In Defense of Mace Windu

Recently, our site posted an article regarding leadership in the Star Wars universe.  And you might, just might, have been under the impression that some of our heroes are rather petty and mean-spirited.  Specifically, Mace Windu was taken to task for his failure of leadership and dereliction of duty.  I am here to help restore some understanding of who he is and what we can learn from him.

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We admittedly do not get a terribly well-rounded picture of him throughout the trilogy (he is, after all, a fairly minor one in the saga and we do not get much internal dialogue out of him), but what we see of Mace Windu undoubtedly demonstrates his character.  However, I think that there might be specific character-defining moments within the prequels that provide convincing evidence of what makes him tick, which might help us understand him that much better.

First, The Phantom Menace displays Mace solely on the Jedi Council, both in their literal ivory tower on Coruscant as well as when visiting Naboo for the funeral of fallen master Qui-Gon Jinn.  While on Coruscant, we see him perform two real tasks: testing young Anakin Skywalker and disapproving of the request to have Skywalker trained.  We see Mace stick to some important tenets of the Jedi code.  The tenets themselves (one padawan per trainer and training only at certain ages) are not as important for purposes of this discussion as Mace’s allegiance to them.  They demonstrate the first key characteristics we are going to note: Mace wants to uphold the codes of the Jedi that have lasted and become ingrained in the Order.

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He is not willing to break those tenants just to take in a slave, no matter how good that might make everyone feel; and, if we go back to Qui-Gon Jinn’s dialogue about not being on Tatooine to free slaves, it seems to be more codified than personal.  The Jedi live by a code, a set of rules and regulations designed to continue the survival of their Order while diminishing the impact of the Dark side.  The Jedi believe that this has helped keep the Sith at bay for thousands of years.  Mace is strict in his role of preserving the Jedi Order.

During Attack of the Clones, Mace’s role grows dramatically.  Again, there are key moments to pick out the further demonstrate and develop his motivation as a character.  The first time we see him, he defends the character of Count Dooku to Padme Amidala, the latter having recently accused Dooku of an assassination attempt.  Mace defends Dooku as a former Jedi and that assassination is outside of Dooku’s temperament.  This, again, demonstrates that Mace is dedicated to the precepts of the Jedi and how they shape an individual.  

This reveals more about the speaker than it does the subject: Mace himself has allowed himself to be shaped by those precepts, which indicates to us that he has dedicated himself to those teachings and expects them to have the same impact on others as they did on him.  His experiences have taught him that when a Jedi follows the code of the Jedi, he cannot be in the wrong.  To operate outside of the code is to operate in error, no matter the intention or the outcome.  The corollary to this is that Mace’s devotion to the Jedi code blinds him to operating outside of that code.  Since Dooku indeed planned the assassination but Mace could not even entertain that as a possibility; here is our second key: Mace believes the fallible Jedi to be infallible.

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AOTC also shows us Mace entering a new role, though.  At the end of the film, we see that the Jedi have all assumed military roles since they have found themselves the owners of a shiny new million-man army (well, 200,000 at the time of delivery, with a million more on the way).  The Jedi, as described in the opening crawl of the film, are defenders of peace and order in the Republic.  Now, for possibly the first time in the existence of the Republic, the Jedi are in control of an offensive force and have no idea what they are to do with it.  We would expect the Jedi to commune with the Force in order to divine what purpose or action they should apply the clone army to, but instead we see them rush into battle and try to squelch the fledgling Separatist movement with sheer force.  When you combine this with Mace’s acknowledgment that their ability to use the Force has diminished, we get our next key: Mace is trying the best he can even though he can see the foundations of the Jedi starting to crumble.

He wants to do what is right, he wants to preserve the order and peace of the galaxy, and the top-level threat (at the moment) is the Separatist movement.  Now, given the brand new strength to smash such opposition, the Jedi move immediately, without hesitation, consultation, or permission.  Compare that to TPM where Qui-Gon Jinn specifically noted to then-Queen Amidala that he could only protect her, not fight a war for her.  The Jedi were not generals with the capacity to wage war, until, again, handed a bright new shiny army.

But then there’s Revenge of the Sith.  ROTS shows us Mace has set aside the “peace and order” element of the Jedi code and is in full-on defense-of-democracy-against-tyranny mode.  Once Mace learns that Grievous is defeated, his first move is to ensure that Palpatine returns the Emergency Powers given to him before the war started.  He wants the Senate to resume its responsibility as the major governing body for the Republic and see that the Chancellor’s Office resumes its responsibilities as well.  He wants to see the government righted again, but one must ask: is that the responsibility of the Jedi, to ensure equal balance between branches of the government?  Why has Mace traded devotion to the Jedi Order for devotion to the Republic?  When he is arresting Palpatine, recently revealed as a Sith Lord, he says that he is too dangerous to be left alive and that Jedi Master Mace Windu himself will dispense the justice that Sheev Palpatine doth deserve.  

