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In the Star Wars universe, the Jedi Code is a simple five-line declaration of the Order’s self-imposed paths to understanding the Force and wielding its power for good. It’s both a code of conduct and a statement of faith, written to guide Jedi through their understanding of the Light Side.
Why did the Jedi follow its ideals so rigorously? How did it teach a Jedi to avoid the Dark Side? Were there any areas in which the Code was wrong?
In this article, I’ll be walking you through the Jedi Code explained, including one of the most important parts of Star Wars: what did the Code teach about attachment?
What is the Jedi Code?
The Code, supposedly written by Jedi Master Odan-Urr around 5,000 BBY, reads as follows:
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.
Slight variations also existed while conveying the same meanings:
Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.
The Code defines two things in a short set of words: those to be avoided because they lead to the Dark Side – “There is no…” – and those to be embraced, leading to the Light Side – “There is…”.
For example, where the Sith feed off their emotions for their power (anger, hate, passion, greed, and so on), the Jedi draw their strength from an unclouded, impartial connection to the Force. Peace. Hence, “There is no emotion, there is peace.”
How the Jedi Code Combatted the Dark Side
To fight the Dark Side, each Jedi was brought up to accept and overcome the darkness within themselves. They would meditate as often as they possibly could, spending their time coming to an understanding and acceptance of the Force around them and learning to control their emotions.
It took a lifetime of training to fully master the peace required to wield the Light Side of the Force. Through meditation, training, and experience, a Jedi learned to purge out everything that might plant the seed of the Dark Side. They were to use their power to protect and serve the good in the galaxy, fighting the evil.
Each member of the Order had to fight a constant battle within themselves. It wasn’t a one-off. They would constantly be tempted and would always need to prevail.
This was part of why the Jedi Council initially refused to train Anakin. He had not been brought up with the discipline required to be trusted to fight the darkness within himself. As such, training him risked giving him the power to threaten the Jedi and others.
Even Yoda had to go to war with the evil within himself. In the Clone Wars episode “Destiny” (S6E12), Yoda travels to an ancient planet to learn about the mysteries of the Force. As one of his trials, he must defeat the dark version of himself.
Yoda claims he has long since banished his fear but learns that to vanquish the shadow of his soul, he must admit that the darkness is always within him. Only once he does this can he claim victory. His words to his nemesis – a Force illusion of himself – sum up the intensity of a Jedi’s training:
Part of me you are, yes. But power over me, you have not. Through patience and training, it is I who control you.
The Jedi Code and Love
Love and attachments are some of the most central themes of the stories of Anakin and Luke. In the end, the Skywalkers triumph over both the old Jedi and the Sith in their ultimate ability to form attachments without falling to the Dark Side.
The Jedi Code – which the Jedi followed for millennia, right up to the rise of the Galactic Empire and the destruction of the Order – taught its members to control the Force through separation and peace within themselves. It demanded peace, knowledge, serenity, and harmony, yet rejected emotion, ignorance, passion, and chaos (that is, a lack of control within oneself).
For the Jedi, this meant following a strict and difficult-to-navigate path when it came to love and attachments. The confusion displayed by younger Jedi is nicely summed up in this quote from Ahsoka Tano to Aayla Secura:
I get confused sometimes. It’s forbidden for a Jedi to form attachments, yet we’re supposed to be compassionate.
The Jedi Master’s reply comes as follows:
It is nothing to be ashamed of, Ahsoka. I went through the same process when I was your age with my own master… He was like a father to me. I realized that, for the greater good, I had to let him go. Don’t lose a thousand lives just to save one.
Aayla’s response is typical of all the Jedi from the time of the Republic. It’s grounded in admirable, self-sacrificial principles. Still, it unwittingly leads to extremes, frustration and, in a roundabout way, sends some individuals to the Dark Side.
Jedi were supposed to love but love “unconditionally” (as Anakin explains to Padme in Attack of the Clones). This means to love without attachment, without a feeling of importance placed on self. As the Jedi Grand Master, Yoda’s views on attachment are explained to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith.
Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.
Yoda’s advice is good advice – let’s not misunderstand that. Jealousy and greed cloud a person’s judgment, leading to tunnel vision, rash actions, and lifelong consequences. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is, of course, the ultimate example of that.
Anakin and Attachments
The Jedi were to focus on all others and deny themselves. Since Anakin joined the Order as an older boy of about nine years, he had already developed attachments – especially with his mother. This is why Yoda tells Obi-Wan at the end of Phantom Menace,
grave danger I fear in his training.
A Jedi was supposed to push out all emotion, attachment, and feelings. In theory, this would allow them to impartially judge all situations, removing bias and injustice. In this way, it was very effective. But at the time of the Clone Wars, the Jedi Order had become so embroiled in the politics of the Senate that they had inadvertently formed a biased viewpoint. They were protecting a completely corrupt institution, but a combination of the power of the Sith and the arrogance of the Jedi had made them, as Darth Sidious would famously cackle, “blind”.
Your arrogance blinds you, Master Yoda.
