How Jedi Should Dress

This post is about costuming choices for Jedi and will probably only be of interest to Star Wars fans.

How People Dress on Tatooine
Tatooine is a planet that shows up a lot in the Star Wars films. It's generally a poor desert planet. Let's take a look at how the people who were born and raised there dress themselves.

Here are Owen and Beru when they are young and are given Luke Skywalker to raise.

Here is Anakin Skywalker, as a young slave.

Here is his mother Shmi Skywalker.

Finally, here is Luke Skywalker:

Notice the pattern here, which makes sense for a poor, desert climate. They all wear tunic-like garb made of cheap fabrics. They're mostly covered to protect themselves from the sun. Good costuming choices.

Here is the problem. The world grew up with Luke Skywalker as their prototype for a Jedi. It just so happens that Luke's iconic look is in Tatooine clothing, even though Luke's costuming changes throughout the original series. In Empire he's mostly wearing what appear to be rebel military outfitting. This is what he's wearing until he gets to Dagobah and meets Yoda.

Here is the costume he wears on Bespin.

Luke gets dangerously close to falling to the dark side. We know this because of his "failure in the cave" on Dagobah, and because he leaves his training to help his friends. Not only is he leaving his training at a critical time, but he's displaying "attachment" to people, which, as we learned in the prequels, is traditionally forbidden for Jedi. When we see him in Return of the Jedi, he's kind of dressed like sith in the making, in black, like Anakin did just before he turned to the dark side.

In spite of the various costuming changes Luke goes through, I think people still picture him as being in the original Tatooine outfit. They came to associate Jedi with that outfit. The problem is that I think George Lucas did too.

How Jedi Dress
Let's look at Obi-Wan Kenobi, and how he dresses on Tatooine.
Look familiar? He's wearing Tatooine clothing. This makes sense because he lived there for about 20 years. He's in hiding from the sith, and wants to blend in. Fair enough.

But wait, if he spent most of his life on Coruscant, there's no reason for him to have dressed like a Tatooine native before coming to Tatooine. But he did.

In fact, it appears that the Jedi generally tend to dress in this tunic getup. Here's Mace Windu.
Here's Yoda (on Coruscant, before he was slumming it on Dagobah.)

Look familiar? Here are a bunch more (to give you an idea of how much of a Star Wars nerd I am, I only know two of their names).
So we have a strange situation here. Either the Jedi happen to be dressing like people on Tatooine, or the people of Tatooine happen to be dressing like Jedi. It doesn't make any sense to me. Why would Uncle Owen be wearing basically the same costume as Kit Fisto (the dapper gentlemen on the right)?

The Jedi Before and After Revenge of the Sith

I was talking to my fellow improvisor friend Jody Hauke, and he said "I work at a comic book shop, and I hear a lot of criticism of the prequels. But I don't think I've ever heard one about the costuming."

I love the Star Wars prequels. This critique is a minor suggested rewrite of a series I really like.

On to the critique.

First of all, to relieve the strangeness described in the previous section, the Jedi should not be dressed the same way as the people of Tatooine. To fix this you can change the Tatooine garb or the Jedi garb. Let's leave the people of Tatooine alone and change the Jedi costumes. How should we do it?

I think there was a bit of a missed opportunity in the prequels to show what the Jedi were and to constrast it with what they will become. The Jedi before the end of Revenge of the Sith were a bit more like policemen, like soldiers. They knocked people around a bit. They were a bit arrogant. There are problems with their philosophy.

In Attack of the Clones Anakin and Obi-Wan capture the assassin in a bar. Anakin snarls to the patrons "Jedi business. Go back to your drinks." Uppity!

In the Lightsaber Lost episode of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka uses the force to slam a suspect up against the wall to get information out of him. Where does she get off?

In contrast, the Jedi of the original series seem to have a more peaceful philosophy. The way I like to think about it is that the events in Episode III were a big wake up call to the remaining two Jedi of how far from the path they'd gotten. So what is the right path?

