Pulling Threads Till the Tapestry Falls Apart: The Jedi and the Problem of Government Finances

It started by asking the question “How are the Jedi funded?”  After all, we hear Qui-Gon Jinn offer Watto 20,000 Republic credits for the parts that he needs to fix the Naboo hyperdrive.  And when we get to the delivery of the Clone Army, nobody even asks about the price tag.  Does Obi-Wan have to review an invoice?  Does Yoda have to pay a portion of the balance when he picks up the thousands of troopers and their corresponding intergalactic space navy?  How does the Kamino cloning operation allow that much hardware and product out their door without even a mention of deposits or contracts or fee schedules?  Once I started thinking about the economics of the Jedi Order, it became more and more concerning.  Does Obi-Wan have to pay for the Jedi Starfighterthat he abandons on Geonosis?  What about the hyperdrive ring that he picked up in Coruscant space and left outside of Geonosis?  Are his and Anakin’s replacement lightsabers taken out of some sort of bi-weekly stipend?  Do the taxpayers of the Galactic Republic have to have a line-item on their pay stubs for “Jedi business?”  Where does the money come from?

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Considering the finances of the Jedi Order, it turns out, leads to more than just a simple economics study.  We have to consider the role of the Order in the hierarchy and operation of the government itself, which starts with understanding whether the Jedi Order is founded and incorporated as either a private entity (like a for-profit company), a public entity (like the government), or a non-profit entity (like a church or charity).  The Jedi Order does not seem to have clients or customers as a private for-profit company would; it does not appear that the Jedi are for hire.  Similarly, it does not behave like a non-profit organization, like a church, where it has non-clergy members that contribute to the functions of such an organization; there seem to be no examples of Jedi services outside of the training and education of fellow Jedi.  Rather, it operates as an extension of the Republic somehow, as demonstrated by its receiving orders and instructions from government individuals and entities.  

The prequel films identify or name at least three aspects of government branches or offices:

 

  • The Senate

  • The “Courts”

  • The Jedi Order

 

We see the Order operate in consultation with the Senate and specifically the Supreme Chancellor, himself an official elected by the members of the Senate to oversee the direction and execution of the Senate itself, when two Jedi Knights are dispatched to resolve a trade dispute, when a Jedi Padawan is assigned as bodyguard and protector of a Senator, and when a Jedi Knight is installed on the Jedi Council by order of the Supreme Chancellor to be his official representative within the Order.  These demonstrate the Jedi Order as an extension of the government, subservient to the Senate.  The Senate itself, in the Star Wars universe, is a bizarre combination of executive and legislative branches of government (wherein it can pass laws and then have those laws executed without any outside oversight).  There is no representation of the governed in the leadership of the Senate; rather, Senators are elected by systems and the Senators elect from among themselves the head of the government.  There is no separate executive branch tasked with the execution of the laws promulgated by the Senate.  

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But, then there are the Jedi.  How do they fit into the governmental system of the Republic?

At the time that Sheev Palpatine is elected Chancellor of the Republic, the Republic has not had all-out war for a thousand years.  However, we know from Old Ben Kenobi during A New Hope that the Jedi Knights stood as the guardians of peace in the galaxy for over a thousand generations.  This is worked out in-universe to show that the Republic itself has existed for somewhere around 25,000 years with its last outbreak of war around 1,000 years prior to the rise of the Empire.  

That 1,000 year mark is key and critical because at that time a seismic realignment occurred in the way that the Republic functioned and it put into motion the events that our beloved films document for us.

Travel back in time with us as we dive headfirst into the Expanded Universe.  The Expanded Universe novels starring Darth Bane, straddling this 1,000 year mark, regale us with the clash between the Sith Empire and the Old Republic.  Long story short, the Sith Empire is one galactic nation at war with the Republic and both entities are well-militarized.  The Republic of this era is not the army-less faux-pacifistic one of The Phantom Menace.  Rather, the Jedi are the frontline warriors of the Republic’s standing army.  They lead Republic troops against the Sith military, itself directed and marshaled by Dark Lords.  So the militaries employ both 1) traditional armed service beings as well as 2) Force-wielding leadership.  In fact, the Republic organizes its military into what is called the Army of Light, specifically designed to combat the Sith Empire’s Brotherhood of Darkness.  There is no separation of the Jedi from the armed services; rather, the Jedi are the armed services.  

