Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Jedi Code

Being the huge geek that I am, I have given a bit of thought to the Code that the Jedi live by. There are a lot of interpretations of this, of course, and based upon which you subscribe to, it could mean very different things. I think this fact was rather prominently displayed in the Knights of the Old Republic video game series. In any case, I'll start with the code itself:

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.

Now, taken at face value, these words seem both encouraging and problematic. They are encouraging in the fact that they promote a calm, rational approach to thinking and dealing with problems. They are problematic in that, if taken literally, they represent a kind of bland 'robotic' existence I would want no part of. I mean, peace, serenity and harmony are all well and good, but when you have NO emotion, NO passion and no Chaos (i.e change)... well, that is a machine.

In a lot of ways, I see this "robotic" interpretation of the code as one of the leading factors in the downfall of the Jedi Order, both during the time of the Knights of the Old Republic (4,000 years before the movies) and in the prequel trilogies. In both cases, the Jedi seemed preoccupied with this idea of remaining 'detached' from situations. In KotOR, this is shown in how the Jedi refused to aid the Republic when it was faced by an invading Mandalorian army. Only by going AGAINST the order did a few Jedi manage to aide the Republic and turn the tide. And in the end, that left the Republic weak and unprepared for the Sith attack that followed—an attack that resulted in the destruction of the Jedi Order (they had no Republic to hide behind). In the prequels, the Jedi order seemed downright sluggish. Every thing that happened seemed to have one or more masters saying "I need to meditate on this". Now, while I realize it is best to think things through before acting, the Jedi (to me) seem almost paralyzed by their rational, calm approach- unwilling to take action until the situation has already progressed beyond their control. An example of this would be the Battle of Geonosis. If it hadn't been for the machinations of the Emperor in getting the Clone Army created (without anyone's knowledge), then the Jedi would have been overwhelmed.

The whole concept of the Jedi leading a live of celibacy (introduced in the movies) and of being raised from childhood, without any family contact (introduced in KotOR and the movies), seem to me to be just another expression of this 'robotic' interpretation of the Code. You produce Jedi who do not "feel" or have "attachments". Presumably, this is to allow them to act more rationally, unclouded by emotions. This also results in a group of people who are isolated from those they are tasked with defending- not just physically isolated, but culturally, socially and emotionally. They aren't 'part' of Galactic society, they're set apart from it. Though I dislike referencing his works, Alan Moore described the same kind of thing in his Watchmen comics. Dr. Manhattan is losing touch with the people he is tasked to defend. The only thing that still serves as an anchor is his emotional attachment to one person. So to me, the idea of isolating the order seems like a recipe for disaster- and indeed this proves to be the case. People fear what they don't know, and the Jedi hold themselves apart and even 'secret'. Its no wonder they didn't have a whole lot of support from the populace of the Republic when Palpatine turned against them. They must have been seen as an 'outside' factor.

What is interesting to me is that since this code was created (by who exactly, I don't know), there have been in-universe retcons with it. Evidently, the wording of the code was changed at some point. Its original phrasing was as follows:

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

To me, this phrasing changes possible interpretations quite a bit. It is not saying that one thing should be eliminated in favor of the other. To me this seems to be saying that these things exist alongside each other. And more to the point, it suggests that to understand (or achieve) one, you have to understand the other. So to me, each one breaks down like this...

Emotion exists, every living being experiences it. There are good and bad things about it, but if you know yourself and how you feel and know others and how they feel, you can achieve peace, both within yourself and with others. It means that you can recognize the source of emotions and choose not to act on the bad ones- realizing them for what they are and not letting them dominate your actions.

Ignorance is a simple one. In order to learn you have to realize how much you do NOT know and open your mind to the teachings of the world and others. You should be willing to look past what is 'known'—question authority, as it were. Its all very Socratic, to me.

Passion is not a bad thing. It is what drives people to pursue the interests they have. Taken to extremes, it can be very harmful- turning to obsession. But as with emotion, if you understand what drives you and others, you can achieve serenity in your actions and help guide others to a 'healthy balance' in their own lives.

Chaos is a bit metaphysical, I believe. I'd say that part of it has to do with change. Nothing in the universe remains static. But change in and of itself is a 'constant', and one that must be accepted. People should change with their times, constantly striving towards a 'harmony' with their world, even as it becomes 'alien' to them. I also think this may speak about the much larger issue of a 'master plan' behind the seeming chaos of life. The fact that there are cycles and patterns to things that may at first seem completely random. I could also wrap up the whole issue of 'fate' into this, unseen forces working behind the scenes to bring people into certain places at certain times.

Death. This one is pretty self explanatory to. Physical life ends. But there is a world beyond. The spirit continues within the Force.

Overall, this earlier phrasing of the code seemed to suggest a Jedi Order that was much more a part of the Galaxy in which it existed. And in my campaign, this is the tact that the 'reborn' Jedi Order is taking. They aren't detached. They have friends, families and 'normal' lives. I can't think of a better way to keep someone 'grounded' than to have all these connections and 'reasons' to do their job. High-minded ideals are great and all, but without anything real to support them, they're just words.

Again, this is just my take on the whole thing, but I like to think it makes sense. Before I go, I want to talk about the Expanded Universe addendum to this code, supposedly initiated by Luke Skywalker in the New Jedi Order novels:

Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.

For once, the EU seems to have given me something I don't hate. All of these statements are pretty much along the lines I can see the Jedi taking. They aren't particularly original, however, since they're pretty much the same things folks said in the prequels, but still, its not bad to reiterate a mandate.

Oh, and P.S. It may first seem hypocritical for Luke to say the "ruling over them" clause, since his sister was Chancellor of the New Republic, but in a democratic government (or a well functioning one, at least), elected officials are SERVANTS of the people, not masters.


  1. I agree with your comments on the Jedi code, and their attitude in general. By being apart from society, they became all too robotic (including the acting in some of the movies, but that's another topic for another day). I do like the fact that the new order of Jedi seems to encourage people to live normal lives. Arianne certainly would have been a driving force behind this new Jedi attitude being adopted.

  2. "It may first seem hypocritical for Luke to say the "ruling over them" clause, since his sister was Chancellor of the New Republic,"

    But also not a Jedi at the time.

    A great article; I highly agree!