Explained: What is a Jedi?


In film history, Star Wars is arguably the most famous series of all time. It is known the world over and its characters, John Williams score, and quotable dialogue have become such a part of not only the pop culture landscape but really just the broader culture itself. If that is the case, then one of Star Wars‘ most iconic elements is the idea of the Jedi, mythical peacekeeping warriors who are so linked to Star Wars that every major piece of Star Wars media either features a Jedi character or connects back to the Jedi in some way. The Jedi is a concept that’s become synonymous with goodness or the heroic, and is ubiquitous in Star Wars.

The initial tease of them came in the very first of the many Star Wars movies, when Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke, “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;” and with that simple quote the imagination of fans around the world lit up. The concept of the Jedi would be explored in subsequent films, Star Wars TV series, comics, and other projects. Even material set during the Empire when the Jedi Knights were whipped out found ways to bring in surviving Jedi, because the concept is just too rich with material to pass up.

Throughout the saga, the Jedi have been heroes during The High Republic, the Rebellion, and the Resistance. Take a look at the Jedi’s rich history through the series, the behind-the-scenes inspiration, their code, their structure, and the most famous Jedi in a galaxy far, far away.

In-Universe History of the Jedi

A bunch of Jedi on the cover of Light of the Jedi
Del Rey

The Jedi’s history can be traced to planet Ach-To, where the First Jedi Temple was built and where the sacred Jedi text would be stored, and the order would later build a temple on the planet Coruscant, which would be the main hub of operations for generations. The Jedi aligned themselves with the Old Republic to help act ensure peace for the galaxy, and settle major conflicts including one with the planet Mandalore. During the era of the High Republic, the Jedi acted as peacekeepers and helped maintain law and order, acting less dogmatically while the Republic expanded into the Outer Rim. They served with assisting during the Great Hyperspace Disaster and fought the villainous Nil organization.

When the Clone Wars broke out, the Jedi became the generals of the Clone Army for the Galactic Republic. While they did this to help maintain order in the galaxy, some Jedi thought it was against the code and that the Jedi had become manipulated by the dark side. Acting as generals ended up being their downfall as Palpatine, who was secretly Dark Sideous, had the Clone Armies turn on the Jedi, and most of the Jedi Order was killed during Order 66.

During the Reign of the Empire, the Jedi were outlawed and those who survived the Great Purge like apprentices Cal Kestis and Kanus Jarrus went into hiding, as they were on the run from Inquisitors, dark side users who would hunt down remaining Jedi. However, on the desert planet of Tatooine, former master Obi-Wan Kenobi had snuck off one of the twin children of Anakin Skywalker, tragically now Darth Vader, who had grown into Luke Skywalker. Luke, under the teaching of Obi-Wan and Yoda, takes down the Empire by turning his father back to the light.

Obi-Wan holds a lightsaber in Star Wars Clone Wars
20th Century Fox

In the wake of the Empire’s defeat, Luke begins trying to rebuild the Jedi Order by seeking out old Jedi artifacts and eventually builds a new Jedi temple. His first few students include his sister Leia, a mysterious alien named Grogu, and his young nephew Ben Solo. Ben is seduced by the dark side of the force, and a misunderstanding between him and Luke causes Ben to become Kylo Ren, and Luke’s new batch of students are all killed.

In Luke’s failure, he goes to the planet Ach-To, where he believes the best thing for the Jedi Order is to end. However, as the dark side grows in the galaxy, light rises to meet it and a young scavenger named Rey goes on a quest to find Luke. She trains under Luke for a short time and eventually Leia, and through the force hears the voices of Jedi’s past speaking to her, allowing her to wipe out the new threat in the galaxy, and presumably rebuild a new Jedi Order, one learning from the mistakes of the past.

Behind the Scenes History of the Jedi

Like many elements of the Star Wars universe, George Lucas drew heavily from various culture’s stories and religions to texture his galactic fairy tale. With the Jedi being heavily inspired by samurai warriors, it makes sense the word itself draws from the Japanese word jidaigeki (meaning ‘period drama’ motion pictures about samurai); similarly the original Star Wars is often considered a remake of the Japanese samurai film The Hidden Fortress, from director Akira Kurosawa. The word is also similar in sound to Jed (Leader) and Jeddak (King) in the Barsoom series featuring John Carter by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which were a major influence on Lucas.

Related: The Story of Star Wars: How the Iconic Movie Got Made (and Almost Didn’t)

The philosophy of the Jedi draws heavily from both Hinduism and Buddhism, and Lucas himself described them as warrior monks, which influenced their costumes in the various series. In the original trilogy, the lightsaber fights were done to invoke samurai sword fights as well as classic swashbuckling adventures like Robin Hood. The lightsabers are depicted as being heavy, since it requires the Jedi to use both hands. For the prequel trilogy, to show the Jedi in their prime Lucas wanted to depict more acrobatics in the combat as well as Jedi wield dual lightsabers, to reflect how powerful the organization once was.

