mistakes of the old Jedi Order must not be repeated. Only by drawing on the good people on both sides of the conflict can the Jedi of this next age rise above politics and bureaucracy. When Boyega ignites that blue lightsaber, that’s when the Force truly awakens.

So we may just get to see the Jedi as we always imagined… just not in the prequel trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see.

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