The uniformity of individualism: Jedi robes and identity

The insistence that the Jedi Order kidnapped and brainwashed children into this strict, homogenous way of things forever baffles me. There codes and rules and doctrine everywhere, and by the time of the PT the Order has become pretty rigid and inflexible, locked in its ways. There are a number of different reasons for that and not all  of them are the fault of the Order or council. Even within it that, though, we know that there are endless interpretations of the Code, some of them wildly conflicting (Yoda, Qui-Gon and Depa, for instance, all have radically different approaches); I discussed previously how we’ve seen children brought into the Order and how I feel about that (it’s the Jedi Order, obviously so very many people don’t agree.) The thing that feels most telling to me, however? The way the Jedi dress.

Obviously I have a massive costume bias given that costume is my life, but it can’t be underestimated just how telling costume is. The sheer spectrum of takes on the ‘traditional’ Jedi robes shown in the PT and TCW is vast. We have the ‘traditionalist’ robes in their shades of brown, trousers, under tunic, overtunic, tabbards, band and belt. Mace and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in their beiges, Anakin the grungey off-shoot and then so many tiny little variables in between. Even in that category of ‘traditional’ there are endless ways for individuals to express themselves in their clothing.

Then we have Aayla Secura with what could be seen as a very Twi’leki take on the standard silhouette (my thoughts on Twi’lek representation here). Luminara and Barris who overtly callback to their species/homeworld traditions in their headcoverings and long-line, covering silhouettes, the leather detailing on Luinara’s tabbard and cuffs being an explicit symbol of Mirial, her homeworld. Shaak Ti and Ahsoka who share their montral adornment, but otherwise present themselves entirely differently. Adi Gallia and Stass Allie and Katooni, all of whom are human but wear the traditional headdress of their homeworld. Finn Ertay who is a Twi’lek but whose robes have an obvious Mirialan influence (possibly because she had a Mirialan master? Or the realities of recycled models.) Quinlan Vos, Jocasta Nu, Rig Nema, Tiplar and Tiplee and so many others.

This array of individual styles indicates that the Jedi are accepting of cultures and traditions outside of those that are strictly Jedi. They allow – probably deem necessary – an exploration of self and origin to at least some extent, and for that to be expressed comfortably in a very ordinary, natural way day to day. An understanding of self is, I would imagine, necessary to understand one’s place in the Force, in the wider galaxy. Then this in turn would influence and inform how they engage with the Force, how they utilise it. We know and have seen a number of lineages, how they differ. Otherwise all Jedi would be interchangeable and the same. Otherwise they would all be wearing literally the same beige robes.

Even in younglings we have been shown the early signs of this emerging individuality – in Kanan First Blood we have Caleb and his friends (’friends’) all wearing essentially the exact same robes. But their are differences in their belts, in species/race headdressing, little Caleb’s wrist wrappings that mirror Depa Bilaba’s (and if this doesn’t support the exploration of self and identity as guide by and through the Force then I’m not sure what does.) These three are readying themselves for the next stage of their training and are showing those first signs of self-expression. Unlike the younglings we see AotC who are significantly younger and are wearing fairly anonymous variations of the beige robes, all of which are simpler than those in Kanan.

Then we have the younglings in The Gathering who are that much older than Caleb and are embarking on their, uh, Gathering. Gundi aside (Wookiee’s don’t exactly need full robes), the younglings are all still within the traditional silhouette but they all different in tunic length, tabbard, colour and detailing. They’re that much further along which means they are further into their self-understanding and discovery (which is kind of the purpose of this whole arc.)

The colours and textures of the Jedi costume convey purity, simple living, and suggest hidden wisdom. [X]

As Dexter Jettster says in AotC, there’s a ‘difference between knowledge and wisdom’. Wisdom is to nurture and foster individuality within the core tenets of the Order, within that pre-ordained construct. Without this care it would be impossible for every Jedi – or indeed any Jedi – to reach their full potential as no individual is the same or will  be recognised in the Force as the same. One of the best ways to enable this is in physical displays of self, to stake ones individuality in appearance. Costume can say so very much.

Addendum regarding the gendered differences in Jedi robes:

There is definitely a discussion to be had about why it is predominantly the woman that dress differently, even if it’s not hypersexualised (except, arguably in the case of Aayla Secura, but I’m just going to handwave back at my Twi’lek post because I’m sure everyone’s bored of me banging that particular gong.) There is an element of exoticisation at play which, let’s be honest, has always been present element in Star Wars when it comes to alien women, but at this point a lot of it is working from and making-do with established in-verse logic. I do think it’s interesting, though, that the majority of these variations are long-line silhouettes, not hypersexualised (until you start looking for images and oh, right, there’s the unnecessary porn.) With female Jedi, they developed a fairly nice balance of those in the more traditional shapes and those in individual designs (but still drawing from those lines.)

Male Jedi were shown to deviate from the traditional robes (even Yoda wears what may or may not be a little jumpsuit – his waistband is blocking the defintion), but not so radically or so much. I do wonder if this is something that would have been expanded on if TCW had continued?

