The movies, from the very start, paint the Jedi Knights as the guardians of peace in the galaxy, the good guys, with the Sith as the evil corruption of the Jedi Order, the bad guys. We’re told of a light side and a dark side, a clear dichotomy. But how much of that is a combination of biased story telling in favor of the protagonists and history being told by the winners?
Let me explain. I know that Disney recently threw out nearly everything from the Star Wars EU as not cannon, but there is one event in particular that I think merits consideration: the Sith Holocaust. In the ancient days of the galaxy, there were two major forces that vied for control: the Republic and the Sith Empire. In the Hyperspace Wars the Republic, with its Jedi Knights, eventually defeated the Sith Empire. Despite its decimated military strength and its threat totally neutralized, the Republic and the Jedi continued to hunt and exterminate all survivors of the Sith Empire in what would come to be known as the Sith Holocaust. Very few of the remaining Sith survived this dark period in the Republic’s history. Let me say this again, the Jedi made the decision to hunt down and exterminate a defeated and nonthreatening “foe”.
Now, it is possible that this is no longer cannon, but I feel that this event may have escaped the cutting board for one big reason: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Did you ever wonder why the movie was called Revenge of the Sith? Because up to this point in the movies we have seen nothing that would merit the actions of the Sith being called revenge. The existence of the Sith Holocaust would certainly justify the use of the word. Furthermore, in Episode III, Darth Sidious says “Once again the Sith shall rule the galaxy…” Once again. This means at one point the Sith ruled the galaxy. This, to me, confirms the existence of the Sith Empire, and likely the Sith Holocaust. It is only natural then that the Jedi would make sure that history painted them in a favorable light, and with the sith mostly gone they were unable to give their side of the story. Now, this only shows that the Jedi were evil once, not that they are evil as of the movies. So let’s take a look at what the Jedi actually do.
One common force power we see is ‘force suggestion’, also known as the Jedi Mind Trick. But let’s be honest, for those that it works on a more accurate name would be Jedi Mind Control. If it was anyone but the “definitively good” Jedi using this power we would be outraged. And the Jedi have no qualms about using it in any and all situations. Qui-Gon Jinn uses it against Watto to try to get him to accept what Watto has clearly stated is worthless money for a very expensive part. In essence, he was using the force to try to steal the engine. Obiwan uses it on Storm Troopers. Luke uses it on Bib Fortuna. In each case it is being used against a “bad guy” so we’re supposed to overlook how horrifying that power is. And the fact that it only works on the “weak-minded” makes it worse, not better.
When their mind control doesn’t work, the Jedi seem to be really quick to jump to violence, and their rigid adherence to the light/dark dichotomy of the force makes them much, much deadlier than they have to be. We can’t use the magic space lightning which is shown multiple times to be effective at non-lethally subduing opponents (see Sidious shocking Luke at the end of Episode VI). It’s much less evil to potentially push someone off of a cliff or just chop them to bits with our laser swords. Look at how quickly Obiwan jumps to literally disarming the thug in the Mos Eisley canteena. A quick burst of lightning could have solved that problem with much less lasting damage. But no, we can’t do that. Because that’s evil. Not mind control though. Use that at the drop of a hat.
Ultimately, it’s important to reevaluate both sides of the story and judge whether or not your hero is really “the good guy”. It’s easy to assume stories are about good guys and bad guys, just like with Star Wars, and to assume that’s the story you’re telling. The truth, as with so many things, will often be more of a shade of grey.
Specifically Grey Jedi. Grey Jedi are awesome.