For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the keepers of peace in the galaxy – but that doesn’t mean they represent a thousand generations of perfection. I mean, somebody had to graduate at the bottom of their youngling class. In modern canon, most Jedi we’re familiar with come from the Prequel era, so let’s take a look at the best-known Jedi delinquents, traitors and stuffed shirts from Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith, including the Clone Wars cartoon series.
1) Rogue Jedi
The first question we have to consider, though, is how do we define the “worst Jedi” anyway? One way to approach this is to consider which Jedi earned the most disapproval from other Jedi. Who were the mavericks, the rogues, the Jedi who played fast and loose with the rules?
Qui-Gon Jinn was certainly a Jedi master who drew frequent criticism from the Jedi Council, and his behavior revealed a frequent disdain for the rules. On Tatooine he disregarded the instructions of Queen Amidala, he gambled, and then he cheated! And he did all this to free young Anakin Skywalker, in support of his dogged belief in an ancient prophecy about a Jedi “chosen one” that other Jedi masters barely even took seriously. He requested that the Jedi Order break tradition to bring this “old” youngling into the fold, and when denied this request he declared his intention to disobey by taking Anakin under his wing.
Perhaps Qui-Gon’s relationship to the Jedi was best summed up by his own Padawan sighing and saying, “Don’t defy the Council, Master – not again.”
Qui-Gon Jinn sadly met his end at the hands of Sith lord Darth Maul, right at the moment when the Order needed him the most. The drama of the following decade was made possible mostly because Palpatine was able to cloud the vision of the Jedi Order. If a free-thinker like Qui Gon had been around, the plot to destroy the Republic might have been uncovered. And let’s not forget that Jinn was the former Padawan of Count Dooku – might the student have been able to save the master from falling to the Dark Side?
Quinlan Vos was another rogue, and another good candidate for worst Jedi from the perspective of a Jedi knight who refused to play by the rules. Dressed more like a barbarian than a high priest, he spent most of his time away from the Jedi Temple on clandestine missions. Current Star Wars canon has reduced him to only two appearances – one in an episode of Clone Wars and the other in the excellent novel Dark Disciple – but those combine to give us a clear image of a dude ill-suited to Jedi life. He’s a surfer jock to Kenobi’s chess club nerd and the fact that he scored with Asajj Ventress makes him one of the coolest Jedi in the entire Star Wars universe. But definitely not the kind of guy invited to the Jedi Academy as an example for young Padawan learners to follow.
Ahsoka Tano is one of the best characters in all of Star Wars but, at least according to the Jedi Council, she was a bad Jedi. And there’s some validity to this position. Ahsoka was headstrong, willing to break rules, lost her freakin’ lightsaber to a pickpocket, and had a strong drive to form emotional attachments.
To be fair to the Council, I can imagine Ahsoka’s performance reports would have been less than stellar, at least according to the dogma of the Order in the final days of the Republic. But to be fair to Ahsoka Tano, she was given possibly the worst Jedi master in the history of the Order: Anakin Skywalker.
Because when it comes to Jedi rule-breakers, no-one can hold a candle to Anakin Skywalker. Yes, he was possibly the most powerful Jedi in generations, a successful general of the clone army and a true leader beloved by his Padawan and his clone troopers. He was a hero in many ways. But…
Anakin married in secret, slaughtered an entire village of Tusken Raiders, tortured prisoners, murdered Count Dooku in cold blood, crippled Mace Windu with his lightsaber and willingly agreed to become a Sith when he put personal priorities over the greater good. And that was all when he was still a Jedi – I’m not even talking about what he did once he fell to the Dark Side. I realize Star Wars revolves around the character of Anakin, and that his fall into darkness is a major arc of the entire series but, when you step back and actually look at his record serving the Republic, you can see why his fellow Jedi might have been less than impressed.
This isn’t to say that Qui-Gon, Quinlan, Ahsoka and Anakin aren’t sympathetic characters – they just didn’t fit into the mold that the Jedi Order demanded of them. Indeed, the fact that they were each outsiders in their own way is the whole point: by Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi Order was a broken organization, too blinded by its own dogma to see the reality around it. If it had been more open to its own mavericks, it might have survived, and even stopped, the rise of Darth Sidious.