Jedi Code

Yoda on Lukes back
20th Century Fox

The Jedi’s intensive discipline and training allow them to wield the force, an energy field made up of all living things that connect the galaxy. Jedi never use the force for attack, but knowledge and defense. Jedi view love and fear to be the root of suffering and the path to the dark side, as in their mind fear leads to anger which will then lead to hate and suffering. Whereas Jedi embrace the light side of the force, an excess of negative emotions can turn Jedi towards the dark side, a power their mortal enemy the Sith embrace.

While they cannot form attachments themselves (similar to aspects of Buddhism), they are encouraged to love on a wide scale, valuing to protect life and ensure peace for everyone. This is outlined in their central code.

Love without attachments.

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.

— The Jedi Code

A Jedi’s signature weapon is a lightsaber, an energy sword that stands out in a galaxy full of blasters. While the Jedi’s main enemy the Sith also use a lightsaber, the Jedi don’t see it as a weapon but as a tool. A lightsaber works from a kyber crystal, with which its constructed. The blade color is often associated with the color of the crystal. The two signature Jedi lightsaber colors are blue and green, however purple and yellow have also been used by Jedi as well.

Jedi Hierarchy

Liam Neeson and Ewan McGegor have lightsabers
20th Century Fox

The Jedi Order is broken up into sets. First is a youngling, a young force user who is often discovered at birth and removed from their family as to not form serious attachments (like some monks, or Dalai Lamas). They learn fundamentals in the force, and after they receive their kyber crystal from the planet Ilium, they are assigned to be the Padawan of a Jedi. A Jedi Padawan, or apprentice, works closely under a Jedi Knight or Jedi Master, and is often identified by a single braid worn on their right side. A Padawan is typically with their master for years until they undergo trials to become a Jedi Knight.

A Jedi Knight is the most common form of Jedi, as they can choose to go for further training to become a master. During Jedi Knighthood is when one normally takes on a Padawan learner, like when Anakin Skywalker was assigned Ahsoka Tano during the Clone Wars.

A Jedi Master is a knight who has undergone more training and is an accomplished and highly regarded member of the Jedi Order. Until the appointment of Anakin Skywalker, only Jedi Masters could sit on the Jedi High Council.

The council is the main leadership of the Jedi Order and is made up of the strongest and wisest members. The council is made up of 12 members: five members who serve for life (like Supreme Court Justices), four members who serve long-term, and three limited-term members. The head of the Jedi Council is the Grand Master, who is usually the oldest, the most experienced, the most accomplished, and the best trained of all Jedi. A Grand Master is voted unanimously by the Jedi High Council. The Grand Master serves as the organization’s figurehead in charge of ceremonial duties and dictates the organization’s general policies while providing direction for the order. During the events of the prequel trilogy, Yoda was the Grand Master of the Jedi Council.

Related: Explained: Can Only Jedi Use Lightsabers?

Famous Jedi

Luke Skywalker and Rey train
Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios

Throughout the Star Wars franchise, there have been many Jedi, but none is more famous to casual audience members and hardcore fans than Luke Skywalker, the central protagonist of the original trilogy and whose mythic nature as a Jedi defines so much of the sequel trilogy. Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker, a powerful and well-respected Jedi during the Clone Wars who many believed to be the chosen one, an individual who would bring balance to the Force.

Other well-established Jedi include Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Master to both Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Obi-Wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn discovered Anakin on Tatooine. Jedi Master Yoda, who served as the head of the Jedi Council and at 900 years old was one of the most powerful and well-respected force users in the galaxy. Mace Windu was the second most well-respected Jedi during the Clone Wars after Yoda, and almost came close to ending the Sith Lords before the intervention of Anakin Skywalker.

The sequel trilogy introduced Rey, a scavenger who becomes the Jedi hero of the Resistance in the fight against the First Order, and is trained by both Skywalker siblings Luke and Leia to where she eventually adopts the identity herself. Various media outside the main films have introduced important Jedi characters, like Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, who would eventually leave the Jedi Order after being framed and would forge her own path.

Survivors of Order 66 include Kanus Jarrus, who takes on Ezra Bridger as his Oadawan in the series Star Wars: Rebels. Cal Kestis is another Padawan who survived Order 66 and was the lead in the video game Jedi: Fallen Order. The newest Jedi, and likely now the second most famous after Luke, is Grogu, or as he is colloquially known, Baby Yoda. Grogu’s continuing story goes through The Mandalorian (and perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi, having survived the original Jedi Purge and trained under Luke Skywalker for a short time before leaving to be with Din Djarin aka The Mandalorian.

As the franchise expands, it is likely there will be more Jedi introduced and more details given to existing Jedi, hinting at where the future of the organization goes after the events of Rise of Skywalker. As long as their is Star Wars, there will be Jedi.


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