It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a long discussion post and while I was going through the dozens of scenes I wanted to write about I realized I hadn’t written about one of my favourite moments in Star Wars: The Clone War yet. So, today I present to you some of my thoughts about the scene in which Barriss Offee confesses in the episode ‘The Wrong Jedi’ and especially on its relevance to us now.
‘The Wrong Jedi’ was the final episode both of Season 5 and of an arc that centred on Ahsoka Tano being wrongfully accused of a terrorist attack against the Republic and the Jedi. At the beginning of the episode she is stripped of her position as Padawan by the Jedi Council, a move that leaves her at the mercy of Palpatine as well as showing moral weakness on the side of the Counil. Although I don’t want to focus too much on Ahsoka in this post, it’s important to mention that throughout the episodes beforehand we have seen the crushing effect that being suspected of betraying the Jedi Order has had on Ahsoka. The ease with which she was suddenly on the wrong side felt like a betrayal and shakes her faith in the Jedi Order to the core. This disillusionment is key to understanding what has happened to Barriss.
Anakin interupts Palpatine as he is about to deliver Ahsoka’s sentence and presents Barriss Offee to the Court, ‘member of the Jedi Order and traitor.’ I have put emphasis on the word ‘traitor’ here because of the way Anakin says it but also what it’s preceded by. Matt Lanter puts the perfect amount of anger and disgust into the word to show how Anakin feels about what Barriss has done. A large part of Anakin’s motivation is his anger over how Ahsoka has been treated, but his drastic change in behaviour towards her is, in many ways, a mirror to how the behaviour of many characters changed towards Ahsoka once she was accused. The Jedi Order is in a fragile state where none of its own members can be trusted. It makes the organisation implicit in its members actions.
What follows Anakin’s announcement are a number of reaction shots which are very interesting. Ahsoka is clearly surprised, even shocked. On the one hand Anakin brings her salvation, proving her innocence. On the other hand the revelation of Barriss as the person who was responsible for the attack but also for her own problems only heaps another layer of betrayal and hurt onto her shoulders. Her face, when asking Barriss whether Anakin’s claim is true, shows only hurt, no anger. She cannot believe that her friend would do something like this to not only her, but also to the Jedi Order. I will come back to Ahsoka below. The exchange of glances between Yoda and Obi-Wan is also significant because the Jedi Council is here revealed to be blind. Not only did they blame the wrong person, they failed to see the change of heart Barriss has had. Despite of her living in their midst, the Council had no idea that Barriss was starting to question the role of the Jedi and was becoming disillusioned with their role in the Clone Wars. Tarkin, representative of the military side of the Republic, seems annoyed for not being able to imprison Ahsoka, but hardly seems to truly care.
And then we come to Barriss Offee and her confession. Before looking at it in closer detail it’s interesting and important to note the crucial fact that Barriss is one of Ahsoka’s peers, if slightly older, and not Anakin’s or even Obi-Wan’s. Her whole time with the Jedi Order has largely been dominated by the Clone Wars, by the Jedi being soldiers and, in many ways, aggressors. The same goes for Ahsoka. When we first see her in the The Clone Wars film she is incredibly young and yet playing a crucial role on a battlefield. Although it may sound “awesome”, it is an incredibly sobering fact to consider. Think about Ahsoka and Barriss alone on a mission on Geonosis, in mortal danger, fighting for their lives. At such a young age these kind of experiences are scarring and it is no wonder both Ahsoka and Barriss grow up to be very determined and passionate youngsters. Only they end up finding themselves on different sides of the argument.
Whereas we know much about the affection in the apprentice-master relationship between Ahsoka and Anakin, Barriss’ relationship with her own master, Luminara Unduli, seemed significantly different and more distant. Her training is according to the rules, seemingly more emotionally distant and in many ways much more like a soldier’s training than that of a peace-keeper and philosopher. Ahsoka has a nurturing bond within which she can work through her experiences and her doubts. She also has Padme and Obi-Wan providing her with different ways of coping and existing within the Clone Wars. Especially Padme here offers a fascinating example of someone who’s principles are strengthened by conflict, who refuses to give up believing in democracy and peace. We see no such equivalent for Barriss and she becomes utterly disillusioned with the principles she supposedly stands for. She simply can’t unite the Jedi’s actions with what they should stand for, in her eyes. And when the youth feels betrayed by the older generation it will rebel. In many ways that is what we’re seeing here with Barriss.
