Luminous Beings: Portraying Jedi and other Lightsiders

“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

I had long been considering doing these posts. The draft that would become the final products have been sitting in my Draft Box on this site for roughly a year. Around the same time last year, I had released an article expressing my lack of enthusiasm for The Concept of Grey Jedi. It is, to date, my most read article and has been the source of discussion and argument (and both) for the duration.

In that time, several people have approached me to ask how to play a Jedi, how to perform as one. There are several larps out there that involve the Jedi and I’m currently running a tabletop game casted predominantly by Jedi. Also, as many of my readers are predominantly from the part of the community looking to translate lightsaber combat to reality. For you to understand the weapon art, you need the context of the people who used it. I hope this helps you all.

I had stated in the 50 Shades article that the cause for people to play “Grey” is because they find the Jedi to be ‘boring’. They want to be good guys, but they don’t want to be Jedi…which the prequels have portrayed as stiff, overly dogmatic, and doomed to fall.

To hell with that.

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.”

The Jedi were a monastic order of warrior monks that worshiped and meditated on the  Force. They saw the Force as the most common denominator amongst all things, animate or inanimate, sapient or otherwise. The Force wasn’t just in everything, it was everything. And the Jedi saw themselves as the servants of the Force, and therefore of others.

Imagine taking on that commitment of service. The Servants of the Force, through the Force. How difficult must it be for the Jedi to make an action between two warring parties, which are all in their eyes part of the Force. How can they find the right action in a situation where one may not be easily found?

The answer: they remove their egos out of the equation, and let the Force guide them.

This concept of removing themselves, their wants and desires and perceptions, is their defining trait and their most damnable quality. It can be seen and summed up in their Jedi Code:

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.

Those are very pretty words. Try saying that to yourself when you find yourself getting agitated or overwhelmed by situation. I’ve seen people, some of them members of the Jedi Realists I know, recite it in times of anxiety. Repeating the Code right before running out on stage to put on a show in front of hundreds of people is a good way to calm oneself down and also get in to character.

And that is how the Code is meant to work, as a mantra to say to oneself in situations where one needs to remove their own ego to see the best solutions for all. And I don’t mean ego in the current term, I mean it the original meaning of someone’s sense of self. The personal ‘You’ doesn’t matter nearly as much as the ‘You’ that is defined in the Force, which is inherently everyone else. By removing ‘you’ from the situation, you are best suited to let the Force guide you to find the best for all.

This of course paints the Jedi as seemingly emotionless, as aloof to seemingly smaller matters. In the movies, this gets portrayed as wooden, stiff. The other media like the Clone Wars allows more emotions to flow through, but in the end when in tense situations, the Jedi do not hesitate to roll the hard six on the situation, regardless of personal or short term issues. If they think the situation will help the good of all in the long term, they will do so. This doesn’t suggest an ‘ends justify the means’ behavior. The Jedi have a highly developed sense of ethics, as expressed in the Jedi Code.

A lot of the discussions I’ve seen with people talking about the Jedi point to the Jedi Code as one of the major issues that they have. The concept of negating emotion, of passion, is a hard sell to many people. Even in universe, Jedi found a problem with a Code that had a hell of a lot of ‘no’s in it. So an alternative was found:

Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force

While the Code is well and good as a foundation of Jedi ethics and behavior, its not as satisfying. It’s one of the reasons I like The Jedi Path, for this one because it puts a lot in context. Unfortunately it is now out of canon. Dammit. Still recommended.

In my research, I spoke to one of my friends in the Jedi Realist Movement, a series of groups that see the Jedi as a foundation of Belief in the real world. I’m not a member, but I can definitely get along with the sentiment. My friend pointed me along to the Jedi Creed, which he found in one of the EU/Legends stories, as something a little more concrete:

I am a Jedi, an instrument of peace;

Where there is hatred I shall bring love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

I am a Jedi.

I shall never seek so much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Force is with me always, for I am a Jedi.

It’s a modified form of the Prayer of St. Francis. Being raised Catholic, and having gone to a Franciscan college, it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever read and it has seen appeal and use in multiple religious systems. And since we are in discussion of real world codes and creeds, Musashi’s Dokkōdō is also a must read to understand a warrior choosing a life without ego.

With revisions to the Code in-universe and without, we begin to see the problem some people would have with the Order. Here you have an aloof bunch of warrior monks, with powers and weapons beyond most people’s understandings given both the moral and political authority and dictate terms because ‘The Force Guides Us”. And you have inside the organization a locked-in view of what the Code means rubbing against those seeking a more fluid understanding.

