“If Anakin Skywalker had been around during the High Republic era, he might not have fallen to the dark side as easily.”
That thought was rolling through my head as I read the latest wave of The High Republic novels, The Rising Storm and Race to Crashpoint Tower, until the furor of the devastation at the Republic Fair drew all my attention away and caused me to hold my breath. But now that I’ve had time to process everything that happened in these stories, I’m returning to that thought. Both of these books delve into the topic of Jedi and attachment, and I found the view of the Jedi in this era to be far more reasonable and understanding than the Jedi in the prequel trilogy. And I think that’s part of the whole point.
Early in The Rising Storm, Indeera Stokes counsels her new apprentice Bell Zettifar on how he is dealing with the death of his master, Loden Greatstorm. And Stokes tells him:
“‘He would also remind you how a Jedi faces the death of those they love,’ she continued, and Bell’s smile immediately dropped away. ‘Because Jedi can love, Bell. We’re not droids, nor should we ever be. We are living creatures in the Force, with everything that brings. Joy, affection, and, yes, grief. Experiencing such emotions is part of life. It is light.’
‘But while we experience such emotions, we should never let them rule us. A Jedi is the master of their emotions, never a slave. You miss what you might have shared with Loden if he were here. That is natural. I miss him, too. And so we acknowledge that hurt. We understand it, even embrace it, but eventually…’
‘We let it go,’ Bell said, looking back at the Innovator so Indeera couldn’t see the tears she must have known were in his eyes.'”
A short bit later, a reporter named Rhil Dairo questions Jedi High Council member Stellan Gios about how she thought the Jedi Code stated that there is no passion. Gios’s response is, I think, really great:
“‘Indeed it does,’ Stellan told her. ‘Strong passions are something we try to control within ourselves, as emotions can cloud our judgment, especially in stressful situations. They can blind us to the truth, and to the leading of the Force. That said, it would be foolish to suggest that a Jedi has no desires or interests. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be dangerous, leading only to complacency. Yes, I have a passion for learning and teaching. It is part of who I am. But I am also prepared to set such things aside at a moment’s notice. My ‘passions’ must never be greater than my mission. Does that make sense?’
Though the novel doesn’t dive directly into the issue much after that, Jedi Master Elzar Mann flirts with these passions and doesn’t always wind up making the right call, which provides a fascinating look at this in practice – yet even there, the response of him and the Jedi around him is far different than the rigidity we see in the prequel trilogy.
In both of these quotes shared so far, we see that the Jedi of this era embrace both love and passion as essential to who they are, even while recognizing that becoming slaves to these things will blind them and lead them astray. So there are certain paths that the Jedi cannot go down with these feelings, but very importantly, they are not shying away from them altogether. They recognize their importance. They recognize their inevitability. They recognize their value. And they also recognize their danger. That’s a very healthy view of it, and it’s similar to the one articulated by Anakin in Attack of the Clones. Remember, when Padmé mentions to Anakin that she thought it was forbidden for Jedi to love, he responds:
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.”
He’s right. And the tragedy is that the Jedi Order overall at his time didn’t really see that, at least like they should have. But the Jedi at the time of the High Republic do. And they also have a very interesting – and I think very good – view on attachment, which Anakin acknowledges is indeed forbidden… but is it? In Race to Crashpoint Tower, the young Jedi phenom Vernestra Rwoh (who was the apprentice to Stellan Gios before becoming a Knight) talks with padawan Lula Talisola about attachment. Lula is worried about what will happen to her friends, and this leads to an extended conversation with Vernestra teaching her, and it’s fantastic. For example, Vernestra says:
“If Jedi weren’t supposed to feel anything, we might as well be droids. And even they feel things, if you think about it. The fact that we feel, that we care, is what makes the Jedi great.”
Vernestra then mentions that what is required is balance, and begins asking Lula series of questions. Would she save her friends if they were in danger? Of course. But would she also save a stranger or an enemy if they were in danger? The answer to that one was yes as well. And what about if saving her friends meant she’d never see them again – would she still do it? Yes! So, Vernestra argues:
“Then you are saving them for them, Padawan, not for yourself. It is not attachment.”
And that is precisely the area where, if we’re honest, Anakin struggled. His love was selfish, focused on himself, and he even tells that to Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “I can’t live without [Padmé].” Anakin would save them for them, yes… but also for himself.
So what would have happened if Anakin Skywalker was alive during the time of the High Republic? Well, he likely would have still struggled with attachment and what is healthy and what is not, but he would have been a part of a Jedi Order that acknowledged – even celebrated – the fact that Jedi were supposed to love and have passions. There’s a good way to do that and a bad way to do that, and Anakin probably would have still struggled with finding that balance. But he may also have found an Order willing to work with him, to help him grow, to care about him and walk through it with him – much like Stellan Gios does with Elzar Mann.
Mann flirts with romantic passions, and he flirts with the dark side. But – at least so far – he’s found a place where he can grow and process those things, and become better.
But I also wonder if maybe what happens with his story (or others) is what leads Grand Master Yoda and the rest of the Order to eventually come to the place where they are in the prequel trilogy, a bit more rigid and dogmatic about staying away from these things. They’re dangerous, yes, but just because they’re dangerous doesn’t mean they should be shunned. Indeed, some of the best things in life are things which could easily become dangerous if left unchecked, and that is certainly true of love and passion and attachment. I really appreciated the take on these things in these novels, and I couldn’t help but think of how the Jedi Order at the time of the High Republic and the Jedi Order at the time of the prequels had diverged somewhat on these things. And that was unfortunate for Anakin Skywalker at his moments of deepest need.