And now that the basic tech and Force theory is out of the way, here’s the meat of the alternate take on the Clone Wars era.
The Trap of the Old Republic
If you are to understand anything about the way things are, you must understand that the Republic is both the greatest achievement of the galaxy, bringing peace to billions, and the worst thing to ever happen to the Jedi.
It began innocently enough. In the dark ages before the Republic, when each planet was often at war with its neighbors, the Jedi were the protectors of the defenseless. When a despot wrung her people dry, or a petty king began to wipe out civilians to ruin the will of his enemies, the Force would see that the Jedi were there to stop them. The civilization of the galaxy from which the Republic grew was largely due to all the work Jedi had done to remove the most terrible and unjust of leaders.
As peace treaties began to proliferate, alliances spread, and the Senate began to form, those in power were those that the Jedi had been without cause to target. Many had been dear friends, assisting lone Jedi or small teams of them in taking down particularly vicious and powerful targets. The political leaders that formed the Senate owed the Jedi. They gave them new rights, built them temples, and sought even deeper alliances.
While the Force is more democratic than other forms of power, able to arise in even the commonest individual, in practice it tends to flow with the blood. The children of powerful Jedi are often strong in the Force themselves. As this tendency became noticed, it became a natural ideal of the planets that passed political power through inheritance. So gradually they barely even noticed, one beautiful and adoring price or princess at a time, the Jedi became deeply ensnared in the royal and noble lines of the galaxy. Without meaning to, they became part of the politics through ties of blood, rather than mere servants of the Force.
It took an embarrassingly long time for the Jedi masters to notice the problem. Jedi temples became finishing schools for the political elite. Jedi knights guarded kings and led armies against those with whom diplomacy had failed (sometimes forgetting to question whether the war was truly just). Apprentices from the highest birth often did not have the necessary humility to serve the will of the Force, and had to be cut down as they fell to the Dark Side.
Those strongest in the Force were either winnowed due to falling to the Dark Side or became sensitive enough to learn that this sedentary life of privilege was not what the Force meant for them. One by one, they left the temples and returned to the old ways. Over generations, the Jedi of the noble classes became more and more ceremonial, weak users of the Force barely trained to use a lightsaber. They were the “Jedi” that most civilians were familiar with, and it was easy to doubt the legends in the face of self-important knights with barely a few tricks over those that didn’t claim the titles. The real Jedi were elsewhere.
Jedi Before the Clone Wars
In the giant galaxy, these scant years before the Clone Wars, there are only a handful of Jedi. Most wander incessantly, though they have their preferred waystations where those in need might find them eventually, and they all try to keep in touch with the few that have become stationary. Their primary mission is to be tossed about by the Force, wave men riding the universe’s currents to where they are needed most. To save lives. To broker peace. To destroy the corrupt. To protect innocents. Very few civilians, in the grand scheme of things, ever meet a real Jedi. Most that do, do in the heat of the most interesting days of their lives, as a lone warrior-priest arrives to try to tilt a situation away from disaster. They don’t stay long, but they usually leave with more friends than enemies.
An exception to the normal mission (or, often, an addition) is to find new Force sensitives and, if they seem strong in the Force and moral enough to follow the code, to train them. Often these powers come with puberty, and it’s helpful to get youths before their teenage nature has set in and made them distrustful of adult authority. Some Jedi masters don’t like to train students close to adulthood, worried that they’re too old to accept training. This is an opinion, not a rule.
Training as a Jedi is often a series of brief bouts of working apprenticeship. Everything your master can tell you, she can tell you in a few days. What she can show you, she can show you in weeks. It’s only when you have to put the lessons into context in a real situation that you truly start to learn. A new apprentice Jedi often spends the longest with the first teacher, learning and adventuring until he or she can feel the call of the Force without aid. The mentor then suggests some other Jedi that the student might seek out that can impart different lessons, and new understanding of the Force. On the way to the next master, the student suffers through a series of interesting events, better putting training to practice. And new teachers demand their own quests before imparting their wisdom. Life as a Jedi is the life of a questing knight, forever in motion. A Jedi does not crave adventure, knowing that adventure will find her, regardless.
