“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
[[image:epone3_poster.jpg::right:0]]Seemingly every single article written on the prequels prior to their release included a variation on the theme of technology finally catching up Lucas’ imagination, and watching the movie it doesn’t seem like hyperbole. Naboo is gorgeous — the forests, the plains, the underwater cities and classical architecture are a feast for the senses. Coruscant, the capital planet named by Timothy Zahn in his Thrawn trilogy and glimpsed briefly in the Special Edition version of Return of the Jedi, is the city-planet I always imagined reading while expanded universe books.
More important than the technology employed in the filming is the fact that this prequel trilogy takes place immediately prior to the downfall of the Jedi. By the time of A New Hope, the Jedi are remembered as disciples of a hokey religion (and no match for a good blaster). The prequels were George Lucas’ opportunity to show us what the Jedi Order was really all about, and The Phantom Menace is the only film out of the six to show Jedi at the height of their powers, fulfilling their mandate as guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. In the second film, we see a Jedi council that is both arrogant and blind. Their arrogance makes them discount the possibility of a Sith Lord controlling the senate, even after fallen Jedi Count Dooku explicitly tells them that this is precisely the state of thing; they’re blinded by self-importance to the plots and schemes swirling around them. Nothing exemplifies the arrogance of the Jedi Order more than when Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to the library at the Jedi Temple and is told by the chief librarian that if something isn’t cataloged in the Jedi Temple archives, it simply doesn’t exist.
The Jedi are not only arrogant and blind, but we see that they are no longer taking seriously the idea that they are meant to be guardians of justice. The Jedi rescue Anakin Skywalker from a life as a slave, but leave his mother behind to die. They just don’t get around to freeing the slaves on Tattooine — even the slave who gave birth to the Jedi some in their order believe will fulfill a great prophecy and bring “balance” to the Force. (Too bad they didn’t understand what that balance would be until it was too late).
In Episode Three, the Jedi are soldiers in a war (remember, “war does not make one great”) and Yoda, leader of the Jedi, is uncertain and unsure of himself. He knows that something terribly wrong is happening, but he is powerless to prevent it. Order 66’s wholesale execution of the entire order is the price the Jedi pay for forgetting their real mandate as guardians of peace, for allowing themselves to believe that they could not be manipulated so effectively, for failing to give Anakin what he needed most or even to notice his descent into the dark side.
[[image:epone3_quigon.jpg::left:0]]In contrast, Episode One sees a confident Jedi order, sees Jedi who embark as ambassadors and use negotiation in order to try and prevent conflict. The Jedi in The Phantom Menace are not yet aware of how influential the Sith have become in the galaxy, nor have they been manipulated into taking control of a slave army in order to save a Republic already rotten to the very core — a Republic that is easily led to believe that the Jedi are traitors who were planning on overthrowing the government. If the Jedi didn’t sequester themselves in Temples, didn’t lead Clones into battle, didn’t take Force-sensitive babies from their parents and then forbid “attachment” (sorry parents! Your kids are now ascetic monks who will have nothing to do with you now that they have been pledged to the Jedi order!) then maybe the people they’d sworn to protect would have protested more as a Sith Lord wiped them all out.
In Qui-gon Jinn, we see the Jedi at their very best. He is the Jedi as I imagined them in the interim between the two trilogies — not so bound my rules and traditions as he is bound to do what he feels the Force would have of him. If Qui-gon had survived, I don’t think he would be so blind to what Anakin needed in his life — not platitudes that he should “train [himself] to let go that which [he] fears to lose” — but rather guidance on how he can save his wife, and before that, his mother. The Jedi Temple might not have thought that Anakin needed his mother alive and safe, but I don’t doubt Qui-gon would have. Nor would Qui-gon have been so bound to the Jedi tradition that Anakin wouldn’t have been able to confide in him his forbidden marriage.
How surprising it was after years of speculation about the rise of the Empire that the Jedi did as much as the Sith to ensure their fall from grace. Episode One remains our only glimpse at the Jedi tradition Obi-Wan describes to a young Luke Skywalker, one exemplified by a “maverick” Jedi Knight whose outside of the box thinking might have been able to save the order.