When Obi-Wan first talks of the Jedi in the original Star Wars, he describes them as “the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” This paints a picture of the Jedi as the galaxy's Knights of the Round Table, chivalrous warriors who fought to defend the innocent. The problem with Obi-Wan’s nostalgia is that everything the movies and TV shows showed us of the Jedi was the exact opposite of that.
When it came to the actual movies, though, the prequels barely hinted at the failures of the Jedi. We see, of course, that they leave slaves behind and force young Anakin Skywalker to swallow his grief instead of processing his separation from his mother, but the movies mainly focus on the big action set pieces, Palpatine, and the Senate’s mechanisms instead of the Jedi Order’s inner workings. On the other hand, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars — which is counting down to its finale episode on Monday, May 4 — spends significant time building up the failure of the Jedi Order by showing us how its members thought and acted, and, more importantly, how the galaxy reacted to them.
With The Clone Wars, audiences really see the inherent flaw in the Jedi through the eyes of Anakin's young Jedi Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. When we first meet Ahsoka, she’s a headstrong pre-teen who idolizes the Jedi and romanticizes the Clone Wars. As the series progresses, though, Ahsoka finds that the Jedi Order is more concerned with appeasing politicians and public opinion than it is with avoiding violence. The latest batch of Season 7 episodes only further prove that.
Though Ahsoka initially thinks of the war in black-and-white terms, she starts to see the full complexities of war (and the Jedi’s complicity) in the Season 3 episode “Heroes on Both Sides.” In it, she meets Lux, a young senator’s son whose father was killed fighting for the Separatists. Ahsoka has seen the droid army wreak havoc for the Republic, but now she finally realizes that for those on the other side of the conflict, she’s the one bringing violence and destruction to their doorstep. When Ahsoka asks Anakin to talk to Palpatine about a ceasefire with the Separatists, saying it’s a Jedi’s duty is to speak their mind and advise the Chancellor, Anakin turns the request down.
Both the original speech by Obi-Wan and the opening of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace sell the idea of the Jedi as space monks who generally stay out of conflict and serve mostly as detached diplomatic advisors and mediators. But The Clone Wars, which shows Jedi leading ranks of Clones in the Army of the Republic, contradicts this. Throughout the show, several side characters remark how wrong it is for the Jedi to fight in the war; their involvement on the side of the Republic prevents them from aiding neutral systems, as seen during the Mandalore-centric episodes where Duchess Satine’s pleas for help are met with deaf ears, as the Jedi act as an extension of the Senate.
Then comes Ahsoka’s moment of truth, when she realizes that whatever ideals the Jedi used to hold sacred were no longer important to the Jedi Order.
It's a series of episodes any Clone Wars fan is intimately familiar with: When someone bombs the Jedi Temple, the Council calls Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate. They're pushed to act quickly, as the Council is afraid of how a Jedi being found guilty would hurt public opinion of the Order. When Ahsoka is framed, the Council is quick to jump in and expel her from the Jedi Order. They allow the military to take over her trial and erase all connections between the Jedi and the terrorist attack. When Obi-Wan asks the Council to stand together with Ahsoka and handle the matter internally, Master Mace Windu responds that not handing Ahsoka over would be “seen as an act of opposition to the Senate.”
Indeed, the role of Jedi as peacekeepers is put into question during this four-episode arc — "Sabotage," "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much," "To Catch a Jedi," and "The Wrong Jedi" — as the Jedis' tight connection to the Senate and the military overcomes their duty to remain detached, impartial moderators. When Ahsoka's friend Barriss Offee confesses to being the real bomber, she says she did it to show how the Jedi had lost their way, which isn’t entirely untrue. “The Jedi are the ones responsible for this war,” she tells the jury. “We’ve so lost our way that we have become villains in this conflict.”
While earlier episodes showed how the Jedi Order failed its members, the latest story arc in The Clone Wars, in which Ahsoka spent more time than ever outside the Jedi Order's grasp, shows the collateral damage of the Jedi being involved in the war.
After leaving the Order, Ahsoka meets the Martez sisters, who have come to hate the Jedi because of how they have abandoned those in need to become glory-seeking soldiers. The episode “Dangerous Debts” reveals that their hatred is more than a byproduct of their underworld environment, but a personally direct response. Ahsoka learns that during a chase between the Jedi and the criminal Ziro the Hutt, the Jedi crashed into the Martez's home in order to prevent a larger loss — at the cost of the sisters’ parents.
This is a rare instance in which we directly see or hear about civilians becoming collateral damage of Jedi undertakings. Instead of consoling the girls, Master Luminara Unduli (who not only trained Offee, but at one point was willing to leave her for dead in the battlefield without a second thought) offers them a patronizing “Not to worry, the Force will be with you.” The Jedi Master may have saved countless lives that day, but telling two tragically orphaned children that it is all as the Force willed it will do nothing to heal their pain — which only makes sense when you remember how they treated Anakin’s grief at being separated from his mother.
There's a reason Ahsoka has long been a favorite among Star Wars fans, and the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is, once again, confirming how warranted fans' love is.
The Clone Wars fulfills the promise made by The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith: that we will see the Jedis' great downfall. And the prequels will only grow more heartbreaking as the series adds depth through Ahsoka's eyes. Audiences get to see, in real time, how the Jedis' deep detachment from those they were meant to protect, a misguided involvement in politics, and a war they didn’t understand turned the once chivalrous defenders of peace into an Order that Luke would one day describe as possessing a legacy “of failure, hypocrisy, and hubris.”