„The Star Wars saga is set against a backdrop of an intergalactic struggle between the forces of light and darkness. There are fantastic alien worlds, epic space battles and cryptic ancient prophecies. But at their core, George Lucas’s six Star Wars films are really coming-of-age stories about boys becoming men. Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker begin their respective trilogies as wide-eyed, idealistic young men eager to explore the universe. They both leave their sheltered lives to embark on a journey of self-discovery that takes them to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. And their adventures ultimately usher them from adolescence into manhood. And although their narrative arcs end in wildly different ways, both are guided and shaped by the principles of the Jedi. But buried within those principles, we find some troubling and deeply unhealthy ideas about stoic masculinity“ Youtube creator Pop Culture Detective points out in his video essay „The Case Against The Jedi Order“.
As he underlines, the Jedi Order, an ancient organization of intergalactic warrior monks who are framed as wise, enlightened heroes with access to powerful mental abilities, are remarkably male-dominated and male-identified.
„If you freeze-frame in a few scenes, you can catch brief glimpses of female Jedi in the background but all the Jedi speaking roles in both trilogies are filled by men. On the surface, Jedi Knights appear to be a welcome alternative to more traditional male action hero archetypes. They’re soft-spoken, careful, deliberate, and cool under pressure. They practice meditation and rely on intelligence and dexterity over physical strength. But even though the Jedi are in some ways presented as different from the expected Hollywood fare, that doesn’t necessarily mean they represent a positive version of masculinity“, he points out.
In his video essay he exposes the Jedi as being cold, distant, and anti-emotional.
As Pop Culture Detective notes, when asked about his inspiration for the Jedi, Lucas most often cites the U.S. Marshals of the Old West.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Like the upstanding lawmen from classic Westerns, the Jedi are framed as rugged, stoic warriors who bring order to a lawless land.
Jedi don’t strike first, but if provoked they’re proficient in the use of violence and capable of a rather extreme level of brutality.
„Most of what we know about Jedi philosophy, we glean from the words of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. We know for instance that Jedi Masters admonish recklessness and advocate patience. But the real heart of Jedi dogma, the teachings that are given the most importance, have to do with emotions“, Pop Culture Detective highlights.
He adds that in Star Wars, a Jedi’s worst enemies are not agents of the dark side, his true enemies are his own emotions.
And because of that, Jedi Masters teach that the expression of emotion must always be suppressed.
He notes that long before he donned the mask of Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker is instructed to wear another mask: a mask of emotional invulnerability.
„In The Phantom Menace, a young Anakin is identified as being force-sensitive. As a result, he’s taken away from his mom and his home planet to be trained as a Jedi warrior. But when he’s presented to the Jedi Council, he’s soundly rejected. And the reason that Yoda gives for rejecting this nine-year-old boy, is because he’s too emotional. And why is he deemed too emotional? Well, it’s because he admits that he misses his mother. His mother who, let’s remember, the Jedi have just left enslaved to an unscrupulous junk dealer in another part of the galaxy. Anakin’s feelings of pain and loss are understandable and completely normal. But instead of getting the emotional support that he so desperately needs, this child is instead publicly shamed for expressing his feelings of grief and sadness“, Pop Culture Detective pens in his case against the Jedi.
He argues that young Jedi are instructed to sever all close emotional connections to the people they care about.
They must learn to hide their feelings from others, to deny their emotional selves, and to always present a stoic exterior to the world. They’re also sternly warned to always keep their emotions buried deep inside.
And leaving young men emotionally abandoned is psychologically damaging and extremely unhealthy.
„Author Bell Hooks describes this emotional hardening process in a book entitled ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love’. She points out that emotional disconnection has become synonymous with manhood itself. Viewed through this lens, Yoda’s words to the young Anakin Skywalker are downright traumatizing“, Pop Culture Detective also notes.
„Anakin is constantly instructed to become a detached emotional island. Throughout the prequels, men’s expression of grief is consistently demonized. Crying in particular is framed as evidence of a dangerous loss of control. Whenever we see tears from Anakin, it’s always meant to represent his weakness of character; and communicate to the viewer that he’s being seduced by the dark side. Contrary to popular opinion, men burying their feelings is not a sign of strength“, Pop Culture Detective points out.
Real strength is having the courage to ask for help, the courage to talk about your feelings, the courage to risk being vulnerable in front of others. But the Jedi Order forbids any of that, he adds.
The Jedi practice an impersonal, detached, bird’s-eye-view sort of compassion. One that’s decidedly unconcerned with the suffering of individual people. This is why the Jedi don’t lift a finger to try to help Anakin’s enslaved mom despite their considerable influence and resources.
Since Jedi dogma prohibits attachments, Anakin must satisfy his emotional needs in secret. He conceals his marriage to Padme and hides her pregnancy from everyone around him.