This didn’t end well for the warrior monks on our planet. The Sohei of Japan in the rise of the Tokugawa, the Shaolin of Qing Dynasty China, the Templars of Medieval Europe. They had faith, they had power. Each one fell to their own Empires.

For the Jedi, their downfall began with their blind adherence to their Dogma, and the  belief that they had things under control. This gave them a form of shortsightedness that did not allow them to see the political unrest, the anti-Jedi sentiments brewing. Nor did it allow them to sense out the Sith that based primarily on the same planet as they were. Some cannot see the forest from the trees, but it can be argued that the Jedi couldn’t see the Forest from too high on the mountain. There is an exchange from Episode One that I think sums it up:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: I have a bad feeling about this.
Qui-Gon Jinn: I don’t sense anything.
Obi-Wan: It’s not about the mission, Master. It’s something… elsewhere. Elusive.
Qui-Gon: Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.
Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

While this exchange is an example of the Master correcting his pupil, it also displays the discrepancies between The Jedi’s (as signified by Yoda) Organizational Ethics and Qui-Gon’s beliefs through Obi-Wans Naive arrogance. Qui-Gon is a character I’ve always gotten the feeling they’d be a good person even without the Jedi instruction.

He plays things fast and loose, and is one of the few Jedi we see who screws up from time to time. He’s got to think fast with dealing with Watto, basing a lot of hope on a kid that he just met. He then tries to bet the child and the mother out. He can’t use the Force or his lightsaber to get his way, and has to accept the loss of Anakin’s mother. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan, who is the immature wise-ass we’ve seen either espouse or pay lip service to the Jedi Code, is curious as to whether they’ve picked up another ‘pathetic’ lifeform.

qui-gon-jinn-star-wars-phantom1
He’s also played by Liam Neeson, who I would listen to if he read the Bayonne Yellow Pages

After Qui-Gon dies, Obi-Wan takes up the banner. He’s a synthesis of the Jedi Code but has learned to keep Qui-Gon’s lessons. Obi-Wan is the classical Jedi here, the one we all got inspired by in the original movie. He’s got the discipline and spirituality of an aescetic warrior monk, but he has the groundedness and savvy to be able to navigate a dive bar and find a smuggler at least honest enough to transport without needing to get shivved for it.

His most defining moment is the one what we see at the beginning of the original trilogy and the end of the prequels, and just a little bit of it in Star Wars: Rebels: The self imposed exile on Tatooine to safeguard Luke, and then taking on the training of the young Skywalker when the time presented itself. We see a man who walked out in to the desert, his entire way of life destroyed, and he maintained himself for almost twenty years. He was willing to sacrifice himself on numerous occasions for Luke, and finally does on the Death Star.

Could Obi-Wan have handed the kid off to The Lars family and joined the nascent Rebellion? Yes. He could of. We clearly see that some elements of the Rebellion had some contact with him and we know that Bail Organa knew how and where to contact him to start with. But Obi-Wan did not choose to make his move until Luke (and Leia) presented themselves to him. He maintained his promise to watch and protect Luke and maintained it beyond his dying breath.

That is what it means to be a Jedi, full commitment. No hesitation. And a willingness to put others above themselves.

obiwan02
Be Like Obi-Wan

Aside from the Code, the other main problem/complaint/trap I see people fall in to in their view of the Jedi is the susceptibility to falling to the Dark Side. I’ve seen shows where characters turn on their masters or fellow Jedi on a dime. Any one showing dissension or discomfort are clearly going down the Dark Side path.

Except that’s dumb. Falling to the Dark Side isn’t a switch to be flipped. It’s a slope to fall down. Some people jump full on and commit to it, some stumble down, stopping at points and trying to climb their way back up. The Dark Side is a drug. It’s seen as addictive, seductive. It allows you the power to do what thou will as you will it. You lose your perspective and get caught up in the world solely as it involves you.

I can see a non-Jedi Force User, someone who lacks any training and is working purely on a personal level, having a hard time of it. Living in a world and Galaxy where personal interests are the driving force. They use their gifts to survive, to get ahead a little. It is very difficult to not be overwhelmed by personal desires when you are part of the world that actively runs on them.

A Jedi, on the other hand, is trained to remove their personal desires and wants from the moment and to focus on the universal all around them. They detach themselves from personal possessions to reduce the level of temptation for more or the clouding of judgement. They are also a part of a teaching and culture that supports one another in this. They are detached, but they are not alone.

So, when a Jedi does fall, it is not usually a small thing. Going from the Universal ‘Us’ to the personal “I” is a hell of a drop. Their fall will be harder, and more drastic, and will most likely not being a single leap.

