“The Wrong Jedi,” and a bad trial, too

As I continue to set up this new blog and decide how I want to handle frequency of new posts, I’ve decided to post some older blog entries from my days as a solo attorney. My posts on my law firm site already got a little weird–I can become a little preoccupied with my personal interests, what can I say. Below is one of those older posts, slightly revised and adapted for this new site.


It took me a while to get into Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but once I did, I fell in love. It’s fast-paced, feels clearly inspired by the serials and films that also inspired George Lucas in creating the franchise, and is not afraid to experiment with genre-bending narrative arcs. If asked to name my favorite Star Wars characters, Ahsoka Tano, Cad Bane, and Hondo Ohnaka—characters introduced and defined by the show—would be near the top of that list. And the series manages to provide a corrective for the weaknesses of the prequel trilogy, providing substantial depth to Obi-Wan and Anakin, giving a greater role to Padme, and even redeeming Jar-Jar Binks (although to what extent is surely the sort of observation that varies wildly from viewer to viewer).

Clone Wars isn’t perfect, of course. And for every moment that provides greater context to an under-developed idea from the films, there is a sequence that strikes me, at least, as confusing or half-baked. In example, look to Episode 20 of The Clone Wars Season 5. (Not sure if it matters this far out, but spoilers follow.)

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This episode, “The Wrong Jedi,” wraps up the season, as well as the story arc of the bombing of the Jedi Temple and the framing of Ahsoka for that attack. Over the course of the episode, the Jedi Council exiles Ahsoka from the Order so that they will not be seen as protecting their own from punishment, Ahsoka is placed on trial by the Republic, and Anakin is able to track down the real traitor to the Jedi and the Republic before Ahsoka is found guilty. While Ahsoka is acquitted and her position within the Order is offered back to her, she decides to leave the Order behind.

This was a well-paced episode, and it ended the fifth season on a brooding and contemplative note. The action scenes are great—especially when Anakin and the Temple guards face off against Barriss Offee. The use of an external conflict to highlight the internal conflicts of Ahsoka and Anakin is well done. Some might disagree with the abrupt direction that the show took Barriss Offee, but that level of personal sudden betrayal serves to drive a schism between Ahsoka, Anakin, and the Order and showcases how powerfully the Dark Side can affect even those with the best of intentions (see also, Count Dooku, Pong Krell, and Anakin himself).

My problem, to the extent that there is a problem at all, is with the trial scene in the episode. Trial scenes are often only loose caricatures of the real thing. This makes sense; dramatic narrative and controlled pacing are more important than devoted accuracy in most courtroom scenes. But there is typically at least some degree of verisimilitude. ”The Wrong Jedi” lacks this and features a wildly bizarre trial.

Toward the start of the episode, Admiral Tarkin tells the Jedi Council that the Senate wants to have Ahsoka indicted for treason. The Senate apparently believes that an internal Jedi trial would seem biased, and asks that the Jedi Council expel Ahsoka from the Order so that she may be tried before a Republic military tribunal. The Council does as asked in the end, and Ahsoka is taken to trial…but it doesn’t really seem like a military tribunal.

Chancellor Palpatine presides over the trial, apparently acting as judge. Vice Chair Mas Amedda brings the trial into session by tapping his staff against the floor a few times. A few members of the Jedi Council sit as onlookers. Senator Padme Amidala serves as Ahsoka’s legal representative, for some reason. And Admiral Tarkin acts as a prosecutor. Apparently there is no special training for lawyers in the Star Wars Galaxy. The apparent jury is made up of Senators.

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Palpatine announces that Ahsoka has been charged with sedition against the Jedi Order and the Republic. This is somewhat interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, even assuming Tarkin’s narrative of events, charging Ahsoka with sedition against the Jedi Order is probably not too plausible. Treason is the attempt to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance; sedition is advocacy intended to incite imminent lawless action like treason (both definitions here based on the entries for “treason” and “sedition” in Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th edition). You could more generally say that treason is the betrayal of your own government, and sedition is attempting to get others to rebel against the government. The Jedi Order is not a government. I suppose the question becomes, is it part of the government? It is a religious and philosophical monastic order, but I don’t believe that it is actually part of the government. The Jedi certainly act on behalf of the Republic, and they are appointed Commanders and Generals within the Grand Army of the Republic, but I don’t think I’m aware of a source that clearly states the Jedi role within the government, although I’ve certainly seen plenty of essays assuming the Order’s role as a government agency (beyond merely individuals’ roles as government agents) to be fact. The pseudo-canon Revenge of the Sith novelization has evidence to suggest that the Jedi Order is a nongovernmental organization and that the Jedi are a governmental body. In Chapter 10, Yoda and Mace Windu discuss an amendment to the Security Act that would “nominally” place the Jedi under the control of the Supreme Chancellor–although Yoda insists that “the Jedi he cannot control. Moral, our authority has always been; much more than merely legal. Simply follow orders, Jedi do not!” A moment later, Yoda suggests that even if the Jedi were disbanded, “even without legal authority,” they would still be Jedi. Either way, that whole conversation takes place during the events of Episode III, and thus after the events of this episode of The Clone Wars, so however this amendment would have affected the Jedi’s role within the government would not be relevant in the timeline I am considering. Maybe a later source has more directly answered the question, but it’s certainly confusing to me.