When Anakin attempts to seek advice from Yoda about his continuing nightmares in Revenge of the Sith, he does so without revealing his secret concern for the safety of his wife and unborn children.
And he gets what might be the worst advice in the history of the galaxy.
Yoda tells him: “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”
Yoda continues: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
Although Yoda’s words are framed as a form of enlightened wisdom, his advice is truly unhinged.
„Had Yoda been interested in actually helping Anakin, there are a whole host of things he could have done. First, he could have acknowledged and validated Anakin’s fears. He could have listened and shown a little bit of empathy. And he could have encouraged Anakin to seek counseling for his obvious trauma and anxiety. But Jedi orthodoxy prevents Yoda from doing any of that. So instead Anakin is essentially told to stop caring so much, and that if something tragic were to happen to his loved ones, he should just be happy about it. The Jedi suppress emotions as they believe that young men are inherently volatile and if they succumb to one intense emotion, it will spark an inevitable chain reaction that leads to hatred. Like knocking over a set of dominoes“, Pop Culture Detective adds.
Although the Jedi caution against emotional attachments in general, it’s close relationships with women in particular that are framed as the most dangerous. This is made especially evident in the prequels where emotional bonds with women are framed as something that eats away at a man’s sanity, and, indirectly, drives men to fits of uncontrollable rage.
By the end of episode III, it’s been made abundantly clear that Anakin turns into Darth Vader because he’s unable to suppress his love for the women in his life.
Embedded in that plot point is a toxic idea; that emotional intimacy and connection with women represent a loss of control for men.
„The framing of relationships with women as something that drains men of their autonomy, their power or their control is not a new storytelling device. It goes all the way back to Samson and Delilah and beyond. Though in George Lucas’s version, women don’t actively sabotage men. Instead, they serve as the impetus for men’s instability. And that message – that women are the catalyst for men’s loss of control – is part of a deeply sexist worldview. It’s an especially pernicious myth because it fosters resentment towards women and also encourages men to view healthy expressions of emotional intimacy with suspicion“, Pop Culture Detective continues.
He adds that there are echoes of similar philosophy in Luke’s story as well.
„In Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi instructs Luke to bury his love for Leia because, if he doesn’t, his feelings will be seen as a weakness, and will make him vulnerable to the manipulation and control of other men. And the narrative lessons for both protagonists closely mirror hyper-masculine socialization in the real world. Men and boys are taught to hide their feelings because, we are told, expressing vulnerability demonstrates weakness, and leaves them open to being manipulated or dominated by their rivals“, Pop Culture Detective points out.
„I think it’s instructive to talk a little bit about why Anakin becomes Darth Vader while his son remains a hero. Like Anakin, Luke’s Jedi training includes the demand that he bury his emotions, sever his attachments and abandon his friends. And like Anakin, Luke doesn’t always follow the instructions of his teachers. The difference is that, unlike his father, Luke doesn’t take the Jedi orthodoxy surrounding emotional detachment to heart. When Anakin’s emotions bring him into conflict with Jedi teachings, he feels deeply ashamed and tries to hide his relationships. Luke, on the other hand, openly vocalizes his objections and defies both Yoda and Obi-Wan. When Yoda tells him: “Luke, you must complete the training!”, Luke reponds: “I can’t keep the vision out of my head, they’re my friends, I gotta help them.” He chooses to embrace his attachments to his friends, chooses to try to save his father and, critically, chooses not to always bottle up his vulnerable feelings. When you really think about it, Luke Skywalker is at his very best when he doesn’t follow the path of the Jedi.“
The belief that emotional disconnection is an essential step for boys on their journey into manhood is a common one. But following that path leads to a life of loneliness, emotional dysfunction and anger.
This is the real reason why Anakin Skywalker can’t handle grief or loss. He’s been well trained by the Jedi to stifle his emotions and hide his vulnerabilities. And he’s never learned how to process or work through painful emotions in healthy ways.
The results are as predictable as they are dysfunctional; Anakin is left completely unprepared for tragedy, and like so many young men in our own culture, he eventually lashes out in anger and leaves behind a trail of horrific violence.
Jedi philosophy gets it entirely backwards.
Emotional detachment doesn’t prevent men from turning to the dark side.
Emotional detachment is the cause of men turning to the dark side.
„In the end, it’s the Jedi, and their philosophy of emotional detachment, that’s ultimately responsible for the creation of Darth Vader“, points Pop Culture Detective adding that like all human beings, men and boys need love.
„They need affection, they need emotional support, and they need opportunities to openly communicate their feelings. The glorification of emotional detachment is one of the more pervasive and insidious messages about masculinity in popular media“, he concludes.