Current Star Wars canon doesn’t include the concept of Grey Jedi, an idea first introduced in the Expanded Universe, but I think it should. All of our rogues are good candidates for the title: powerful, Force-sensitive warriors who were guided by a strong moral compass to do good, but who were willing to do questionable things when necessary to serve the greater good.
Enlightened Jedi master or future Sith lord?
The path of the Grey Jedi is a tricky one, because the temptations of the Dark Side are real. But it could be a rewarding path for a free-spirited Force user looking to go beyond what they were taught. Master Jinn, in his study of the Living Force and Cosmic Force, was perhaps the first Force ghost, able to commune with the living directly after death. Quinlan Vos, however, strayed perilously close to destruction by exploring the Dark Side in order to gain insights into Count Dooku’s power before making an ill-fated assassination attempt. Even Luke Skywalker in his later years became something of a Grey Jedi, rejecting the Order’s focus on the Light Side and embracing balance.
Ahsoka Tano was perhaps the most successful maverick, throwing off the constraints of the Order while staying grounded by her own moral compass. This is all the more remarkable because her master Anakin, the single greatest influence on her as a Jedi, became nothing less than a Sith lord, and one of the biggest bad guys in the galaxy.
2) Jedi gone bad
We’ve looked at some Jedi who broke the rules of the Order but who mostly remained good people (Anakin being the tragic exception). Let’s take a quick look now at some Jedi who failed the Order willingly.
Barriss Offee is perhaps the most sympathetic “bad Jedi” as her motivations for bombing the Jedi Temple came from a place of righteous dissatisfaction with the Order’s active involvement in the clone war. Barriss saw, before anyone else, the slippery slope the Order was descending and had she chosen to protest in a way that didn’t kill innocents, she might have been a much-needed voice of clarity. But instead she chose violence and deceit. Her fate is still unknown, and I sincerely hope we see her again in another Star Wars story.
Sifo Dyas is the best-known Jedi who was never really a character in Star Wars. He’s mentioned prominently in Attack of the Clones as the Jedi who ordered the creation of the clone army but we don’t learn anything more about him until late in Clone Wars. And even then, it’s only from the novels that we learn fully how he was plagued by Force visions of the coming destruction, and how he secretly went to Kamino to create an army. Yes, he was being influenced by Count Dooku, but Sifo Dyas comes across as a weak character who basically walked away from the Order to pursue his own goals – and in so doing condemned the galaxy to a horrific war.
But of all the Jedi we’ve seen discard their vows, Pong Krell is the worst. This powerful, self-righteous Jedi master made a name for himself as a winner of many battles, but only because he held his own troops in such disdain that he was willing to sacrifice them unnecessarily. His prejudice toward the clones was on full display when he temporarily took over Anakin’s 501st, sending his soldiers into unwinnable combat situations and relishing in their destruction. Only when he was arrested and imprisoned by his own troopers was the full depth of his treachery revealed, though. Like Sifo Dyas he’d seen visions of the coming destruction, but Pong Krell chose the path of darkness, seeking to join Dooku as a Sith apprentice. Of all the Jedi deaths we see, his was by far the most satisfying and deserved.
3) Jedi who demonstrate why the order failed
But there’s no question that the Jedi Order was broken by the time Palpatine rose to power, and unfortunately some of the very worst Jedi were the architects of this failure. For all the criticisms levelled at Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, his assessment of the last days of the Republic were correct: the Jedi Order was dogmatic, inflexible and blinded by its own hubris. It was no longer the beacon of light it had been during the Old Republic, and it was indeed time for the Jedi to end.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is an icon of the Star Wars saga, a beloved character who some of you might be surprised to see being listed among the worst Jedi. But despite his greatness as a general, his skill with a blade, his strong connection to the Force and his dedication to the higher good, Obi-Wan Kenobi failed where the galaxy most needed him to succeed: as Anakin’s master.