It's mentioned only twice, but Qui-Gon Jinn talks about "the living force" in The Phantom Menace. The movies never explain what this is. For this, we need to go to the "extended universe" of Star Wars, or EU, which is the world fleshed out in computer games, books, comics, TV shows, role-playing games, etc. According to Wikipedia, the living force is a philosophy that emphasizes being in the moment, using your instincts, and respecting the force as coming from life. They are vigilant about not going over to the dark side.

The philosophy is contrasted with the philosophy of "the unifying force."It emphasizes destiny, prophesy, and sees the light and dark sides as being in all creatures.

There are hints that the Jedi were more into the unifying force before the Empire, and more into the living force afterward. The Jedi in the prequels talk a good deal about the prophecy and it's relationship to Anakin, for example. Although Yoda espouses a few living force views, its main proponent in the prequels is Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon is viewed a bit as a maverick.

"Do not defy the Council, Master, not again."
"I shall do what I must, Obi-Wan."
―Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn

At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda reveals that Qui-Gon has learned to remain alive, in some sense, as a force ghost. Qui-Gon's discovery of this is what allows Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin to appear as ghosts in the original trilogy.

The interpretation I like is that the Jedi order was on the wrong path-- the unifying force path. Qui-Gon was the lone voice of opposition, and lit the path for the Jedi of the future-- the living force. I like this interpretation, but I think the films could have emphasized it a bit more.

The Jedi should have been more "wrong." The Jedi are presented as good, as they should be, but I think the prequels should have revealed the flaws in their philosophy a bit more explicitly. Then the saga would also be a story of the transformation and healing of the Jedi way.

One way I suggest they do it? You guessed it-- costuming!

How the Jedi Should Have Been Costumed

I think the Jedi in the prequels should have been costumed in a much more showy or military style, to reflect their sense of superiority and willingness to rough people up and, indeed, so easily become generals in a war. They should embody the mystic warrior archetype.

The one exception should have been Qui-Gon, who should have looked as well as acted like an outsider. He would represent the monk archetype, the ascetic. His looking different would symbolize his different beliefs.

Then, when Obi-Wan and Yoda are in hiding, and take on Qui-Gon's more monk-like ways, they too adopt the clothing change, and dress and act more like monks. However, this monk costume should be distinguishable from Tatooine garb.
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Anonymous said…
This reminds me of Star Trek. In TOS each ship or starbase had a different emblem/badge on their tunics. But in the first movie and beyond, everyone wears the emblem of the Enterprise.
Anonymous said…
G'day mate,

I know I'm a month and more past your post date, so I don't even know if you're still checking this or looking for personal input. I'm more of a meta-view geek about the Star Wars universe, myself - I have to say, the two costuming things had occurred to me briefly, but here's my take on it.

Noticing that most of the costumery on Tatooine is loose-fitting, light-colored, single-or-double-layered only clothing, made of what looks like lightweight, as opposed to cheap, fabric, this fits what I would have guessed myself. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 7 years, and learned to do much the same thing, there; also if you want another sci-fi universe to compare it to, look at the Dune universe - aside from the marvelous Fremen bodysuit, anybody on the desert planet Arrakis tends to wear loose, light clothing when they can. So you're right on that score - it IS a desert custom to wear garments that encourage airflow and sunlight reflection (as opposed to absorption), and that discourage heavy weight articles. One may notice that (Owen being a perfect example) the men frequently wear body-length open robes - this would tend to indicate high winds and cold nights, in addition to keeping the sunshine off all parts of their body, but notice that the clothing is loose-fitting and comfortable.

Take another look at the Jedi order's primary costuming. Their "uniform", if you will, tends to be (skip the underclothing such as t-shirt and briefs), light-colored shirt/tunic and trousers and (mostly) dark-colored robes. The reflection here is of two things - the Jedi order's formation and rise on the planet Tython about 30,000 years prior, and their monastic and introspective nature.

