Tales of the Jedi Reveals the Pitfalls of Religious Institutions
Institutions can feel like little kingdoms unto their own. They’ve got their own sovereigns and scribes who enforce and expound customs and creeds for their subjects, keeping everyone and everything in line. However, an institution’s integrity is tested when one of the faithful acts out of turn with doubt and purportedly good intentions. What should leaders do when someone in their ranks is accused of wrongdoing? How should long-held beliefs be reassessed when their very foundations are shaken?
The language used within the Bible to describe this sort of opposition is complex. While the Hebrew word “satan” is often translated as “diabolos” or “false accuser” in the Septuagint, both David and the Angel of the Lord were labeled “satan,” that is, those who “stand against” or “resist.” In the New Testament, Paul used the Greek word “anthistēmi” to describe his Godly opposition to Peter. This same word, however, is also used to describe Jannes and Jambres’ satanic opposition to Moses. The book of Job asks us to carefully reconsider how we look at “opposers.” Are they wolves in sheep’s clothing? Or are they courageous prophets who stand for truth and accountability?
Too often, dissension is misconstrued as an evil desire to divide communities of faith. Tales of the Jedi, however, explores the tragedy that occurs when communities become so institutionalized that they can’t conceive of a righteous disruption and instead, vilify the prophets who cause it—and sometimes push them into a dark desperation to make things right.
One of the series’ protagonists, Count Dooku, had every reason to leave the Jedi Order. “Too many are quick to dismiss them, and too few have seemed concerned enough to warrant any serious reflection on the issues that prompted their exodus in the first place,” as Cole Burgett writes about the former Jedi—and by extension, some Christians who leave their churches. But what disturbs these detractors enough to decry their institutions? As each episode explores Dooku’s descent into the dark side, Tales of the Jedi outlines three core dangers of religious institutionalization through various perpetrators and victims. And when all these things are considered, can we still believe inherent good and real restoration can arise from the merging of religion and institution?
Institutions Can Uproot Us From Our Communities and Their Needs
In the second episode, Dooku and his apprentice Qui-Gon Jinn are dispatched to a world whose citizens are holding their senator’s son hostage. While viewers may assume the citizens are greedy and callous to resort to this strong arm tactic, their hand was actually forced after Senator Dagonet left his world in famine and poverty to curry power and wealth for himself. In retaliation for kidnapping his son, Dagonet vows to punish his people even further rather than repent of his wrongdoings. Such dogged evil sends Dooku into a righteous rage, and he nearly kills Dagonet before Qui-Gon peacefully ends the conflict. While the senator never apologizes, his son swears to make things right in his father’s stead.
The pursuit of power will gradually disassociate you from your own people. You will lose touch with your community’s circumstances and concerns if you get carried away and exchange your cultural identity for another. This tale of politicians who don’t remember where they came from rings throughout history: Solomon and Herod are just two examples of rulers who compromised by aligning with wicked rulers and nations for influence and affluence. In Tales of the Jedi, Dagonet tells Dooku to stand down from defending his own people because the Jedi serve the Senate. The Jedi Master stands firm: “No! We serve the people of this Republic”—something Dagonet had forgotten.
The Jedi Order is selective about justice the moment it conflicts with their relationship to the Senate. Slavery and invasion are tolerated, and even advanced, on planets where they’re conducive to trade, keeping the peace with crime syndicates, and financial gain. Located at the galactic center in their ivory towers, the Jedi are desensitized to localized plights and rights violations. It’s no wonder that Jedi who prioritize people over politics (e.g., Dooku, Qui-Gon, even Anakin Skywalker) were frustrated by the Jedi Council’s refusal to rock the boat with the Senate on board, even when that meant letting worlds sink deeper into evil.
Such distancing is further cemented by the Jedi’s galactic adoption of infants, which mirrors international adoption’s history among Christians. By not allowing individual Jedi to keep basic ties to their families and homeworlds, the Order eliminates the possibility of a more holistic justice. This practice severs threads of connection that could create a sprawling web across the galaxy, thus keeping the Jedi grounded in matters of justice big and small. Instead, they’re beholden to partisan and ulterior acts of justice whenever the Senate’s interests and assets are concerned.
Institutions Can Discourage Critical Thinking and Context
When Mace Windu and Dooku are sent to retrieve a Jedi’s corpse in episode three, Dooku knows something is off. A Jedi Master doesn’t go down so easily during an assassination attempt on the senator she’s protecting. Who attacked them? How did the senator escape? Why isn’t the Council moved by righteous anger to bring the killer to justice? Windu shrugs, saying that Jedi don’t get involved in local affairs even though Master Katri’s murder is a decidedly non-local affair. “Why are you concerning yourself with these questions?” he asks. “The Council gave us our instructions.”
Windu does acknowledge the legitimacy of Dooku’s unease when the latter goes off script to question the senator and examine the crime scene. However, he circles back to needing the Council’s approval and following protocol. The real assassins are eventually revealed thanks to Dooku’s persistence, but upon returning to the Jedi Temple, Dooku is cast aside while Windu is appointed to the Council. “I stuck to the mission,” Windu tells Dooku. “You decided to interfere in a way that led to a senator’s death.”
Windu doesn’t think deeply about the mission. Had Windu and Dooku simply returned with their suspicions, the perpetrators would’ve destroyed evidence and fabricated a narrative. Protocol would’ve meant Katri’s death was in vain. The truth is that this senator (like Dagonet) had accrued power and wealth at his people’s expense. The assassins took matters into their own hands because of their perception of the Jedi as “lapdogs of the Senate [who] claim peace but mostly keep law and order for the rich and powerful.” By appealing to blind obedience, Windu struck that exact posture during the mission despite claiming the Jedi aren’t influenced “by politics or ego.” Both, however, got in the way of justice.
