Doing Jedi Right


My love for Star Wars is no secret: I’m a huge fan.

The element that is most “Star Wars” to me is the Jedi/Sith conflict (and the force, which comes with it). While it isn’t the defining factor for everyone, it is the most unique element of Star Wars.

The Force, a mystical energy field generated by all life forms, is split between the light and the dark, good and evil. From this divide, an order of selfless warrior-monks and a secretive enclave of self-absorbed deceivers battle throughout the centuries in the name of their side of this cosmic battle. All of this occurring in a pulpy science fantasy setting that, outside this element, leans on the science-fiction side.

As many love the Jedi and the Sith, one might wonder what elements make them unique and how this can inspire works in their own settings.

Firstly, one must look at The Force. This is something that never shows up in science-fiction works: it’s essentially a non-sapient God. But, it’s more than that. It influences every aspect of the universe and, often, does so invisibly. It’s a source of power that those sensitive to it can work with and use to accomplish impossible tasks. It reinforces a “wuwei”-esque philosophy of working with the flows and ebbs of the universe.

Basically, it’s straight out of a Chinese myth despite being in a world of spaceships and laser beams.

Secondly, one must consider it from the context of morality. In the Expanded Universe (EU), they sometimes play with this factor, but, overall, Star Wars has objective morality. The Light Side is good and the Dark Side is evil. Note that I said Light Side, not Jedi. Jedi can turn away from the light without completely falling or become corrupt like the Jedi Order in the prequels.

Regardless, the fact remains that one’s affinity towards the Light is good and one’s affinity towards the Dark is bad. This isn’t common in modern literature, in general, and even less so in science fiction. As Star Wars is pulp, however, it makes sense as pulp generally goes for the “good guys vs bad guys” approach with little “big thinking” or “grey area.”

This objective morality has a big effect in a metaphysical sense and clearly makes the virtues the universe exalts and denies known.

Thirdly, aesthetic. George Lucas drew from the works of Akira Kurisawa when making Star Wars and it shows. The Jedi and the Sith are Japanese swordsmen. There has been deviations to this since the original trilogy, but the fact remains that this was the original intent.

Even in a world with blasters and rocket launchers, they need to be able to use some form of sword and use it effectively. Their clothes should give an eastern vibe such as Obi-Wan’s monk robes or Darth Vader’s samurai helmet.

They need to keep to some elements of Japanese culture like how Jedi follow some chinese beliefs that migrated to Japan or how the Dark Side is treated like an infection like how the concept of evil is viewed in some Japanese myths.

Fourthly, reality doesn’t apply to them as it does to others. This may sound obvious, but it needs stating. They do crazy flips like Luke jumping out of the carbonite freezer. Confusing the weak minded with a hand-wave is child’s play to the trained. Firing lightning is just something Sith do.

Remember, Star War is a science fantasy, not science fiction, and these guys are the wizards.

Lastly, the dynamic between how the Jedi and Sith use their powers. The Jedi  use powers that aren’t directly offensive where the Sith do use such powers. That divide is one that speaks a lot about how one views the Force equivalent: either as a tool or as a weapon.

It helps the good guys seem good and the bad guys seem bad while also making the philosophical difference obvious to the audience.

People can go their own ways with things and there isn’t any obligation to portray Jedi and Sith inspired characters like they appear in Star Wars. These are just elements that I noticed and are not exhaustive: someone can view a completely different set of characteristics as essential when taking inspiration from these characters.

Hopefully, this can help break down some key elements to look into when trying to create such characters: knowing which elements they like, which elements they hate, and the such.



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