The Jedi Order in Star Wars has a rich history of codes to abide by and significant attire to wear, creating an entire culture around these peacekeepers of the galaxy. One of the time-honored traditions of the Jedi that has intrigued fans for decades is the Jedi Padawan hair braid.
The Jedi Padawan hair braid was mainly seen in the prequel films worn by Obi-Wan Kenobi when he trained under Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and Anakin Skywalker when he was a Padawan under Obi-Wan. While it may seem like just a poor fashion statement, the hair braid is actually a culturally-significant symbol among the Jedi Order.
Why Padawans Have Hair Braids
It was customary for a Jedi Padawan to wear a longer section of their hair in a braid starting at the base of their neck. The braid was a symbol among the Jedi Order that the individual is ranked as a Padawan, the first level in becoming a Jedi. Non-human Padawans that did not have hair or fur in their heads to braid were given a silka bead braid to show their Padawan status instead. An example of this is Ahsoka Tano, who was a Togruta species that did not have any hair on her head, so had to wear an alternative material to mark her Padawan status when she trained under Anakin during the Clone Wars.
When Padawans completed their training and passed the Jedi Trials, meaning they were ready to move up to the status of Jedi Knight, the hair braid was ceremoniously cut off with a lightsaber. This makes the hair braid a practical signifier of rank when identifying Padawans, and a ceremonial tradition to mark the graduation of a Jedi to the next rank. If a Padawan was expelled from the Jedi Order, however, their braid was then ripped off, as a symbol of shame for whatever transgression they committed.
Significance and History of the Padawan Braid
The Padawan braid is more of a tradition than a hard-and-fast rule of the Jedi. In practice, the decision of whether or not to wear the braid was left up to individual Jedi Masters. In one instance, a mischievous Wookiee infant ripped out the braid of a Padawan by the name of Reath Silas, who worried that his Master Jora Malli would make him to grow it back in order to remain a member of the Jedi Order.
For Padawans, having the hair braid was a self-conscious symbol of their apprentice rank in relation to more experienced Jedi, but that only made the removing of the braid all the more special as they passed the Jedi Trials. In a way, this idea echoes the tradition of the turning of the tassel, which college students perform at their graduation ceremony.
Other Jedi Padawans felt proud to wear the hair braid, as they embraced the steps they had to undergo to achieve a more honorable rank. Ahsoka Tano went to great lengths to get her silka bead braid back from bounty hunter Cad Bane after he stole it. However, Ahsoka's braid dilemmas did not stop there. Later, Ahsoka was wrongfully accused of a Jedi Temple bombing and was removed from the Jedi Order. As a part of this shameful expulsion, Ahsoka's braid was ripped out, dealing a crushing blow to her faith in the Jedi High Council, since they believed the false allegations against her.
Since the hair braid was such an easily distinguishable symbol of a member of the Jedi Order, many Padawans cut their braids off after the execution of Order 66 to hide from the Jedi purge. The culture of the Jedi Order had to be abandoned for practical purposes after Order 66 forever changed the customs of the Jedi Way.
The Padawan hair braid is just another form of pageantry the Jedi engage in to make the completion of the Padawan training into a meaningful ritual. Even so, being a Padawan is hard enough on the ego, making the obligatory rattail salt in the wound.