The relationship between Anakin and Padme, cemented in the moment they both expected to die, came into being at the height of this corruption. Anakin never learned the self-sacrificial side of how the Jedi were to love.
This is subtly highlighted at Shmi’s graveside. Both Anakin and Lars hate the Tusken Raiders who kidnapped and, as it turned out, tortured and murdered the Skywalker matriarch. After burying her, Clieg Lars says,
As in, “thank you for the gift you gave me by being in my life.” In contrast, Anakin falls to his knees and cries,
I miss you. So much.
His emotions are, of course, understandable. He’s clearly riddled with guilt about not having arrived in time – or with enough power – to save her. If only he had been quicker or stronger, he might have been able to save his mother’s life. But Anakin here focuses on his own feelings and how the death of Shmi will affect him.
He cannot see the broader picture Yoda talks about, in which all beings pass into the Force at some stage or other. We are all “luminous beings”, as the Grand Master explains. Anakin’s self-focused viewpoint demonstrates selfishness, a form of “greed” – something Yoda was warning him about.
Anakin doesn’t have the discipline required by a Jedi according to those around him at the time. However, he does possess something more profound – a desire to save life.
Where the Jedi often relinquish individuals to their fate, trusting in the Force, Anakin pushes to preserve their lives. He’s, in this way, an incredibly caring individual – far beyond his contemporaries in his determination to protect and save. He shows much more compassion (thinking back to that conversation between Ahsoka and Aayla).
This is what the Jedi were initially intended to be – impartial guardians of the peaceful and good in the galaxy, keeping them safe from harm. Of course, they would be unable to save everyone, and at that point, their training to let go should have taken over.
At the time of the Clone Wars, the Jedi were lost. Their egos, arrogance, blindness, and justified desire to fight the Dark Side meant they wouldn’t risk forming bonds (“compassion”) in the same way as others. In a way, they began to forget how to love unconditionally, becoming hard, short-sighted, and politically intertwined with the corruption in the Senate.
How the Jedi Struggled to Balance Love and Attachments
This is highlighted particularly nicely in a Clone Wars episode: “Weapons Factory” (S2E6). Luminara Unduli and her Padawan, Barriss Offee, join Skywalker and Ahsoka assaulting a droid factory on Geonosis. After the two padawans seemingly sacrifice themselves to save their masters and the clones, Anakin begins frantically digging for them, desperate to save their lives before they run out of air.
Luminara, meanwhile, calms herself. Through his frantic search, Anakin manages to find and locate the two young Jedi, rescuing them from certain death. In the resulting discussion between him and Unduli, he triumphantly says,
I knew they were still alive. I told you we shouldn’t give up on them.
To which Luminara replies,
It’s not that I gave up, Skywalker, but unlike you, when the time comes, I am prepared to let my student go.
In this case, Anakin’s emotional attachment saved the lives of Ahsoka and Barriss. Although Luminara claims to have not given up, she didn’t partake in the rescue effort. As a result, she displays a lack of care (of sorts) towards her Padawan. The Jedi was failing in allowing people to die because they were too afraid of the Dark Side, too fearful of the consequences of trying to save them.
Because of this, Yoda and the Jedi Order couldn’t steer Anakin back onto the right path. They weren’t on the right path themselves. Therefore, he was forced to turn to the Sith to protect Padme’s life. In the split-second decision he had to make between Master Windu and Darth Sidious, he chose to save his wife over serving a corrupted, weak, and declining Jedi Order.
In the end, the Jedi became so afraid of attachments that they began to forget how to love unconditionally. They began to lose their compassion. Rather than allowing themselves to help others, many of them withdrew, forsaking all the bonds they had with others so that they’d never be tempted to use the Dark Side. In a Jedi, this could easily lead to a lack of care and understanding – something the Jedi were known for. In fact, in the lower levels of Coruscant, anti-Jedi sentiment was everywhere.
By holding themselves back from compassion, the Jedi actually began to sow the seeds of everything the Code stood against: passion, emotion, ignorance, chaos, and death.
The Process of the Jedi Code
The Jedi Code might well have been the structure with which a Jedi should base their training and mindset. But it was a process rather than a set of rules.
Think of it this way: there must first be ignorance to understand knowledge. Without there first being an absence of knowledge (ignorance), there is no reason for learning to come about.
The same is true for the other five statements. For example, how can harmony be grasped without first going through chaos?
It was the job of a Jedi to accept the natural state of things both in themselves and the galaxy. Emotion, ignorance, passion, chaos, and death existed in both, whether they liked it or not.
They weren’t to simply ignore it, pretending that such Dark Side tendencies existed. Instead, they had to admit the presence of evil and then fight it. This was the only way a Jedi could succeed and develop their Light Side Force powers. It was the lesson that Yoda learned, as mentioned above.
In the same way, the Jedi were not supposed to be emotionless (lacking compassion). However, they were supposed to be mindful of their emotions, exerting control over them at all times. It wasn’t about purging emotion: it was about bringing it under control.
The Jedi Code and the Clone Wars
The Clone Wars was the ultimate nail in the Jedi Order’s coffin, although they wouldn’t know it for three whole years. When the Clone Wars began, Yoda and the Jedi Council knew they were being played by the Sith but were unsure exactly how.
