I was reading Star Wars in the Classroom‘s breakdown of Rey’s Hero’s Journey recently, and ran across their paraphrase of Campbell’s analysis of a particular symbol:
“In mythology, the wise guide often gives the hero an object with magical powers to guard and assist him on his chosen path. The idea of a magical sword, such as the lightsaber, appears many times in legend: it is a powerful symbol that gives its owner the right to challenge authority.”
We real-life Jedi do not have lightsabers. Most of us don’t have swords, and certainly no magic. By and large we are a community that believes violence, and therefore weapons as the tools of violence, should be used as a last resort at best. But we as a community have held onto the symbol of the lightsaber. We buy replicas, we involve them in our knighting ceremonies, we incorporate them into our imagery. Why is this symbol, this patently fictional weapon, so important to our Jedi mindset and culture? The quote above holds the answer: the magic sword symbolizes the owner’s “right to challenge authority.” Not ability, but right.
If the Jedi are guardians of peace in the galaxy, sworn to respect all life and seek justice, we often cannot do so without challenging authority. Whether it is the authority of unjust laws, or people using their own power to bring about injustice or violence, it is a Jedi’s responsibility to push back against that kind of darkness. Whether we do so in a profession that demands a more physical kind of fight, or whether we fight we words and ideas and feelings; whether our weapons are real, or merely symbolic like the lightsaber, it is part of our nature to test and challenge authority, to keep those in power to high standards of justice.
Should Jedi be peaceful, law-abiding citizens? Of course. Should Jedi challenge all authority always for any reason? Of course not. But when our very simple code is truly violated, that takes precedence. How a Jedi resolves these issues of authority and justice depends on the situation of course, and despite our symbolic use of the lightsaber a Jedi should be extremely wary of using violence to resolve a situation. But we cannot shy away from breaking the status quo, from challenging unjust authority because it’s hard, or scary, or against societal expectations; it’s our duty as Jedi to do so. When we accept that obligation, we embrace our choice of path. When we internalize the symbol of the lightsaber, we gain the strength to act. When we embody the code and act accordingly, we truly become Jedi.