In-verse, this creates a whole interesting discussion about lineage and culture. Even if Jedi didn’t/weren’t able to/no longer canonically return to their homeworlds, they still have that massive library, they still travel and need to travel. Even if it’s not an explicit reconnecting (or connecting in the first pkace for those born and raised in the temple) to their native cultures, that natural self-exploration would be a natural part of their lives and probably explicitly encouraged. You have Barriss who follows a dress style like her master Luminara, so you have multiple strands of cultural and jedi lineage at play. Then how that has been shared and followed and encouraged. Then that playing (presumably/possibly) cross-culture with Finn Ertay. (To a lesser extent with Depa and little Caleb.) Then you have Ahsoka and Shaak Ti who have gone in polar opposite directions – Ahsoka repeatedly refers to the kidnapped Togruta in Slaves of the Republic as ‘my people’ which shows she has some awareness some connection. They both move entirely differently, dress differently (which will be influenced by their composures), present themselves entirely differently. All of which I think shows that openness of discovery and the welcoming of self-discovery as it can evolve in pretty much any direction from that common starting point of Jedi.

Also, Ahsoka herself is a good example of a young Jedi developing and identifying herself in her clothing, doubly so because we now get to see her an adult in Rebels. Obviously this is in part due to Filoni’s conscious decision over the entire run of TCW into Rebels to slowly shift her into more of a samurai figure, which just shows the perfect collaboration between character- and costume-development.

With Star Wars, half the time you end up having to have to two parallel conversations – the metatextual and in-text, and they don’t necessarily crossover which is interesting in itself. (And half the time the metatextual conversation ends up sticking you back thirty years when some really Not Great decisions were made.) (Obviously this doesn’t apply to things with race and gender representation, which SW both is and isn’t making great strides in all at the same time.)

Addendum regarding Tholothian headdresses:

Regarding Tholothians,  there are various contradictory articles about whether Tholothians had tentacles or headdresses. It was definitely something that was flipflopped at some point in the PT and/or Legends, but my recollections are over a decade old and mostly consist of me pointing at something and going ‘Oh look, they’re not tentacles any more!’ to my mum or some other disinterested party. But. Whether or not the tentacles are in fact a natural Tholothian feature, there is definitely some element of a headpiece in there:


On Stass here there’s a suede headband (which I think is part of the whole) that goes over the human/humanoid ears, and therefore is not a natural thing. (On both Adi Gallia and Katooni this goes completely over the ears, though it is more obvious to be a separate piece on Adi Gallia thanks to the realities of costuming.) There is also a chain adornment lining this headband and tracing the patterned indentations (natural or otherwise) of the crown. Adi Gallia has the exact same chain detailing. On Katooni this looks like more of a braid trim and she doesn’t have that decoration over the head. So. Ignoring the tentacles, my thesis still stands regarding Tholothians and traditional headwear.


1 comment on “The uniformity of individualism: Jedi robes and identity

  1. Alexandra Jessie Wilson

    How has no one commented on this in so many years?
    This was actually very enlightening, and incredibly interesting. It takes the vertiginous world of Jedi costuming and actually adds some sort of actual narrative to the choices of costuming (at the same time, acknowledging that we must take “model recycling” into account — thank. you). I never thought about the hypersexualization of female characters in the SW universe (I would argue that “hyper-” is not a prefix that typically applies to SW); personally, I find females more aesthetically appealing than males, so for me, this just made the female characters more interesting, through the storytelling/character development through costuming. Not to say sexuality is the only reason for their interesting costumes. For me, I attributed this to the human female habit of adorning one’s self for self expression and self-esteem (and, since the universe was created by humans, it’s natural this feature of humanity leaked into SW’s creation).
    While many may argue that adornments are a fact of socialization, pressuring women to be “beautiful,” it has actually been scientifically proven that human females have a natural predisposition to “adorn” as our brains process “beauty” differently than the male brain. This is possibly a result of thousands of years of “nurture” before becoming “nature,” such as blood tolerance, or fairer features, which have not always been the case to the current extent. (See anthropological sources on the physical differences on viking women, as an example).

    I really like the hypothesis that Aayla had a Mirialan master, although most Mirialans usually had Mirialan padawans, as the agreement between Mirial and the council was that no Mirialan would be a padawan to a non-Mirialan master, as they are a relatively reclusive species… although it is possible a Mirialan master to take a non-Mirialan padawan.

    On the topic of Tholothians, I believe that they were intended to be tentacles, and not just part of a headdress. The reasoning for this is how non-human heads were styled (like for Twilikis): it was *far* easier to costume removable headpieces/wigs for skin-like growths, and I believe the green makeup on Stass is to help imply the alien nature of this character, and to lead into the poorly-blended head piece (the suede is the only part I believe is actually a headdress, and I think that was to simply remove the complexities of makeup blending). After all, Star wars was the first franchise to use such lengthy alien headpieces, where Star Trek used much shorter protrusions. The brown in the tentacles is also too close to the characters’ skin tones for me to believe they’re a human headpiece. So I’ll have to disagree with you on that one.

    Anyways, sorry for the textwall. This was just to good of an article to just not have any comments; I found it while studying to change the costuming of my own jedi OC. For me, I have the welcome challenge of creating an entire culture based off of the few bits of canon information for planet Osarian, which I chose totally at random, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (ha!). I’m always tickled when I can find someone who enjoys the narrative of storytelling through costuming as much as I do.


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