Even without the impetus of the Force, though, few Jedi would think to stop moving. There are two types of Force users that stop moving for long: the eldest, who are now more valuable as teachers than warriors, and those that choose temporal power over wisdom. Many powerful individuals would pay gladly for true Jedi to serve them, but those they get will never become more powerful: they will not learn the lessons the Force means to teach, and they will not meet others that can train them in new expressions of the Force.
Each active Force user eventually finds an expression of his or her personality in the Force: a unique power known to no other. In addition to greater wisdom, this is the real prize that others seek to be taught. You can only learn new powers from those that were blessed with them by the Force and their own temperament. A Jedi with only the basics is powerful, but not beyond what a normal individual can do with some cunning tech. But a Jedi well-versed in the arts of many teachers can become unstoppable.
The Rise of the Empire
The patchwork unity of the Republic is delicate, an intricately-woven diplomacy that the Senate maintains at all cost. Brilliant minds are encouraged to join the bureaucracy, putting their talents to the service of the smooth operation of the galaxy. Those that cannot be dissuaded from a love of engineering and science are encouraged to refine existing knowledge and technology, or make new toys and entertainment, rather than inventing or greatly improving what exists. Those that ignore these encouragements and try to invent new things are scrutinized, and often meet with mysterious ends. Improving starships might upset generations-old trade contracts. Improving weapons might encourage the foolish to use this new edge to start a war. And so, under the well-intentioned thumb of the Senate, the technology of the Republic became ever more elegant and ever more stagnant.
Nobody knows, for sure, the origins of the Emperor, for propaganda was a strength of his from very early, and each story of his rise seems more of a lie than the last. The Jedi suspect that he was a throwback from a noble family, much stronger in the Force than other “Jedi” in their line. There is much doubt whether he was ever formally trained; at least, none admit to having taught him, and his corruption by the Dark Side is so thorough it has ravaged his body, such that it should have been obvious even at a young age that he should not be trained. And yet, even the gifts of the Force available to the self-taught can be powerful, correctly applied: prescience to see the path to power, the ability to command weak minds, and terrifying “magic” to cow those that cannot be controlled.
The first thing he did, upon gaining a foothold of power, was to offer sanctuary to inventors that hated the rules of the Republic. Before anyone could have noticed, he already had a substantial technological edge. And he had humanity behind him.
Though the Republic never officially instituted any kind of racism against non-humans, a peculiarity of the race was its adaptability and will to power. Humans would have spread all over the galaxy regardless, and Republic representation based on planetary leadership only encouraged them. They already held almost a majority of Senate seats, and a majority of Jedi (both real and political). And the Emperor exploited this mercilessly.
Starting on the fringes, he recruited groups of humans that felt trapped against entrenched non-human habitations with no room to expand. He wove a tale of human excellence and superiority, and convinced them to conquer the lands of disagreeable neighbors. It took too long for the Senate to respond, as he had foreseen, paralyzed by old rivalries, recriminations, and a near-majority human representation that didn’t feel threatened. By the time the galaxy realized it was at war, being consumed by the Empire, the Emperor’s power base was already substantial.
If he had just had superior weapons and ships, there might have still been a hope of defeating him. But the greatest technology of the Empire is cloning. The Republic’s soldiers vary in combat ability and most would rather not be fighting. The Emperor can find soldiers with the greatest predilection for warfare, replicate them indefinitely, and train them so they know nothing but battle. Win a decisive and bloody skirmish against a battalion of stormtroopers, and an identically trained one will be right behind them. The Clone Wars have begun.
The greatest masters seem resigned. They are already the greatest threats the Emperor faces, and he is mercilessly hunting them down even as he pursues his greater agenda. Some counsel patience, waiting for the Force to show them the way through, while others feel that the only answer is to hide. But some still have hope and an impulse to act now. They take their long-abandoned positions as knights and generals for the Republic and strike back. The Empire’s growth seems inevitable, but it moves slowly, and there are still many opportunities before it fully engulfs the Republic. The Jedi were weary of the well-meaning mistakes of the Republic, but the Empire is far, far worse. The time to act is now, even though it may already be too late.
And I’ve been going on about Star Wars for the better part of two months. So next week, something completely different.