‘I did it, because I’ve come to realise what many people in the Republic have come to realise! That the Jedi are the ones responsible for this war. That we’ve so lost our way that we’ve become villains in this conflict. That we are the ones that should be put on trial. All of us! ‘
Although it is easy to paint Barriss in a villainous light, see her as a ‘traitor’ and nothing more, there is actually a lot of depth and relevance to what she says. Crucial is Barriss continued identification with the Jedi Order. She speaks of ‘we’ and ‘us’, not ‘you’. During her time with the Jedi Barriss has seen a decline in what she believes the Jedi should stand for and has seen them become villains. But rather than take the easy road and distance herself completely, she is very aware she herself is a part of that. In many ways she is a product of that very change she has seen. She is a soldier, she has killed and she has seen death. To what extent, it has to be asked, is her anger at the Jedi order one which is also self-directed? She is disgusted at what she has become, at the world she’s living in and what she has been made to do, and her response to that is a pro-active one. She can no longer sit back or just talk about the issue, she has to either bring an end to the Jedi Order or, as she says, put them on trial. And the only way she thinks she can achieve that is through aggression and death. She is holding up a mirror to the Republic and the Jedi Order, bringing violence to them since they’re causing it elsewhere. Through her actions she is showing that violence and deception have become part of the “language” the Jedi Order now speaks. And through her mere existence she asks the question: When a so-called peaceful organisation has become so twisted that the only way one of their apprentices sees to wake them up is a violent attack, what does that say about the organisation?
‘An army fighting for the dark side. Fallen from the light that we once held so dear. … It’s only a matter of time.’
As Barriss proclaims her disappointment in what the Jedi Order has become we are shown a thoughtful Obi-Wan who has an almost guilty look on his face. He seems to understand what she is trying to say, that the Jedi Order has failed its own apprentices and the Galaxy. But there is an extra layer to her confession, one which has always made me think of Barriss as much more than a ‘traitor’. As she mentions ‘the dark side’ we are shown Palpatine, absolutely and utterly on purpose. Although Barriss herself may not be aware of it, she has seen through the shroud that Sidious has cast over the mind of the Jedi. She can see that the path the Jedi are taking is one that will end up in darkness. The corruption of values, a moving from the light to the dark, which Sidious as Palpatine has triggered in the Republic and the Jedi Order lies at the very root of what has turned Barriss against the Jedi. They have become the very thing they are trying to fight. It’s a theme that consistently ran through TCW but comes out very poignantly here. And let’s not forget that in Revenge of the Sith Padme starts asking the same questions. As I said above, she is the kind of character who starts to believe more, the harder it gets. But even Padme comes to a point where she realizes that the “right side” might be losing its way and that a reevaluation is needed. Whereas she tries to do this through the law, and is subsequently blocked, Barriss tries to achieve the same through violence.
There is a truly pained expression on Barriss face when she turns away from Ahsoka and the Court because she knows she has risked all and not succeeded. She knows she won’t be listened to and that it was all for nothing. She is utterly disillusioned and now also utterly alone. She is a criminal and will be cast aside. It is, up until the moment of writing, the last we have heard of her in canon. We don’t know what happened to her during Order 66, if she even made it until then.
Perhaps one of the wriest moments in this scene is at the very end when Anakin turns back to Ahsoka with a smile on his face. Although he never technically doubted Ahsoka, he is a part of the system that has so betrayed her. But what he can’t see is that what has happened to Ahsoka’s friend affects her too. To see someone she cared for and trusted losing faith in their shared cause to such an extent their wanting to destroy it has major consequences for Ahsoka. You can’t see a friend change so without wondering what the cause is. As I said above, Ahsoka beliefs in the Republic and in the Jedi Order, but she is here realizing it is indeed flawed. They have failed and poisoned people like Barriss, have forced them into conflicts and made them into what they are now.
The reason this episode is so relevant to modern day, in my eyes, is that it captures what is happening to a lot of young people nowadays. The Prequel trilogy was consistently incredibly politically aware of the time within which it was made and TCW continues that. The world within which young people are growing up at the moment is one which seems full of conflict. For those in the West it seems far away and yet we’re aware that we are in the middle of it, fighting, killing, destroying and trying to create peace through all of that. It’s not hard to see how a young person could become utterly disgusted at our government’s actions (no matter which Western country you live in), at the destruction that’s being caused and at the lives that are being lost. A lot of European countries are seeing young people leave to join terrorist groups and wonder why. I think we can find an answer in Barriss Offee.
Barriss is essentially a good person who is sick of all the death, destruction and lies which are being told. And in a violent Galaxy she voices her own opinion violently as well. She can no longer support what the Republic and Jedi Order are doing, but then she can’t support the Separatists either. So she becomes, in essence, a homegrown terrorist. She is the boy or girl who grows up disillusioned, whose unhappiness is noticed by no one and who eventually decides that the only way to raise awareness for what is happening is through violence. Is that a good and moral decision? No. But then she feels she no longer lives in a good and moral society. She is a product of her time and the fact others see her as monstrous should really make them think about themselves.
Her accusations against the Jedi Order are not unfounded and it’s clear from the music that the makers of TCW were very aware of that. The music is tragic, the colours are dark and the lighting is harsh. There is something utterly tragic about the whole scene. Barriss is dwarfed by her guards and also by Anakin. Ahsoka is isolated where she stands, te members of the Jedi Order are sitting separate and Palpatine looms over them all. The whole arc but especially this scene is a heart-breaking visualization of how young people become disillusioned by the society in which they live and how everyone becomes a victim to this. The episode, and The Clone Wars, ends with its youngest and brightest leaving, head hung low. Ahsoka herself can no longer be a part of what is happening, partially no doubt because of what she has seen happen to Barriss.
What do you think about this scene? Can you empathise with Barriss?