When writing, or trying to portray a Jedi’s fall, you’re effectively writing a Tragedy. If not for the wonky ass writing of the prequels, Anakin’s fall would have been seen as an unavoidable fall as opposed to being a given because the previous movies told us he does.

One of the better examples was when we did a Jedi version of MacBeth, I’ve mentioned it before here. MacBeth is an honored Knight, and made a Master on the Council. He betrays the grandmaster, and then kills the guards, and then kills his friends and has to keep killing and killing until the world around him has descended into madness with him. MacDuff too is brought to the breaking point, his apprentice and charges murdered. He has the moment to execute MacBeth and doesn’t. He stays his hand. He passes the test, like Luke did against Vader. He won’t kill a defeated man.

10153767_10153951565690693_599159692_n
Not for lack of trying, though

I previously mentioned the Force-Users who aren’t Jedi. They are in constant threat of falling in to the seduction and addiction of the Dark Side. And many of them probably do. It’s one of the reasons why the Jedi train Force Sensitives when they are so young, because the pull to the Dark Side is so great, and the opportunities present themselves all the time. Without the proper training, or insight, a person may one day find themselves sliding down the slope to becoming something they never wanted to be.

And then there are those who are simply people who are selfless and wish to help. Honestly, of all the people in the Star Wars universe who might be a good example of a Force User on the Light Side who wasn’t necessarily a Jedi was Leia. She sacrificed her own well being and lied, bare-faced, to the Empire numerous times. She comforted Luke over the death of Kenobi, despite not just a day or so before lost her entire homeworld and family. She is one of the last people out of the door at Echo Base, and only because Han told her to. She did what she had to do, not for ambition, but for a personal desire to do good no matter the personal cost. And she did this, for her entire life, without being a Jedi like her brother.

Princess-Leia
Boss

My best advice in how to portray the Jedi as dramatic and interesting is to give them something that can pull at them. Some hidden desire. Some personal history. You see them explore them, for good and ill, and then you make them make their choice, or see their choices taken away from them. You see them reach the edge, and then you see what they do. Do they fall, or do they make their stand? Give them a test of their resolve and will, give them a test to see whether they’ll breakdown or breakthrough.

A Jedi’s greatest act is to sacrifice themselves if it means it will save lives.  In Return of the Jedi, we see Luke get taken to the breach. His final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor ends with Vader is threaten Leia. Luke absolutely loses his shit. For the first time throughout the whole series, we see Luke’s temper go off. He starts wailing on Vader, no finesse at all. He starts smashing Vader’s saber, completely ignoring the rest of him. He becomes blind with rage until he finally severs the hand from his father’s arm, both dropping in to the Death Star’s depths.

It’s at that moment, when he sees the robotics of Vader that mirror his own, that he starts to realize where he is. The Emperor is laughing at him, and welcomes him to the fold of the Dark Side. All he has to do is to supplant his father’s place in a decisive stroke. And Luke doesn’t. He throws his lightsaber away, knowing full well that without it he has no chance to survive. He looks the Emperor dead in the eyes and says “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”

The Emperor, the most powerful representative of the Dark Side we’ve seen in the movies, drops all pretenses. He knows he just lost Luke, that his resolve is stronger now that he’s made his stand. He says, almost dejectedly, “So be it, Jedi.” This is the first time a Force User has confirmed Luke’s status as a Jedi. Luke is Knighted, in a way, by the pain and suffering of Force Lightning. By taking that stand, and making his life forfeit, he assumes the mantle of a Jedi. And Vader, seeing this, is redeemed by it. He rises and takes the Emperor into the depths of the Death Star, taking the power within him knowing it will cost him his life. Vader sacrifices himself for Luke, and for Luke’s cause. Because the power of Jedi is not just in resisting the Darkness, its power is in Redeeming those who have fallen.

To conclude. Portraying a Jedi isn’t easy. It is hard to find that balance of being in the world but not fully apart of it. To remove yourself without being too remote. It’s not easy to portray that sense of power without abuse, to be righteous without being self-righteous. But there is good stories in challenging their ethics, to making them make the hard decisions. Do they compromise their sense of right? Do they take the quick and easy path to get the job done that needs doing? How far can they go before they pull back? How far can they go before they realize they can’t find their way back.

I hope this helped. Coming up soon will be a discussion of the Sith and Dark Siders. Also in my discussions, a friend who had been reading my first draft (and red inked it like wow) has studied the Jedi Code and is considering submitting posts here on the Snark Side for each line. Hopefully we’ll be seeing their posts in the near future. 

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