Yes, this untrained boy was foisted upon Obi-Wan by the dying wish of his master. And yes, Obi-Wan dedicated his life to channeling the awesome power of his Padawan into a force for good. But Anakin was not a typical Padawan – he had no training as a youngling, no grounding in the fundamentals of the Jedi Code, and his power truly was remarkable. What Anakin needed was a master who could look outside the Code, who could train his apprentice in a unique way to match his unique upbringing and skill. But Obi-Wan Kenobi was a true disciple of the Jedi Order, so completely wedded to its dogma that he simply couldn’t see another way forward.
And so he ignored the reality that Anakin was in love with Padme Amidala, failing to address the single greatest weakness in the young man: his emotional attachments. Only once do we see Obi-Wan admit to Anakin that he himself had loved Satine Kryze of Mandalore, but even then they’re incapable of having an honest discussion that even Jedi can be tempted. And so the matter went unresolved, and Anakin made the worst possible choice: becoming a Sith lord to try and protect his wife. And then, years later, Obi-Wan lied to Luke about his father and then tried to cover his error with the infamous “certain point of view” argument.
If Obi-Wan had been more like his master Qui-Gon, he might have been able to see past the Jedi dogma and saved both Anakin and the galaxy from their dark fate.
Another Jedi shackled by tradition was Mace Windu, a character who deserved far more screen time than he was given. Mace Windu represents some of the worst qualities of the last days or the Order: he’s arrogant and close-minded, unable to see the truth of the Sith until it’s too late. He thinks little of other people, beheading bounty hunter Jango Fett in front of his son Boba Fett – and then, years later, treating Boba Fett with contempt. He also holds grudges, is clearly resentful of his decision to not train Anakin being overturned, and he never warms to the young protege, even when Anakin comes to him to reveal Palpatine as the Sith lord. Master Yoda, at least, was able to display a touch of humility as the Republic crumbled around him, but Mace Windu went to his death unbroken in his arrogance.
But perhaps the worst Jedi of all was Ki Adi Mundi. I don’t know if George Lucas set out to damn the Jedi in Episode I, but as the only other member of the Council to speak in Phantom Menace besides Yoda and Mace Windu, Ki Adi Mundi does a splendid job of portraying the masters as cold and distant. And if Windu represents some of the worst qualities of the Jedi, Ki Adi Mundi represents the rest. Arrogant and uncaring, he’s clearly a political animal far more interested in keeping the Order in line with Chancellor Palpatine and prosecuting the war against the Separatists. Ki Adi Mundi seems to care nothing for the greater good, but seems entirely concerned with preserving the power and influence of the Jedi Order. A senior member of the Council, no doubt Ki Adi Mundi played a huge role in shaping the dogma and training of the last generation of Jedi, and in so doing brought about the destruction of the only thing he cared about.
A shout out to some good Jedi
Finally, I do want to take a moment to recognize that not every Jedi knight in the last days was corrupted. Kit Fisto was a wise, good-natured master who excelled at lightsaber combat and fought bravely when necessary. Luminara Unduli started out with the arrogance typical of a Jedi in her day, but she was able to learn from her mistakes and always remained centered in the Force – even offering Anakin sage advice about letting go when necessary. Plo Koon was deadly in the cockpit, but also a strong, positive influence on Ahsoka and, to a lesser extent, Anakin. Shaak-Ti trained clones with a quiet wisdom and kindness, respecting her students enough to take seriously the mad ravings of Fives about the mysterious inhibitor chips. And although she dressed and spoke like a librarian, she was still completely badass in combat when necessary.
A shout out to Star Wars: The Clone Wars
All of these Jedi characters are known to us only because of their expanded roles in The Clone Wars, which had the time and space to dive deep into Star Wars movie lore and bring so many characters to life. I’m not going to lie that the Prequel movies made a poor first impression on me, but augmented by Clone Wars the final moments of Episode III carry much more emotional weight as we witness the deaths of almost every single Jedi we cared about from the animated series.
Because of Clone Wars we have a much richer view of the Jedi Order in its final days, where we see them at their very best, and very worst.