To address the first, Tython is a temperate jungle/hill world, with varying levels of climate from hot and humid to cool and dry. No costume would have gained universal popularity with that much scope to cover, but the general consensus appears to have been comfortably close but not tight underclothing, and then loose and air-flow-centered outerwear. The robe, iconic of the Jedi, only appears to have been added after their formation as a group that studied the Force as a tool for peace, and is very reminiscent of a monk's cowled and hooded robe.

The difference, costume-wise, is mostly the robe. The undergarments and outerwear of a temperate jungle/hill dweller and a hot desert dweller will be much the same - they must encourage airflow while refusing sunlight, and keep the body's moisture close while protecting from the elements. This returns us to the robes. Looking at most of the Tatooine humans, their robes are not hooded, are loose, and generally have the appearance of utilitarian bathrobes. The traditional Jedi robes are VERY similar but appear to reflect a monk's robes more - hooded and darker, heavier in nature.
Anonymous said…
These are mostly semantic differences - a monk's robe and a bathrobe, without the hood, are not very different. What one must consider is the human history and human tradition involved. The Jedi order evolved and established itself and its traditions 30,000 years BBY on Tython; the Republic only settled humans on Tatooine 5,000 years BBY. The Jedi have retained their robes as monk/diplomats and secondarily, fighters, for that entire length of time, whilst the Tatooine natives, in the form of desert dwellers everywhere, instantly adopted desert dress tradition for environmental protection, not iconic appearance.

Although this is the conclusive point to someone who is a big enough nerd, it's still really only semantic, as in technical costume terms, they both look much the same.

Turning to your point about the Jedi seeming to embody a militaristic body, I have to say, having watched all six movies without real criticism, you couldn't be more wrong. For 30,000 years and more, the Jedi order has emphasized peace, calmness, and serenity - strong emotion, such as hate, fear, anger, leads to the Dark side (a Jedi can become Dark without becoming Sith), and love leads to attachment, which not only precludes a Jedi's full attention but also gives him a tie which can be used against him.

When a padawan (apprentice) is judged to be too close to the Dark side, either from love or strong emotion, he is rejected or passed over as a Jedi. When a Jedi is found to be too close (many conceal it for a long time), he is often ordered into monastic reclusion or seclusion to re-find himself, or, if he is too far gone, and rejects such seclusion, he is often disbarred or expelled from the order, driven into exile, imprisoned, or (rarely) killed. Jedi would emphasize forgiveness and repentance over killing an offender - a Jedi who has not turned to the Dark would even ask a Sith to repent and come to the Light.

It is when Jedi turn to the Dark side that disorganization and hatred comes in. Sparing a history lesson, it was a group of Jedi who turned to the Dark side who originally fled in exile and became the Sith Empire, 25-28000 years BBY.
Anonymous said…
The Jedi who allowed anger to guide their actions, such as your examples below, are wrong and showing tendencies to slip:

"In Attack of the Clones Anakin and Obi-Wan capture the assassin in a bar. Anakin snarls to the patrons "Jedi business. Go back to your drinks." Uppity!" --> Yeah - but by this point, Anakin is already being subtly guided down the Dark side path by Darth Sidious, so is already becoming a Dark Jedi, allowing his hate and rage and frustration to guide him.

"In the Lightsaber Lost episode of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka uses the force to slam a suspect up against the wall to get information out of him. Where does she get off?" Read her bio - as Anakin's padawan apprentice, she absorbed a lot of his attitude, his reckless "buck the system and do it my way, as long as it gets done" behavior. This is borderline Dark side, although Ahsoka herself, attitude aside, reflected some of the best traits of the Light as well.

