One of my favorite movie series of all time is the Star Wars films. Yes, even the prequels. I’m sure whatever happens with the upcoming sequels, they will make the list, too. I’m an shameless fanboy when it comes to this series, and I can forgive a lot – from Greedo shooting first to Jar Jar Binks.
Since I was a child, seeing the original Star Wars at the tender age of five, I have loved the series. My youthful mind always wished I could be a Jedi Knight myself. Now, I know that’s impossible because I certainly don’t have nearly enough midi-chlorians in my blood for that. In fact, it was a relief for me to learn this plot patch when I saw The Phantom Menace because by watching the original trilogy as a child, it seemed so easy to train to be a Jedi Knight.
Going back and watching that original trilogy again, it got me thinking: Just how long does it take to complete Jedi Knight training?
The Answer: About as long as clown college.
If you were to ask George Lucas, in an ideal situation, he’d tell you that it takes years of training to become a Jedi Knight. In fact, during the time of the Old Republic, the Jedi would identify candidates in their early youth, bring them to their training facilities, shelter them from outside relationships, put them through rigorous levels of combat training and mind-control techniques, and only after a subsequent apprenticeship that gobbled up your entire youth from pre-puberty to well into your 20s, you could finally be given the title of Jedi Knight.
Let’s forget for a minute that this sounds uncomfortably similar to the practices of Al-Qaeda or a David Koresh type of cult. It makes sense that the greatest warriors in the galaxy would be fiercely trained with decades of discipline, learning every form of combat and control they can.
It makes sense when looking at the Star Wars films themselves. In The Phantom Menace, when Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) brings a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) to the Jedi Council and requests him to be put in the training program, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) says, “He is too old.” Of course, after Qui-Gon Jinn’s death, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) gets promoted to Jedi Knight and takes Anakin as an apprentice, a decision with which the Jedi Council reluctantly agrees. Oops.
Many years later, when a 22-year-old Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammil) comes to Dagobah to receive training, Yoda (Frank Oz) says, “He is too old. Yes, too old to begin the training.” Luke counters with a defiant “But I’ve learned so much,” which along with some nudging by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost (Alec Guinness) actually helps convince Yoda to start the training.
Clearly, exceptions can be made, but…
How much training does Luke actually receive?
First off, Luke’s insistence that he has “learned so much” is already suspect. Sure, he spent a weekend on the Millennium Falcon with Obi-Wan Kenobi before that old fool was struck down by Darth Vader. In the three years that passed between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, he had no contact with Kenobi’s ghost. A few minutes with a lightsaber and a flight helmet was really all the direct training he received.
Assuming the Empire had destroyed as much history and references of the Jedi as it could, Luke actually received very little training whatsoever before leaving the Hoth system. Heck, he had to struggle to use the Force to pull his lightsaber from the ice before he was eaten by the Wampa. That’s not exactly up to speed for a would-be Jedi Knight.
Even when Yoda finally starts training him, it was a severely condensed course, which can be tracked through the film, compared to the storyline with Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).
The Millennium Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing leave Hoth at the same time. While Luke heads to Dagobah, the Falcon is pursued into an asteroid field by the Imperial Fleet. About the time that Luke is meeting Yoda, Han and Chewie are making repairs to the Falcon.
Luke begins his training with Yoda, which mostly consists of running, handstands, and lots of lectures. During Luke’s training when he faces his own Darth Doppelganger in a cave, the crew of the Falcon discovers they are in a giant space worm and attach themselves to a Star Destroyer to hide. Luke’s training continues, he loses his ship in the swamp, and Yoda shows him what a badass he is by levitating the whole thing by himself.
Eventually, the Falcon escapes and heads to Bespin. Luke has a premonition of his friends being tortured and decides to leave. When Yoda tells him to stay and reminds him of his failure in the cave, Luke says, “But I’ve learned so much since then.” We know from Luke’s previous statement that he has a predilection to exaggerate how much he has learned, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that at least a few days had passed since then.
Sure, Han tells Leia that Bespin pretty far away, but it’s still a nearby system. Even if the journey took them weeks, you’re looking at a very short training period for Luke on Dagobah. That’s hardly the twenty-odd years that Jedi used to get.
Of course, that doesn’t stop Luke from introducing himself to Jabba the Hutt as “Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight” and having Yoda declare his training to be over when he returns to Dagobah.
So how long was this, really?
Years ago, before the prequels were produced, I did some work for the licensed Star Wars role-playing games. At that time, the official word from Lucasfilm was that Luke spent 18 months on Dagobah, with a six-month window between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. Even if you follow the timeline set up by Wookieepedia, there’s only one year of time from the start of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.
Either way, Luke spent relatively little time on Dagobah being trained by Yoda, and there were really no other options to learn the ways of the Force when he is the last of the Jedi.
Also, consider the fact that through this whole ordeal, no one changes clothes (either on the Millennium Falcon or on Dagobah). Han and Luke never shave, and Leia never lets her hair down. Either these are the smelliest space heroes cinema has ever seen, or this was just a weekend adventure.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College course has ranged from 10 to 13 weeks over the years. They might consider opening a Jedi College as well because that’s the same amount of time it takes to learn the essentials of being a Jedi Knight.