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There’s an interesting “what if” moment that we should consider here.  In ROTS, Anakin stops Mace from killing Palpatine, which ultimately sets up Mace’s own death.  What if Anakin had not stopped him?  Mace kills Palpatine, and then what?  Presumably, three things happen (in no particular order):

 

  1. The Jedi would be forced to take control of the Republic in a religious coup d’etat;
  2. Dooku would rally the Separatists and even most of the Republic systems against the Jedi, painting them as power-hungry religious fanatic despots, willing to kill to spread their message; and
  3. Mace immediately falls to the Dark Side, and attempts to establish his own Empire.

 

This gives us the last key to Mace: His inability to see the Force clearly left him open to the dark side like never before.

So, when we take all of these elements together, what do we get?  We see an individual who, devoted and shaped by his cause, was unable or refused to see beyond his own understanding of the world outside of his organization.  He expected everyone to play by the same rules as he did since he understood the beneficial results of those rules.  When he finally came to see that not everyone played by those rules, rather than staying true to the good qualities of those rules, he threw them all out and played by his opponent’s rules instead.

What is interesting to likewise track, though, is Mace Windu’s relationship to Anakin throughout the films because if Anakin is the improvised explosive device to Palpatine’s plan, Mace represents a portion of the fuse used to blow the bomb.  Mace virtually dismisses Anakin upon his initial entrance test because Anakin is too old.  Despite the obvious talent Anakin displayed, Mace was concerned that Anakin had been shaped by his unique experiences on Tatooine beyond what the Jedi could effectively rehabilitate.  Anakin had his own identity and that concerned Mace: the Jedi had been successful for hundreds of years by directing and shaping the identity of its students.  What would happen if they tried to crowbar the Jedi philosophy into a pre-teen already affected by the ways of the galaxy?  A slave from the outskirts of civilization with supernatural powers cultivated by an organization that had become lazy and complacent?  What could possibly go wrong?

But the Council relents once Kenobi takes Skywalker as his own padawan.  They entrust the most precarious of situations to one of their most trusted students.  Surely the goodness and character of Obi-Wan would rub off on Anakin since the two had the common bond of a father-figure in Qui-Gon Jinn.  In fact, the early years of their partnership bore that out.  But as Anakin matured, his old life came back to subvert and overtake his Jedi training.

Mace and Anakin do not interact much through AOTC.  But that in itself is demonstrative: Mace considers him just another student.  There is, potentially, less disapproval of Anakin as the boy proved himself to grow in stature, power, and influence.  His promotion to knighthood and Republic General, during the Clone Wars, encourages Mace to trust and accept Anakin as a true Jedi, a comrade, and perhaps even a brother.

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While the Republic in ROTS is disintegrating all around the Order, and while we know that Mace himself is losing his moral footing, the relationship between Anakin and Mace likewise declines.  However, there is an interesting distinction here: Mace still considers Anakin’s relationship or partnership valuable whereas Anakin no longer considers Mace respectable.

When Anakin is placed on the Jedi Council by Chancellor Palpatine, Mace’s rejection of the idea is not based on the person but rather the principle.  Consider that we have already confirmed that Mace holds the Jedi code to be the ruling doctrine of his life, so to allow outside influence on the Council is like swallowing poison.  Mace wants to rebuff Palpatine in that moment for overstepping his boundaries, and Anakin simply happens to be the mechanism Palpatine has chosen to do so.  Granted, we can understand that Palpatine chose Anakin specifically for this result in order to sow more seeds of tension between Anakin and the Jedi, but Mace cannot see that.  You can see that Mace still views Anakin as a friend when Skywalker tells him of Palpatine’s true identity.  If Mace did not trust Anakin, he would have either dismissed his claim or he would have required confirmation from another member of the Jedi Council or the Force itself.  Instead, Mace acts right away by forming an arresting squad of fellow Jedi Masters.  He takes Skywalker’s claim at face value and immediately leaps to action.

Mace Windu may not have originally approved of accepting Anakin into the Jedi Order, but over time as Anakin was able to prove himself worthy of the training, Mace began to accept him into the Order.  Mace suffered from his own limitations concerning his devotion to the rules and regulations of the Jedi Order, but that actually led to developing a better relationship with Anakin over time.  As Anakin abided by the code of the Order, Mace’s acceptance deepened to the point where he walked into the room of the Chancellor of the Republic and accused him of being a Sith Lord on Anakin’s word alone.

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From Anakin’s perspective, the Jedi held him back and prevented him from obtaining the pinnacle of his prowess.  While it may be true that the Jedi Order as a whole failed Anakin, the failure of the Order is not the singular fault of Mace Windu, but rather the years of decline that it experienced from generation to generation.  Anakin was the bright flame that landed on the powder keg set by Darth Sidious, focused on burning the Republic down so it could be reborn as his own personal Empire.  Mace Windu did not usher in the fall of the Republic, but he certainly did not help it survive any longer.

We should learn from Mace that, no matter how clear we think our own worldview may be, we must remember that not everyone else lives under the same principles and precepts.  When we can open ourselves to our neighbors to understand their plight, their challenges, their hopes and dreams, only then will we be able to flourish.  When we can invite one another into our own lives, then we can build the relationships that sustain one another.  But if we shut out the world, and expect everything to go according our own plan, we presume that we are strong enough to control the fate of the world.  Perhaps Solomon said it best: “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 

Featured artwork for this article done by Chris Scalf. See more of his work at: https://www.chrisscalfanimatics.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Mace Windu

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