DarthBane-frontal

But, as most wars do, the conflict ends and a victor declared; the Army of Light prevailed and the Sith Empire is annihilated, with the nature of the Sith only surviving on the back of Darth Bane’s then-instituted Rule of Two.  But, of more important for our purposes, within the Republic, there is a great reorganization enacted called the Ruusan Reformation, which fundamentally alters the way the Republic conducts governance.  Essentially, it removed the war powers from the office of the Supreme Chancellor and placed them within the Senate, which eliminated the subjectivity of war from one individual’s whims and enshrined it in a collective agreement of representatives.  It reset the Galactic Calendar to Year Zero to mark the end of the “Dark Ages of the Republic” and herald the “Golden Age of the Republic.”  It also reorganized the Senate from per-system representation (one Senator per populated planet) to a capped amount of representatives (maxed at 1,024; which now could introduce opportunities of gerrymandering and redistricting into convenient election populaces).  But most importantly of all, it placed tight restrictions on the Jedi Order in the following ways:

 

  1. Disbanding of the Army of Light (that is, the standing army of the Republic);

  2. Revocation of all military ranks and titles;

  3. Centralize Jedi institutions into a single location on Coruscant (as opposed to the system of academies across the galaxy); and

  4. Transferred oversight of the Jedi Order to the Judicial Department.

 

The loss of military standing cannot be overstated. For somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 years, Force-wielders directed and shaped the nature of conflict in the galaxy by leading the armies of the super-powers within the known galaxy.  To take that authority away is to challenge the very identity of the Jedi.  To revoke rank and title is to, in terms of authority, mix the Jedi back into the civilian strata of class hierarchy: economic and political power as opposed to the quasi-religious power they had enjoyed for those thousands of years.  Centralizing the training of Jedi onto a singular planet which happens to be the capital of the Republic is hugely symbolic.  Now, the Jedi could not be in control of their own destiny.  They report to, receive a home from, and receive direction from a government that, not long before, they practically led themselves.  

The Judicial Department, the office now responsible for the oversight of the Jedi Order, was an office of the government that reported to the Senate, not an executive, and was responsible for law enforcement and policing.  It had oversight of a number of different agencies itself, including but not limited to: the Republic Office of Criminal Investigation, the Sector Rangers, the Republic Security Force, and the Senate Guard.  The Jedi Order was added to these agencies under the Ruusan Reformation.  

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At this point, we can actually make an analogy between the Jedi Order and a real-world entity to help us understand the difference between the Jedi pre-Ruusan Reformation and the Jedi Order of the prequels: as a result of the Ruusan Reformation, the Jedi Order became the Federal Bureau of Investigations of the Star Wars Universe while suffering from an existential identity crisis.  

When you visit the website for the FBI and read through the About section, you may notice striking similarities between that organization and the Jedi Order.

The FBI’s stated Vision is, “Ahead of the threat through leadership, agility, and integration.”

The stated Mission is, “To protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

The stated Priorities are:

  1. Protect the United States from terrorist attack.
  2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage.
  3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes.
  4. Combat public corruption at all levels.
  5. Protect civil rights.
  6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises.
  7. Combat major white-collar crime.
  8. Combat significant violent crime.

The FBI serve as a type of federal police force concerned with the safety and security of its citizens both at home and abroad.  We see the Jedi Order used for some of the same purposes in the stories available to us.  Perhaps, in the time of the Republic’s millennium of relative peace, the Jedi Order expanded its responsibilities outside of peacekeeping towards assisting the Senate with enforcing its legislative decisions and whatnot (which is how Obi-wan and Qui-Gon ended up facilitating negotiations with the Trade Federation, or attempted to facilitate).  Perhaps, in order to justify its governmental status, the Jedi Order had to expand its operation services into non-military operations.  It existed for the longest stretch of time as the military backbone of a galactic government system, but when that part of its identity was stripped away, the Jedi likely could not survive without the government system it was designed to protect.  So before it could be foreclosed upon by budgetary cuts, it instead found a new way to stay relevant.  

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I know it is a long circuitous route back to the original question, but now we can see where the money comes from.  Ultimately, it reveals more about the nature of the Jedi Order in that in losing its military core, it had to find a new way to be useful to the Republic in order to maintain its support from the Republic.  It is not yet possible to understand to what degree the Jedi Order lost any independence or autonomy when it was placed under the authority of the Judicial Department since 1) there is not much source information for that time period compared to pre-Reformation operations, and 2) it is all based on “Legends”-level canon anyway.  The money comes from the taxpayer and goes to a religiously-empowered investigative branch of the Senate.  Imagine if in today’s society funded a religious-based executive authority, one that had the ability to convict its own authority figures and had arrest powers.  

Or just imagine a space-faring Spanish Inquisition.  With lightsabers.  

Maybe Sidious was onto something after all.  

by Drew Brett

@TheDrewBrett

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