Second, note that Tarkin suggested an indictment for treason, and at the trial Ahsoka has been charged with sedition. But these are separate charges. The U.S. government, for example, defines them differently, so this isn’t purely semantic. Treason is committed by someone who owes “allegiance to the United States” yet who nonetheless “levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere” (18 U.S.C. §2381). Seditious conspiracy is separately defined as when two or more persons in a jurisdiction subject to the United States “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof” (18 USC §2384).

But we’ve just discussed the named charges so far.

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In his opening statements, Tarkin spells out the prosecution’s version of events and asks for the death penalty. So we know that a punishment for sedition in the Old Republic is the death penalty. In her own opening statement, Padme says that Ahsoka is being framed and tells the “members of the court” that they are “prosecuting the wrong Jedi.” Tarkin then launches into a rebuttal. At this point, the trial seems less like a trial and more like a debate. And then it devolves further. Suddenly, Ahsoka is the one responding to Tarkin. There is apparently no clear procedure to be followed at all; Old Republic litigants apparently just argued with each other until there was nothing more to say. There is no entry of evidence; no witnesses are brought forward (except for the Perry Mason-style surprise reveal of the real traitor, complete with confession, at the moment before a final judgment is handed down).

Near the end of the trial, Palpatine—the apparent judge—launches into his own speech to implicate Ahsoka as the guilty party. What role does this play in the trial?

Finally, the “members of the court” (who may or may not be Senators) reach a decision and send the verdict by datapad transmission to the Vice Chair, who passes it onto Palpatine. Somehow, even as Palpatine is announcing the verdict, Anakin is allowed to interrupt the proceedings to present new evidence.

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A system wherein most of a criminal trial is debate without evidence, there are no obviously honored procedural rules, and the judge delivers a speech to attempt to persuade jurors to accept his favored outcome before a verdict is entered seems to me like a very broken system indeed. It most certainly does not reflect democratic ideals about fair play and justice.

For that matter, how exactly is Ahsoka being tried? The episode simultaneously suggests that the Senate is indicting her, and that she will be tried by a military tribunal.

It might make sense for Ahsoka to be tried in a military court, since she is a member of the military as a commanding officer of clone troops. But if it is a military tribunal, why is Palpatine the judge (saying that he is the Supreme Commander of the military feels like a little bit of a cop-out), and why is the jury apparently composed of Senators? On the other hand, if it is not a military tribunal, why is Admiral Tarkin the prosecutor?

And what is the Senate doing indicting her? Is there no separate judicial branch of government? This question, at least, can be answered: Attack of the Clones specifically references a “Supreme Court,” which apparently held trials of Nute Gunray. Since having the legislature try criminal cases would basically defeat the separation of powers implied by a distinct judicial branch, and since such a process would seem to be rather inefficient, why then would the legislature be indicting someone for a crime, much less trying them?

And for that matter, why are there no lawyers?

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In short, the trial on display in “The Wrong Jedi” is a hodgepodge of dramatic scenery pulled from various legal systems and, probably more importantly, pop culture presentations of those legal systems. Within the confines of the in-universe Star Wars Galaxy, though, one must wonder how the Old Republic survived for as long as it did with such a broken, dysfunctional court system. We can hand-wave all of the seeming inconsistencies away by simply saying that the Star Wars legal system is rather alien to us, but we can’t remove the underlying justice issues that must bubble up within this alien system.

If you have an alternative take or additional insight, please let me know. It would be great if there is a canon explanation for the weirdness of the court system, but I would guess that the answer is that this is an underdeveloped plot device used to underscore the dramatic tension of Ahsoka’s predicament.

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