During the Clone Wars and prior to the Empire's emergence and Republic's destruction, the Jedi remained in and retained their "take the long view and work it out" approach; the Knights of the order continued to act as solo or duo troubleshooters - their first attempts were to resolve by diplomacy, only resorting to the minimum violence when necessary, and ceasing the violence as soon as possible.

What we don't see in the movies is much of the diplomacy - it doesn't make for good comedic quips (Obi-wan and Qui-Gon jibing during the Naboo space station mission) and doesn't make for epic effects (light saber battles).

Rather than necessarily blaming the costumes, I would blame the Hollywoodites who ignored 90% of the Jedi principles in favor of flashy fighters and force-users. To the best of my memory, which is admittedly shot with holes, none of the Jedi except Anakin were in danger of becoming "Dark side" during any of the prequels, and none except Luke, Yoda, and Obi-Wan appeared in the originals anyway (it's very realistic that, (read novels), more Jedi, although not many, emerge from hiding after the events of Return of the Jedi.

I know, I know....this is a huge long bloody tl;dr post, and may not really be worth much of your time. But it's my two cents, based on the history and the nature of the costumes and the traditions.
Anonymous said…
As another final point, somewhat contradictory, I acknowledge the "New Sith Wars" period as a time of increased militancy, ever-increasing Light-to-Dark Jedi conversions, and massive hopelessness, but by about 1000 years BBY, this ended with the destruction of the Dark Brotherhood, and the militancy was discarded as the Jedi order turned itself towards peace and rebuilding once again.

I suppose that the summary should be, "although at times the Jedi order has devolved to militant behavior, this has inevitably caused schism and Dark-side conversion, whilst the majority of Jedi, even combative Jedi, retain the notion that peace is the ultimate goal, not control or war. The larger preponderance of the Jedi, throughout their history, has been in favor of peace and unity, diplomacy and hope."

At the time of the prequels, the Jedi order was greatly reduced from the once-thousands of Knights and Masters it had boasted; and Anakin/Sidious' destruction of the Temple and the Order lead to the original Trilogy, and thereafter the Return.
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Tiger said…
When the trailer came out for TPM, I too was surprised to see all the Jedi were dressed like Ben Kenobi and the residents of Mos Eisley. Like most people, I expected a Jedi would dress like Luke when he arrives at Jabba's palace. I guess I had never really noticed that Dagobah Yoda was dressed similarly to Ben Kenobi except his robe was tan instead of brown. In early production art for TPM, Obi-Wan is actually dressed more like Luke's Jedi outfit, so at least in the beginning, George Lucas (or Doug Chiang) were planning for the Jedi to dress in black. However, aside from the black sleeveless cape substituted in place of the brown sleeved robe, Luke's outfit is actually pretty similar to normal Jedi clothes with it's collared undertunic (like Yoda's) and tabards tied with an obi belt (like Kenobi). Later on in the film, he appears to ditch the cape and tabards. The difference is largely in color choice: black vs brown. And still, there is some variety in the dress of the prequel Jedi from Yoda to Obi-Wan to Anakin to Aayla. I believe the in-universe excuse for the Jedi dressing like the people of Tatooine is that the Jedi dress humbly like monks and peasants. I believe GL wanted the prequel Jedi to be "immediately recognizable" as both "good" and "Jedi" so the costuming leans a bit more towards earthy browns of an established Jedi like Obi-Wan. He was just making everything up as he went along basically, but hiding behind justifications and retcons to reinforce the facade that it was all planned out from the beginning!
Marko said…
Addressed in the books. Upon completing their historic five-year mission, Starfleet honored Kirk and crew by adopting the Enterprise insignia for the entire organization.
Harry Hui said…
Ugh. Ben is dressed like a dweller of Tatooine. Luke as JEDI dresses like a priest in black. That simple. Lucas got goofy, as he always does, and made most Jedi in the prequels dress similarly to Tatooinites. Hell, Ben originally had a white robe with a blue over-tunic. They had no real idea what uniform to give the order, let alone any reasoning.

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