This Star Wars article contains spoilers for The Clone Wars.
In the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the gilded surface of the Old Republic begins to flake away. The Jedi Order, corrupted into decadence by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and its well-intentioned but cloistered Masters, is losing both the moral high ground and its martial power. The arc in which ex-Jedi Ahsoka Tano meets the Martez sisters in Coruscant’s infamous level 1313 (season 7 episodes 5-8) illustrates this in several ways. The story shows Ahsoka the relative luxury of her situation, including how Jedi negligence harmed the Martez sisters, and plants the seeds for the Siege of Mandalore, where the Jedi will unwittingly act as tools of Imperial colonialism. There are also hints of what happens once the Jedi complete a mission and leave a place, sometimes in chaos.
This is not the first time that the sprawling Star Wars series has interrogated whether the Jedi are unfailing heroes. The Prequel Trilogy comments on this through Qui-Gon Jinn, himself considered a “radical” Jedi. Years after the release of The Phantom Menace, we wonder why the Jedi didn’t take more action to free Shmi and the other slaves Anakin Skywalker left behind. Anakin is torn from his mother and later powerless to prevent her death or to help the people he grew up with and the Jedi Order doesn’t provide him any institutional resources. By the time tragedy hits in Attack of the Clones, Qui-Gon is no longer around to prevent the Jedi Council from becoming hidebound.
The Clone Wars provides a more extreme example of Jedi correction in an earlier season with Pong Krell, who tries to use the Clone Wars to gain power at Count Dooku’s side. I’m not saying the Jedi are evil or that other characters are foolish to admire their philosophy, nor is this an edgy insistence that the bad guys in this childrens’ story are right or a more refined political look at the structure of the Jedi Order. Instead, this is about what The Clone Wars reveals about a tragedy previously only explored through the eyes of the heroes and villains.
Revenge of the Sith hints at how the Jedi Order as a whole arcs in a parallel to Anakin Skywalker’s fall: a fatally flawed but well-intentioned person becomes, by his own poor or cruel choices and manipulation from others, the harbinger of death, loss, and disillusionment. Plenty of other Star Wars stories have explored the inevitable corruption and fall of the Jedi, but few have done so from the point of view of “normal” people. That’s what makes The Clone Wars’ “Ahsoka’s Walkabout” arc, which chronicles the former Jedi’s time in the depths of Coruscant after leaving the Order, such a unique and important story.
In the arc, the first mark of how out-of-touch the Jedi have become is the landscape in which they live. Visually, the appearance of Coruscant’s lower levels could only be more different from the Jedi Temple if they were located on a different planet. Where the Jedi Temple is decorated with earth-tone tiles, beautiful trees, and statues, the lower levels are gray, dingy, and hardscrabble. In level 1313, Trace and Rafa Martez struggle to make ends meet. Ahsoka, on the other hand, has never had to worry about money in her life. (How Jedi salaries work is unknown, but she doesn’t land in the lower levels with many credits.) The girls are all about the same age, but have had vastly different life experiences: Ahsoka was chosen as special and given a home because of her Force abilities, while the orphaned sisters lost their chance for a structured life and had to make their own way.
Early in the arc, the sisters reveal to Ahsoka that Jedi negligence killed their parents. While chasing an escaping crime boss, a Jedi had to decide whether to destroy a crowded landing platform or a building’s wall. She chose the wall and the sisters’ parents died when their apartment collapsed. The Jedi — likely a side character named Luminara Unduli, judging from the description — left the sisters with only the “comforting” assurance the Force would be with them. But the Force didn’t go out of its way to help them. Instead of feeling awe, the sisters see Jedi as soldiers who don’t really care about what happens to civilians after the dust of the battle has cleared. And the Jedi’s farewell is the science fiction equivalent of offering “thoughts and prayers” without stepping in to provide any tangible avenues for help. Even after Ahsoka befriends the sisters and uproots them further, she leaves them with only a small assurance that she will come back “for her bike,” which was damaged earlier in the story
Ahsoka herself is close to figuring it out. Throughout the series, she’s had non-Jedi friendships, but never really saw the Jedi from an outsider’s perspective. Unfortunately, the end of the arc goes by too quickly to take a deeper look at how Ahsoka feels now that she’s seen this other point of view, Ahsoka’s growth is explored further in the Young Adult novel Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston, which shows her mix of regret and grief when it comes to the Jedi Order as a whole and Anakin Skywalker particularly. But in The Clone Wars season 7, she has yet to piece together the full picture.
The real tragedy has yet to come to pass, though, as the show and Ahsoka inch closer to the series’ final arc, the Siege of Mandalore. The infamous Siege is a prime example of the short-sightedness of the Jedi. When the siege is over, the Republic will claim the planet, ostensibly to protect it from Maul and his criminal organization Crimson Dawn. But just days later, the Republic will become the Empire, and Mandalore will become another powerless colony.
As a result of the Jedi and Republic siege on the planet, Mandalore is eventually stripped of its culture and way of life, transformed into a foundry for weapons for the Empire’s war machine. And when the people try to rebel later, most of the Mandalorian race will be exterminated in a great purge that sends the remaining survivors into hiding, scattered across the galaxy and without a home.
Star Wars Rebels and The Mandalorian show how the Empire sought to turn the Mandalorians into a homogenous part of a galactic network. It wouldn’t have happened without the Jedi (and the clone troopers) becoming pawns of the Empire.
Like Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, season seven of The Clone Wars is an inevitably tragic story. Everything is coming under the sway of the Empire and Palpatine’s ultimate plan is revealing itself. Arcs like “Ahsoka’s Walkabout” show the subtle moral degradation of the Jedi, supposedly the galaxy’s arbiters of justice, but often unthinking avatars of colonialism. The difference between Ahsoka and Trace or Rafa is stark: look at how Rafa sees Ahsoka’s ethical attitude as high-and-mighty instead of noble. Rafa has a point. Ahsoka’s black-and-white morality is out of touch, and after seven seasons, The Clone Wars has finally put enough pieces in place to show exactly how and why.