By George Bate
Wielding a unique purple lightsaber. Decapitating Jango Fett. “This party’s over.” On the surface, Mace Windu emerged from the prequel trilogy as a badass Jedi Master (badass seems appropriate given Samuel L. Jackson asked for “BMF,” which stands for bad mother f****r, to be inscribed on the hilt of his lightsaber). But, despite the superficial coolness and calmness exuded by Mace, primarily driven by Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as the character, taking a deeper look at Mace’s behavior, values, and attitudes toward others highlights much of what was wrong with the Jedi Order before their fall at the end of The Clone Wars.
(In)balance in the Force
In keeping with the much spoken of Chosen One prophecy, restoring balance to the Force is a topic of central importance to broader Star Wars canon. Balance has been much debated among Star Wars, with the films never providing a straightforward explanation of what it truly means. Some have hypothesized that balance simply means good overcoming evil or, using Star Wars terminology, the light side overcoming the dark side of the Force. Others, including The Rise of Skywalker co-writer Chris Terrio, have added nuance to this explanation, claiming that balance doesn’t mean that the dark side has been eradicated, as some darkness is always inevitable, but that the dark side has diminished and become less powerful. Interestingly, George Lucas and Dave Filoni have added different layers to the meaning of balance. They claim that balance in the Force is akin to a balance between attachment and detachment – selfishness or selflessness. Anakin says as much in Attack of the Clones when he speaks to Padme about this topic. Anakin affirms this idea in Revenge of the Sith when he says to Palpatine, “The Jedi are selfless…they only care about others.” In other terms, balance in the Force is not just a state in which the dark side is minimized, but also means striking a healthy middle ground between over-attachment, fueled by sentiments of fear or jealousy or anger, and total detachment, defined by being completely impersonal, unloving, and inattentive to the emotional needs of others.
So how does Mace Windu fit into all this? Mace epitomizes how far the Jedi Order had drifted from this healthy balance, skewed too far toward total detachment. When a young slave boy taken from his mother appears before the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace, the boy is not met with reassurance or friendliness, but, rather, hostility and apprehension. This hostility and apprehension is exhibited by Mace throughout the prequel era. Mace does not help Anakin deal with his prophesiczed Chosen One status. Instead, Mace is completely impersonal, detached from any emotional, empathic connection he should have with a young man like Anakin. The second in command of the Jedi Order should model ideal Jedi behavior, but, instead, has taken the idea of the dangers of attachment so far that he, and much of the Jedi Order, have become completely detached from others in a meaningful way. When Ahsoka is accused of murder, Mace and other Jedi are quick to judge and condemn her – not exercising caution and taking into consideration the type of person Ahsoka is, but simply throwing her under the bus for a crime he did not commit. When the ordeal is all over, Mace and the others do not offer a sincere apology to Ahsoka, opting to frame the situation as a final step in the padawan’s training. Even in the face of a mistake, Mace is not able to exhibit any semblance of meaningful attachment to others, any genuine, personal care for someone part of the Order in desperate need of support like Anakin or Ahsoka. This attitude symbolic of inbalance shown by Mace is shared by much of the Jedi Order, even in Yoda to an extent, and highlights how internally corrupted Jedi values had become by the time the Order fell.
Hypocrisy in the Order
Mace’s distortion of Jedi values extends further as he also continually exhibits a hypocrisy that is a hallmark issue of the overarching Jedi Order at this time. The Jedi are introduced in the prequels as guardians of the peace, not soldiers. But, upon The Clone Wars and even beforehand with the conflict on Naboo, the Jedi blurred the lines between warriors and peacekeepers. Mace fully embraces the role of a General in the war, leading soldiers, drawing up military plans, and seldom considering the ramifications of involvement in the Clone Wars on traditional Jedi values. This hypocrisy extends to Mace’s treatment of others. In season 7 of the Clone Wars, while Yoda treats Ahsoka with a warm, fatherly attitude, Mace is combative with Ahsoka in critiquing her role as a citizen now. In mistreating Ahsoka, despite her good intentions and how she was poorly treated by the Jedi, Mace misses out on vitally important intel provided by Maul regarding Sidious and Anakin. It is this form of hypocrisy that the citizens of the galaxy detested in the Jedi, and something the Sith exploited. Mace, like many Jedi, champion values of kindness and reassurance, while simultaneously exhibiting a coldness and harshness toward others. Mace and other Jedi are meant to guard the peace and avoid military conflict and violence, but at the same see themselves take part in a massive, galaxy-side that impacts billions of lives.
“He’s too dangerous to be kept alive!”
The hypocrisy of Mace culminates in his handling of Palpatine following Anakin’s report that Palpatine is the Sith Lord pulling the strings behind the scenes. The notion that Palpatine is “too dangerous to be kept alive” may appear reasonable given the sheer power the evil Sith Lord possesses. However, such a notion is completely against Jedi values and is disturbingly reminiscent of Anakin’s merciless slaughter of Dooku earlier in Revenge of the Sith. Not only that, but keeping Palpatine alive in that moment would have offset Anakin’s turn to the dark side as the reason Anakin acted against Mace was to preserve Palpatine’s life and, in turn, save Padme from “certain death.” In this sense, Mace embodies the completely misguided, hypocritical decision-making of the Jedi at this time in not only trying to kill a disarmed, surrendering Palpatine when it is against Jedi code, but also in making such a decision with total ignorance to how it will impact Anakin.
As time has progressed, Mace has shaped into a far more interesting character than initially portrayed in the prequel trilogy. Projects like The Last Jedi, Jedi Fallen Order, the Aftermath trilogy, and most recently the final season of The Clone Wars have done such a good job reshaping perceptions of the Jedi. The galaxy is not black and white, with the Jedi as the good guys and the Sith as the bad guys. Behavior of Jedi like Mace highlight just how corrupted the Jedi Order had become by the time of their destruction and the extent to which their hypocrisy and impersonal detachment greatly contributed to their fall. Much of this refined understanding of the Jedi Order is accomplished by how Mace has been portrayed in canon, making him a truly interesting, unique character to explore.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney+