Where we last left off, the planet Naboo had suffered a military-political crisis at the hands of a conspiracy between local aristocrats and a galactic megacorporation. Although Queen Amidala has come out victorious, now possessing a formidable fleet of Commerce Guild vessels, she is well-aware that this combat was only a first move in the ongoing conflict with her corporate enemies. If her aim is to save the Republic from their corrupting influence, the next battle must be fought with declarations and manifestos. This is what brings her back to Coruscant, meeting there with allies in both the Senate and the Jedi Order. When the next plenary session of the Senate commences, she presents a thorough report detailing the crisis at Naboo, hoping to pre-empt a corporate spin on events. However, the notoriously corrupt Senator Maul is just as ready to deploy his backers’ counter-narrative, claiming that anti-corporate agitators sabotaged a legitimate military exercise. He demands the return of all ships and personnel, as well as monetary compensation for any damages rendered. What’s more, he wants all Geonosian revolutionaries tried as traitors to the Republic, as they have clearly violated the sovereignty of its corporate bodies. If these conditions are not met, Maul blusters, the Commerce Guild and its dependents (including a few dozen vassal worlds) will have no choice but to pursue its compensation by force. So ends the last day of galactic peace.
Reflecting on the tense Senate session, Padmé finally admits to herself that there is no peaceful way out of this calamity. She has tried every legal and semi-legal method in order to ensure the safety and liberty of her people, deliberately distancing herself from more violent elements. But Senate debate has now devolved into an exchange of ultimatums, and ‘civil war’ is the term on everyone’s lips. If that is to be the way of things, then so be it. She would rather fight than let the peoples of the Outer Rim be subjugated by corrupt and undemocratic rule. To this end, she has allowed Anakin to make use of her faction’s resources; the latter has been quite busy planning political maneuvers of his own, though they are of a decidedly less diplomatic nature. Within a day from his orders going out, the young revolutionary is already hearing about slave and worker uprisings all across the Mid and Outer Rim, including such worlds as Zygerria, Sullust, and Mon Cala. Although Padmé is sure that this will further disrupt the day’s Senate proceedings, she is ready to face the music.
And what music it is. News of the uprisings has filtered up through the corporate ranks, and Maul is Practically fuming with anger as he makes his opening statement. Naturally, he tries to tie these new insurgencies to the Queen herself, or else a more radical member of her coalition like the delegation from Tatooine. Yet this tirade proves ineffective, as the subsequent debate simply breaks down along partisan lines. With the senatorial posturing of either side not going anywhere, the session moves into a vote on Maul’s earlier ultimatum: will the Senate sanction the use of corporate force against the Naboo government and its allies, if they prove unwilling to recompense any damages rendered to the Commerce Guild?
Here is where the battle lines are truly drawn. From her years of coalition building in the Senate, Padmé knows that she has at least a thousand Senators to count on, along with any moderate unwilling to provoke a galactic war over Commerce Guild property. And when the votes are tallied up, her effort proves to be sufficient. Although most senators present support Maul’s resolution, their number falls well short of the two thirds majority required, meaning the bill is defeated. For just a moment, Padmé is hopeful. Her enemies may outnumber her allies, but democracy is still on her side. Unfortunately, this is also the moment that a crazed Inner Rim partisan decides to take out his hidden blaster and aim it right at the object of his hatred. Before she realizes what is happening, Padmé is struck in the side by laser fire, collapsing to the floor of her senatorial pod.
With this assault, any sense of civility is stripped from the already hostile Senate proceedings. Looking to defend their queen, Amidala’s bodyguards immediately take out their own blasters and begin firing at the presumed culprit. As innocent senators and other noncombatants pour into the adjoining hallways, anyone with a weapon and a score to settle joins in on the firefight that is quickly developing in the main Senate Chamber. This combat dies down eventually, but only once enough senatorial security arrives to subdue those involved. By the end of it, the great assembly hall of the Republic is in ruins, with dozens of wrecked Senatorial pods piling up at its bottom. The casualty rate is surprisingly low, even though many are wounded; as for Amidala, she luckily finds herself among the latter category. Nevertheless, the Battle for the Senate-as this engagement will come to be known-has permanently shattered the political bonds of the Galactic Republic. Civil war has come at last.
Following the political breakdown at Coruscant, the next few months see a chaotic series of skirmishes, revolts, and retributions as both sides of this new war try to consolidate their forces. At first, it’s not even clear which side the Republic itself is on. Amidala’s coalition may be opposed by an Inner Rim plurality, but neither side possesses the supermajority required to declare war on the other. Thus, if the Republic is to involve itself officially, one of these factions needs to secede. Though Padmé herself is well-aware of this, Naboo’s membership in the Republic is not something she wants to give up: despite the magnitude of its iniquities, she still means to save the Republic, not destroy it.
However, Padmé soon realizes that her allies are much more skeptical about the Republic’s potential for positive reform; what’s more, she may be able to pull in outside parties if her faction appears to be creating something genuinely different from the corrupt and stagnant Republic. In the end, she calls for a grand convention of dissidents, separatists, and revolutionaries, to be held on the backwater planet of Utapau. With almost all parties present committing themselves to secessionism, it is here that the Democratic Federation of Independent Systems (DFIS) is founded. If their opponents wish to be Republicans, then they shall be Democrats.
As all of this is unfolding in the political sphere, the Jedi Order initially remains a beacon of peace and stability. Yet even these monks cannot ignore the reality of war, especially because they have each sworn to protect the galaxy from injustice and suffering, from the Dark Side. But now that evil seems to be everywhere, which side are they on? In the hopes of resolving this question, Qui-Gon Jinn has chosen to organize a great conclave on the sacred moon of Jedha. Here, away from the chaos that is Coruscant, the Jedi may deliberate on this conflict in a state of relative tranquility. And, so hopes Qui-Gon, perhaps Jedha can serve as a physical reminder of their shared spiritual lineage, bridging some of the great divides that are already evident within the Jedi Order.
Even before its start however, the conclave fails to live up to its aspirations. With Qui-Gon already being considered a renegade, one who associates himself with Separatist upstarts, the more Republic-leaning members of the Jedi Order simply refuse to attend. This conservative bloc is lead by Jedi Master Dooku, whose political connections with the Republic elite are likely steering his loyalty towards it, even while he obscures this fact with talk of a ‘sacred covenant’. The political opportunism behind Dooku’s conservatism pains Qui-Gon, particularly because this noble Jedi used to be his own master. However, he has still managed to gather a great number of Jedi at Jedha, and all of them are committed to restoring the balance within their Order, if not the galaxy. Qui-Gon trusts that the Force will make this right.
Unfortunately, when the Jedha conclave finally commences, another ideological split within the Order quickly becomes apparent. With almost all Republic loyalists abstaining from the meeting, the gathering roughly falls into two camps: those who wish to join with the DFIS and fight for galactic social justice, and those who do not wish to get involved at all. By their very nature, the second group of Jedi is mostly leaderless, although Master Yoda is considered their primary spokesperson. In several speeches he implores the Jedi present to eschew any political associations, as these entanglements can only excite the specter of the Dark Side. With the Sith destroyed, Yoda supposes that the residual evil of the galaxy now dwells within themselves; only an inward focus can cleanse the Jedi Order. The should therefore refrain from participating in this new galactic war, as they have done during similar periods of inter-Republic conflict. This policy proved to be correct in the past, and so it will now.
Although Yoda’s plea for pacifism is powerful, with even some Separatist-leaning Jedi expressing sympathy towards the old master, it ultimately fails to be persuasive. There is simply no way that these pro-Democrat Jedi would ever lay down their arms, not when many of them are already personally involved with the Separatist war effort. Desperate to preserve some sense of unity within the Order, Qui-Gon makes a last-ditch effort at appealing to the pacifist faction. Even if they’re not willing to fight, they should still defect to the DFIS; not only would this new alliance take better care of their rights and needs, but their ancient knowledge would be a great boon to the freed peoples of the galaxy. Alas, even this proposal is considered too aggressive by Yoda and his peers. Instead, they will just return to Coruscant and sit out the conflict there. This rejection effectively ends the Jedha conference, the only achievement of which has been the creation of a schism within the Jedi Order.
Trying to move on from their disappointment, the radical Jedi that now gather around Qui-Gon Jinn resolve to found an Order of their own, even if this should only prove a temporary measure. In the days following the failed conclave, these noble mystics compose a new set of precepts, hoping to create a more open, progressive, and ecumenical organization than the one before it. Though they will still call themselves Jedi, the heart of their Order shall not lie on Coruscant, that place of Republican authority and corruption. No, they will gather here on Jedha instead, so that they may both honor their religious heritage and build towards a future of spiritual liberation. In union with the Force, they shall know no strict hierarchy of Masters, Knights, and Padawans, but instead the simple recognition of wisdom among them. All adherents to the Light Side shall have a seat on their councils, and their commitment to social justice will erode the boundaries between temples and communities. In short, they are a New Jedi Order.
Why Utapau? This Ahsoka wondered as she hunched behind some giant bone, a support structure which had been blasted from its base not a moment earlier. Master Qui-Gon was right next to her, looking much too serene for someone who was currently being shot at by at least a dozen Republic droids. Perhaps to him, this was the sort of situation you got used to; despite her own limitless courage, Ahsoka had not yet achieved such calmness when it came to actual combat. While the thrill of it was satisfying, she found the overall reality of war too excessive, too depressing. Serving as Padmé’s protector had made her feel heroic a few times, whereas life on the frontlines just alternated between terror and boredom.
This introspection brought her mind to the current assignment. This was the third time she visited this planet, and each time she had accompanied Master Qui-Gon on one of his many diplomatic missions. That last part did not make much sense to her: the diplomatic capital of the Federation was clearly on Taris, and its spiritual center was Jedha. So why did Qui-Gon keep meeting these delegates here? She was intent on asking that, just as soon as they got out this current shootout.
Qui-Gon gave her a nudge, bringing her attention back into the present. How had she zoned out in the middle of all this? Using an obvious hand gesture, the Master was indicating their course of action. Channeling their Force energies together, Ahsoka and Qui-Gon launched their cover at the attacking droids, who lacked the agility to prevent their own destruction. This took care of their immediate assailants, although Ahsoka was quite sure there had to be a larger detachment not far away from them. They had only a short window to get to their original meeting place and escort the delegates to some safer locale.
In the end, that mission turned out a little differently. The native people of Utapau had already secured the diplomats by the time they got to them. Luckily, the planet was at least a nominal member of the Federation, and so the two Jedi were soon offered the same protection. Impromptu negotiations were held in that safehouse; apparently these delegates were eager to defect from the Republic, but fearful of doing so until they had the assurance of Jedi protection. These were a spiritual people, and they feared that a political mishap might very well invite the menace of the Dark Side. Instead, Master Qui-Gon put their minds at ease, demonstrating the sort of serenity that could only be a sign of benevolence. The Jedi were here to guide them to the Federation, and their people would be safe within it.
After these talks, while they were still holed up in their hideout, Ahsoka found a chance to ask the Master that one important question: why Utapau?
“A fair question, Ahsoka. Of course Taris might be a more sensible location, diplomatically speaking. But there is something important about this place, something that keeps bringing me back. It can’t be put into words properly, but allow me to try.
Consider the history of Utapau. When a hostile sun scorched their surface, the natives fled into these underground sinkholes, building their civilization out of bones and rock. Where such desperation might have fueled the Dark Side, the people of Utapau found solace in each other. Their diversity proved an adaptive advantage, and they have cultivated a culture of hospitality because of it. So despite the hardships of this environment, their society became one of peace and community. Is that not a spirit we should bring out in the entire galaxy? This is why I bring our prospective members here: that they may be blessed by the moral center of this place. And though I am sometimes fearful of bringing dangerous forces into this calm corner of the galaxy, I know that the people of Utapau can weather the storm. Their ethos is resilient, and if we can live up to it, our Federation will outlive this period of darkness.”
Ahsoka had not expected his answer to be this profound. She had no more questions after this, and before too long they were on their way back to Jedha. Gazing down at the planet as they left it, Ahsoka knew that she would return to Utapau soon. And unlike her earlier assessments, she was now looking forward to it.