The following contains spoilers for Tales of the Jedi Season 1, Episode 2, “Justice,” now streaming on Disney+.
Except for the High Republic stories, the new Star Wars canon features few glimpses of the Jedi in their prime before The Phantom Menace. Fans got a new look at that time through Dooku’s eyes in Tales of the Jedi. His rough tactics foreshadow his eventual fall, but he’s not acting like a Sith. He’s acting like how George Lucas imagined Jedi acted at this time.
When Lucas designed the worlds of the Star Wars prequels, most were shiny and new. He wanted to show how life in the Republic was one of finery — at least for some. In Tales of the Jedi, Dooku and Qui-Gon Jinn land on the home planet of Senator Dagonet and find a wasteland. The land one of the most high-profile senators represents is dying, and his people are too. A group of rebels kidnapped his son in order to bring attention to their plight. Technically they resolve the issue, but people are killed. This is how Lucas envisioned the Jedi resolving conflicts. They didn’t seek violence, but threats and intimidation were how these “negotiators” did business. Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala even joke about “aggressive negotiations” in Attack of the Clones. That approach is why the Jedi so easily able fell into Palpatine’s trap.
George Lucas Saw the Jedi Like Mafia Dons
From the moment Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker about the guardians of peace and justice for a thousand generations in the Old Republic, fans dreamed about these heroes. The Legends Expanded Universe delved into the history of the Jedi and Sith — parsecs off-target from where Lucas eventually went with it. When fans finally got the Jedi Order, they weren’t as heroic or legendary as expected. This was by design, and he told fans as much during the press tour before the release of The Phantom Menace.
In July 1999, Lucas appeared on the British morning show The Big Breakfast and essentially spoiled the plot of the film. He first described the Jedi as “the enforcers of the universe.” He went on to say “the way they settle disputes is sort of the way the mafia settles disputes.” He didn’t really explain further in the interview, but he did as time went on. Essentially, it’s what fans see in Tales of the Jedi. The Jedi sits down at a table to negotiate — but not before setting their lightsaber down to let the other side understand the stakes. It’s a clear threat, even if most Jedi would never actually act on it. It’s also a foundational reason why the Jedi Order fell.
Lucas Saw the Jedi Order as One of Many Flawed Institutions
Rather than following the “Living Force” as Qui-Gon calls it, “Justice” sees the Jedi do the dirty work of corrupt politicians and never address the actual reasons for the problem. The kidnappers the Jedi are sent to deal with are only doing so because they are being oppressed. The fight with the Senator is what happens when someone calls the Jedi’s bluff. That’s the problem with relying on threats and intimidation during negotiations — eventually someone will be desperate enough to be willing to die for their cause. The light side of the Force represents balance and selflessness. Not addressing things like corruption, slavery and other atrocities that the Jedi turn a blind eye to are why their connection to the light side weakens.
The intimidation tactic works because Jedi are truly astounding warriors. This makes them natural leaders for the eventual war, even though war is directly opposed to their philosophical beliefs. The Jedi Order, not Padmé Amidala and Mon Mothma, should’ve been leading the diplomatic effort or the protection of innocents against either side. Instead, they became thralls to the Senate, and every Star Wars fan knows that Palpatine is the Senate. The prequels are all about the corruption of good institutions by corrupt aims. The Jedi Order, for all their might, were not immune.
This doesn’t mean that George Lucas saw the Jedi as evil. To the contrary, he saw the Jedi more like Ahsoka or The Last Jedi-era Luke Skywalker. They were not a centralized order part of the political hierarchy, but itinerant travelers, following the Force to those who most needed their help.
Tales of the Jedi is now streaming on Disney+.