The Jedi Dilemma in Star Wars

The consensus has been voiced: the Star Wars galaxy has a Jedi issue.

The live-action sequel to Star Wars Rebels on Disney+, titled Ahsoka, demonstrates how dull the Jedi have become. Anyone who has seen any Star Wars over the previous decade will be familiar with Ahsoka’s backstory: After being thrown into hyperspace by space whales at the end of Rebels, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who first appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice, searches for a map that may lead to the evil Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) and Jedi Master Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). It’s a race against time as the villains, led by space witch Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), attempt to free Thrawn from his whale-induced shackles and restart the Galactic Empire.

Ahsoka gives us a sense of déjà vu by simply leaving these maps lying about, despite the fact that they are crucial to the plot as MacGuffins and we have no idea who is generating them. The return of the Jedi, the unreliability of former Imperial officials, the lack of real power within the New Republic’s managerial class, and the return of the Jedi are all topics of conversation. Is it any surprise that we’re exhausted when the lightsabers come out?

This jadedness is at odds with the thrills of the first three films, when the Jedi, though few in number, were consistently hip. The idea of an enigmatic ronin (Alec Guinness) preaching the forgotten ways of “the Force” from behind a big glowy sword and trying to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join a rebellion led by stand-ins for the Vietnamese against a fake version of Imperial America to sell a lot of toys piqued the interest of many people at the time. The story was completely flipped by George Lucas in his prequel trilogy. With their growing prominence in the narrative, the Jedi are increasingly relatable to fans because of their human flaws. As protectors, they aid in the expansion of fascism throughout the galaxy. This takes place before the purported elimination of the Sith in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

The widespread presence of Jedi in media nowadays means that few people realize this. When the Jedi returned, it was a big deal. It’s getting harder and harder to dodge them now.

Because they are so ubiquitous, most of their impact is diminished. This is in part due to the location of the Jedi. George Lucas frequently had the Jedi fight for the good guys. For the most of the original series, Luke Skywalker was only a pilot who happened to have a lightsaber. By slashing through foot soldiers at the head of a bunch of idle rebels, he aided the cause rather than hurting it. The writers of Rebels, and particularly Dave Filoni, are to blame for elevating the Jedi to leadership roles where they don’t belong. Ahsoka is not a former Jedi who has returned from hiding. Instead, she’s a sage and respected citizen of the New Republic, despite her lack of involvement in its formation post-Order 66. At a time when politics seemed to be in a condition of equilibrium, Lucas always gave his Jedi an understandable wake-up call, either because of a shortage of resources or because of their general political naivete and dogmatism. There was always some resemblance to our planet in Lucas’s Star Wars. Disney seems keen to make Star Wars as non-political and foreign as possible, eliminating any human or relatable elements and turning the Jedi into all-knowing gods.

As with the Jedi, the MCU heroes are merely tools in Disney’s grand scheme for the Star Wars franchise. The MCU has begun to operate on the “if you build it, they will come” approach, banking on ardent fans to keep showing up just because there’s a superhero on the screen; similarly, it appears that Disney is betting that the presence of the Jedi would elevate otherwise dull Star Wars IP expansions.

Too much interaction is likely not the main factor. The decline in quality of media featuring the Jedi is a major contributor to their monotony and easy identification. Filoni’s era of Star Wars is characterized by a languid pace, exemplified by Ahsoka, in which the Jedi do little more than stand around with their arms crossed and name-drop characters for devoted fans. Is there a riskier way to imbibe? Get down one drink for every time Thrawn is mentioned in the first act of Ahsoka, and then try to get to your feet.

It’s a wonder the Jedi have time to train with their space bokken when they spend so much time in these works explaining what’s going to happen and providing fan service. Yes, the late Ray Stevenson’s final role as Dark Jedi Baylan Skoll required him to deliver a number of lengthy, thoughtful monologues (it seems like he’s the only actor in Ahsoka near a lightsaber who can pull off a trace of charisma, no matter how dark). But apart from that, everything is becoming somewhat mundane and predictable. This causes one to question the target audience of Disney’s Star Wars. Is it, as Lucas frequently claims, an IP for children (playthings, people, and playthings)? Or does it only work for diehard fans who understand the references? It’s the second one based on Ahsoka. Anyone who has seen Episode IV—A New Hope will recognize the moments when Mandalorian Padawan Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) claims she can’t see during sword training and when she exclaims, “Got one!” after shooting an opponent.

However, however is no reason to believe that Ahsoka cannot restore some of the spark that originally made Jedi so entertaining. The coolness of the Jedi is demonstrated by Ahsoka’s lightsaber battles against space fighters, and the politics of the New Republic are presented by Genevieve O’Reilly’s reappearance as chancellor Mon Mothma. Despite the fact that these instances occur in the midst of often dull, drawn-out conversations.

Disney appears to be trying to appease lifelong fans who are terrified of change with films like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett, both of which are also unsatisfactory entries in this chapter of the franchise. The only people who enjoy Disney’s dull, apolitical Star Wars are the ones who have forgotten that, despite the toys and the glitz, the Jedi have always been depicted as an integral part of a wider political system in the Star Wars universe. In Episode VIII—The Last Jedi, the heroes and villains were not given room to grow in the real stakes of a compelling story, and the Jedi now feel more like a branding tool for one of the world’s largest media companies than a simplified version of our world.

The fact that Tony Gilroy’s innovative 2022 series Andor demonstrates how intriguing a Star Wars world can become once the Jedi go just serves to exacerbate the problem. Andor’s (and Rogue One’s) political allegory about combatants on the ground felt more human than any lightsaber, even when there were none in sight. While recent shows like “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “The Book of Boba Fett” are so forgettable that it’s difficult to remember what happened, “Andor” will always be remembered because its problems were so similar to our own, making the Star Wars universe seem more like our world than it has since “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

The practice of making the Jedi appear even less engaging and human continues in the live-action adaptation of Ahsoka Tano. Not even the lightsabers have their former agility. Like the people who utilize them, they have been diminished to lifeless stubs. It was inevitable that Ahsoka would never be able to equal the lightning-in-a-bottle enchantment of Andor, but the show takes a backwards step when it only shows fan-favorite Jedi and expects fans to fill in the spaces between the occasional hum of a lightsaber. It’s no longer adequate. The reception Andor received suggests that audiences no longer care about the same old desire fulfillment that some fanatics insist on seeing. Both series demonstrate, in their own ways, why Star Wars must abandon the Jedi.

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