Of course, Palpatine had manipulated everything precisely the way he’d engineered. With the Jedi on Geonosis pushed back by the battle droids in Attack of the Clones, they made a final stand, preparing for death.
Yoda had no choice other than to enlist the help of the clones to save their lives, but this act was simultaneously a declaration of war on the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The Republic, which the Jedi sought to protect, now had to fight these rebellious systems, and it needed the Jedi to lead them.
Since the Jedi were already so involved with the Republic, they essentially had no other options. They had to lead the clones against the battle droid armies. This was in itself contrary to their true role as established by the Jedi Code. They were guardians of the peace, not soldiers or generals.
The hypocrisy of peacekeepers leading an army wasn’t lost on the galaxy, with both Separatists and Republic supporters highlighting the cant of the Jedi.
The Confederacy branded the Jedi as politically inept warriors that had forsaken their true calling leading an army of enslaved people into battle. While it was an organization based on greed, its propaganda contains many aspects of truth. The Order had indeed lost its way.
On the Republic side, prominent leaders such as Tarkin believed that the Jedi Code prevented its members from doing what was necessary to win the Clone Wars.
This is highlighted in the Citadel arc of The Clone Wars (S3E18-E20). War is a terrible business, and the victor often overcomes his opponent through dirty, distasteful tactics (Palpatine’s defeat of the Jedi and the Republic being a prominent example of this).
Tarkin believed that the Jedi Code meant the Jedi were too honorable to lead the clones into battle. Without them, the Separatists would be overpowered more quickly. He was also, in many ways, correct.
I find [the Jedi Order’s] tactics ineffective. The Jedi Code prevents them from going far enough to achieve victory, to do whatever it takes to win, the very reason why peacekeepers should not be leading a war.
Anakin agreed with Tarkin, highlighting his confusion and resentment towards the Council and its leadership. Obi-Wan cautioned his friend on Tarkin’s influence, remarking:
Unfortunately, war tends to distort our point of view. If we sacrifice our Code, even for victory, we may lose that which is most important: our honor.
Obi-Wan was right. So was Tarkin. In fact, so were the Separatists. Even the Council’s suspicions were accurate. The Jedi shouldn’t have been leading a war effort. Sadly, the Sith completely outplayed them.
They were unable to leave the fighting. If they had stuck to the Code in the first place, they would never have been drawn into the Clone Wars, and the Order may well have survived Palpatine’s plans of destruction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What Does the First line of the Jedi Code Mean?
Answer: The first line of the Jedi Code is:
“There is no emotion; there is peace”
This tells a Jedi to not let emotions guide their path. Emotions are most often selfish – that is, all about “me”. As such, giving into those feelings promotes oneself above everyone else. It becomes all about my happiness, my power, and my influence, rather than using the Force to protect others and keep the peace.
The Jedi use the Light Side of the Force by bringing themselves into submission before the Force. Unlike the Sith, who bend the Force to serve their own will, the Jedi bow before the greater power in the universe and use it for good.
Giving in to emotions, then, is a path to the Dark Side. That’s why the Jedi reject it.
Despite this, a Jedi would be taught to be mindful of their emotions. They weren’t to shut them out entirely but to always be aware of them and keep them under control. This control would bring a sense of inner peace and a deeper connection to the Force.
Question: Was the Jedi Code Wrong?
Answer: As I understand it, the Code wasn’t, in itself, wrong. However, it was taken out of context and misinterpreted by the Jedi over time. Eventually, what had started out as a Code to ensure the members of the Order were always compassionate, kind, and loving was misunderstood. This misunderstanding turned them into political tools who had utterly lost their way.
The Code wasn’t altogether about rejecting emotions and passions but controlling them (as Yoda learned). Unfortunately, as the Order lost its way, it became more focused on outright removing these obstacles, so there was no chance of someone falling to the Dark Side. By doing this, they ironically pushed certain members, such as Anakin, away, causing their own downfall.
In a sense, the Jedi at the time of the Clone Wars had introduced their own laws extending the Jedi Code, such as forbidding relationships and familial attachment.
While these principles may have had their place in certain times and contexts, they expanded in a way that was contrary to the Code and were taught as insurmountable obstacles rather than things to be worked with. Thus, the Jedi themselves undermined their own values.
Question: How do Jedi Address Each Other?
Answer: The Jedi ranking system occasionally seems a little complex. In general, all Jedi begin as Younglings. As they grow, they are taken under the wing of an older, experienced Jedi as a Padawan, beginning to apply the lessons they learned as youngsters.
A Padawan would graduate by completing the Jedi trials to become a Jedi Knight. Eventually, with a deep connection to the Force, they could become a Jedi Master.
The single Jedi in charge of the Council and the Order held the rank of Jedi Grand Master. At the time of the Clone Wars, this was Yoda.
Padawans always addressed those above them as “Master …” (even if they were a Knight). In turn, higher ranks always addressed padawans as “Padawan …”.
In a couple of non-canonical references, Jedi are referred to simply “Jedi …”.