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'Jedi' Just Got a Dictionary Definition, Which Feels Weird, Given Everything Happening in Star Wars Right Now

What even is a Jedi these days? The Oxford English Dictionary thinks it’s found out.
What even is a Jedi these days? The Oxford English Dictionary thinks it’s found out.
Image: Lucasfilm

At a time when the Star Wars movies and tie-in materials are now more than ever questioning the legacy of the Jedi—and what it means to be a Jedi—there is a certain irony to there now being a literal dictionary definition of what a Jedi is.

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Language is a fluid thing, and popular culture’s impact upon it is indelible. Just look at how many words Shakespeare gave to English through his plays—in the modern day, it just happens to be movies, TV shows, social media, and even memes that have an impact on our shared lexicons to the point of being added to linguistic canons. Every month the Oxford English Dictionary announces new additions it is making to its official collection of definitions, and this month it’s been revealed that several bits of terminology from the galaxy far, far away are being included for the first time.

Alongside the likes of Damianite (“A member of a group of followers of Damian, patriarch of Alexandria, who were accused by their opponents of a variety of Sabellianism”), Tollywood (“The Bengali-language film industry, based in Tollygunge, an area of Kolkata”), and even, uh, cockteasing (“Behaviour regarded as provocative, in which a person [typically a woman] tempts men sexually with no intention of satisfying the desire aroused”), three Star Wars pieces of terminology were officially added this month: Jedi, Padawan, and Lightsabre.

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Yes, they used the British spelling of “saber” for that last one, which I’m sure will piss off at least some highly specific group of nerds, but anyway, here it is—the dictionary definition of What a Jedi Is:

In the fictional universe of the Star Wars films: a member of an order of heroic, skilled warrior monks who are able to harness the mystical power of the Force (see force n.1 Additions). Also in extended and allusive use; esp. someone (humorously) credited with great skill or preternatural powers. Also more fully Jedi knight, Jedi master.

I don’t know if you expected something more dramatic, but, still, there really is something interesting in the idea that here is a literal textbook definition of this concept, in an age when we have films like The Last Jedi, and comics like Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s run on Darth Vader at Marvel, intellectually interrogating what the Jedi are not just as an establishment—and the rigid hypocrisy of the Jedi Order itself—but what it means to take on that mantle on an individual level.

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Luke’s entire arc in The Last Jedi, of course, was all about the spiritual struggle of whether or not he was worthy of an imagined version of what he was taught the Jedi were by Yoda and Obi-Wan—and of those two, the former even showed up to gently remind him that such rigid definitions are, and rightly should, always be in motion across generations of masters and students. Rey underwent a learning process in that movie as well, one that culminates in The Rise of Skywalker—and signs so far seem to potentially hint at that movie tackling the concept of her becoming perhaps not a Jedi, but something altogether new and different beyond what we currently expect a heroic, light-sided-aligned force user to be.

Language, like the Force, ebbs and flows, changes and redefines itself over and over again. Who knows, maybe after this December, the Oxford Dictionary may have to add some secondary meanings to its definition of Jedi. Maybe, like masters, the true burden of a dictionary definition is that they are something we grow beyond with the gift of greater context.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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westerosironswanson
The Ron Swanson of Westeros

Luke’s entire arc in The Last Jedi, of course, was all about the spiritual struggle of whether or not he was worthy of an imagined version of what he was taught the Jedi were by Yoda and Obi-Wan—and of those two, the former even showed up to gently remind him that such rigid definitions are, and rightly should, always be in motion across generations of masters and students. Rey underwent a learning process in that movie as well, one that culminates in The Rise of Skywalker—and signs so far seem to potentially hint at that movie tackling the concept of her becoming perhaps not a Jedi, but something altogether new and different beyond what we currently expect a heroic, light-sided-aligned force user to be.

Respectfully James, I think you might be giving the creators of the new trilogy more credit for intellectual coherence than they really deserve.

There’s often discussion about how films are increasingly post-literate, in the sense that they frequently garble visual iconography because the people involved haven’t read, and therefore don’t understand, the visual metaphors that they invoke. Hence why Zach Snyder keeps implying that the story two immigrants from Europe named Siegel and Schuster really wanted to tell was the story of Jesus. It’s not so much that Zach Snyder is deliberately trying to say anything about either Superman or Jesus, so much as the fact that he clearly a) hasn’t read the Bible, b) doesn’t know any metaphors other than Jesus, but c) feels that for his films must have visual metaphors to be deep and meaningful. Hence we get awkward religious iconography stuffed into dumb action films.

But I’d also note that there’s an increasing post-ideological bent to film and television that consistently hampers adaptations and long-running franchises. To put it simply, it’s a running trend where filmmakers just don’t understand why the original writers made the story choices they made, and don’t think they need to understand those choices, so they consistently make stylistic or narrative choices that make the franchise or adaptation thematically incoherent.

I’ve seen it in Game of Thrones, where a lot of why Season 8 collapsed was simply because David and Dan clearly didn’t understand what Martin was trying to say about power that would lead him to kill Daenerys and make Bran king. I’ve seen it in Zach Snyder’s DC adaptations, where Snyder’s unerring faithfulness to the visuals of Watchmen is undermined by the fact that his incessant need to fetishize violence is incompatible with Moore’s message that violence does not ennoble the soul. And we’ve seen it in the new Star Wars trilogy, where Abrams and Johnson are clearly those kinds of “fans” that fast-forwarded through the “slow” parts on Dagobah so that they could get to the space battles and laser sword fights. It’s not that they’re reinterpreting, or critiquing, or criticizing the text. It’s that they’re saying that anything that can’t be said in two pages, double-spaced and read by a seven-year old that’s high on Adderall is not worth knowing.