The Order is rigid with groupthink. Qui-Gon, as much a maverick as Dooku, was irritated by Obi-Wan’s devotion to rules as a Padawan. Qui-Gon implored him to immerse himself in each moment and trust where his emotion and intuition led. “What use are ideals if we cannot fit them to the universe as we find it?” Qui-Gon once asked. “If our beliefs tell us one thing, and the needs of real people tell us another, can there be any question of which we should listen to?”
Although Jesus himself regarded rules as good and helpful, he taught that love and fulfilling human need were commands that transcended all rules. The apostles modeled how we must consider when rules prevent us from doing good. Such creative, flexible faith is seen as a slippery slope to apostasy. Such fear, however, results in various forms of ignorance, especially with moral reasoning. This recalls a conversation between Dooku and another Jedi in episode four, where she tells him, “Qui-Gon Jinn always had such an active imagination. As did you, Dooku.” He’s silent for a moment and then replies, “A quality valued less and less in these halls.”
Institutions Devalue Individuals and Their Integrity
Despite having left the Jedi Order for years, Dooku was (likely) in neutral standing and could visit the Temple whenever he liked before fully aligning himself with the Sith. His visit in episode four corresponds with the scene in The Phantom Menace where Qui-Gon reports he encountered a Sith Lord. Dooku isn’t surprised when the Council doesn’t trust him. Jedi Master Yaddle suggests, “The wisdom of the Council is to be cautious until we know more,” whereas Dooku validates the serious immediacy of Qui-Gon’s claim. Later, after learning Darth Maul killed Qui-Gon, Dooku tells Yaddle that the Council is accountable. Concerned, she secretly follows Dooku, only to learn that he’s in league with Darth Sidious, who promises to purge the Senate of corruption. Yaddle says there’s hope, but Sidious reminds Dooku, “The Jedi blindly serve a corrupt Senate that fails the Republic it represents.” Believing the Jedi will never change, Dooku kills Yaddle and seals his fate.
The evangelical church has a reputation for being silent on key political causes and serious accusations of abuse. This has been particularly evident in sexual scandals like those involving Mars Hill, RZIM, and Grace Community Church. Such scandals are highlighted by profound pride in defending leaders and consistent, stubborn antagonism toward victims. Author Kristin Kobes du Mez argues that “evangelicals are often unable or unwilling to name abuse, to believe women, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to protect and empower survivors.” Why? The theology behind their positions—often influenced by conservative politics and benefactors—instills entitlement with beliefs maintaining their innocence. Similarly, whenever the Council is presented with claims implicating their own or the Jedi Code itself, the leaders dismiss them out of hand.
Ahsoka Tano was a Jedi who loved the Order and had the cleanest of records. When she was accused of grievous crimes, her master Anakin was the only one who pursued the truth and challenged the evidence, but truth wasn’t the only factor in the Council’s decision. If they ruled in Ahsoka’s favor, Windu observed they would be in direct opposition to the Senate. Despite some protests to stand with Ahsoka, Windu moves to convict her to appease the Senate. During this discussion (among others throughout the Clone Wars), Yoda remarks how the dark side clouds everything. Only Dooku will admit what he cannot in Attack of the Clones: “The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision.” It’s no wonder, then, that Ahsoka leaves the Order even after she’s been exonerated, another Jedi who’s been betrayed and abandoned by her family.
Is there hope for institutions?
When the Order is nearly led to extinction multiple times, as seen in Knight of the Old Republic II, Revenge of the Sith, and The Last Jedi, a pattern emerges of Jedi ignoring the pain and concerns of its own, like Anakin and Ben Solo. The Jedi push out others needlessly, like Dooku and Ahsoka. What can be said for the church’s legacy and those it has wronged? Can Jesus’ followers trust institutions?
Paul tells us that everything created is good, but what matters is how we lift it up before God and use it for his glory. Any organization we create can be guided by godly principles. Christians are called to institution-building because churches are institutions; they’re a continuation of an ancient community. Institutions are proven places of healing, belonging, and love where principles are put into action—where communities come together with clear vision and unifying purpose. The church’s historic contributions to the formation and support of hospitals, universities, and charities testify to that reality.
But like any institution, the influence and power they afford leaders can lead to misuse and abuse. Pastor Ray Ortland rightly makes the distinction that “a life-giving institution can drift into life-depleting institutionalization. That happens when the institutional delivery system itself becomes the goal, the end, the idol. Then undesirable experiences become absolutized and perpetuated.” When people come together in faith, they can move mountains. When this power is used carelessly and selfishly, people get caught in landslides, which leads to victims going unnoticed or purposefully ignored for whatever grand things people profess to have done in Jesus’s name.
The immense weight Dooku bore among other Jedi should give believers pause; we should extend sympathy to those who fall away from the faith for noble (if ultimately doomed) reasons. Understandably rare examples like Qui-Gon and Ahsoka show us that burned-out believers can remain and spark change from within, or leave to survive and advocate for change from without. Both are righteous paths if they point toward what institutions can and must become. As Anakin told Ahsoka, “There are going to be Jedi who disappoint us, Ahsoka. But as long as we know there are good Jedi who fight for what’s right, it makes it all worthwhile.” This doesn’t mean we should mince words when particular individuals or institutions fall short of their high calling; rather, we should take hypocrisy and corruption even more seriously. In this, Dooku’s hope as a former Jedi finds its fulfillment: “Make sure your people don’t lose heart and evolve … It is the only way you will truly have victory.”