There remains some debate about the classification of what became known as the Fourth Jedi Schism; some historians referred to it as the Pre-Clone War; others insisted it belonged within the larger definition of the First Clone War proper. Regardless, the Fourth Jedi Schism was notable as the event which sparked and guided the early stages of the galaxy-wide wars which would see the Old Republic fall, and usher in the rise of the New Order.
At first, the petty conflicts among the Jedi and their various factional leaders did little more than encourage unrest and discontent among several outlying worlds already prone to rebellion. These were often triggered by issues unrelated to the Jedi themselves, but with their legal arbiters drawn into political conflicts in the Core Worlds many opportunistic dissidents on far-flung worlds saw a chance to upset their existing status quo.
But what began as mere squabbles and political jousting by the Jedi quickly coalesced into full-blown feuds. The Jedi already had a penchant and reputation for solving their most intractable disagreements via a ritualised personal combat, so the concept of duelling Jedi was far from unheard of. Yet the level of enmity which flowed from the chambers of debate into vicious personal rivalries surprised many within and without the Order, even before the entire argument flared into outright civil war.
As the stakes gradually rose, more Jedi joined the factional fault lines to which they were tied, perhaps coalescing during the crisis in ways that they would not have felt was necessary while the Order itself remained in balance. With greater resources, the factions began pressing their influence where they could, including small-scale battles between the Jedi themselves or their surrogates; the ramifications of these minor conflicts nonetheless crackled dangerously through the Order as a whole, until the conflict began to spread further and Jedi from across the galaxy converged upon Coruscant in particular, to add their voice to the cacophony, or to other notable Jedi enclaves and shrine-worlds throughout the Republic, hoping to calm the swelling feuds before it was too late.
Many of the planets upon which the Jedi had once maintained order now threatened to abandon the Republic - their guardians had departed (some never to return) and the justice which they enforced was gradually eroded. Dissent and malcontent began to stir throughout the further-flung and less accessible sectors of the Republic, and some planets ultimately usurped control from their former governors, announcing independence or refusing to pay tithe nor tax to their Republic overlords.
As with similar iterations before it, the Republic sought to unify a vast and disparate number of worlds into a single entity, but inevitably their governing body focused its attention and resources most on locales of highest value; often those same wealthy worlds in the Core which dominated the Senate. In turn, outlying planets and entire sectors became jaded about the purported value of the Senate's esteem when it neglected the values and well-being of its poorest citizens in order to funnel time and energy into petty personal feuds among the elite in Coruscant. To many in the Old Republic, the Jedi embodied both the haughty distance they maintained from the common folk, and the wasted focus on internal political feuds in the face of dire need for order and law in otherwise lawless regions of the galaxy.
Thus, with the loss of guaranteed security and peace, the Republic lost the support of some of its most influential citizen-states. Entire sectors began breaking off or announcing their own unions, confederacies and sub-fiefdoms within the Republic itself, fracturing the unity of the whole and greatly reducing the power of the Senate to speak for the entire galactic citizenry.
The crisis reached its most desperate hour when the Core Worlds of Alderaan and Corellia recalled their Senators from Coruscant, pending the outcome of the Jedi civil war, as it was then being called. This single announcement instigated hundreds of other worlds, many of them corporate headquarters and economic powerhouses, to follow suit. The Republic economy tilted upon the brink of disaster.
The haughty idealism which underscored the Jedi Code was rendered impotent against the reality that, without a distinct hierarchy, the Order itself was vulnerable to such strife. This was, inevitably and as many historians would later note, the first weakness which the New Order sought to remedy from its very inception, and no small few pointed to the dissent among the Jedi as the genesis which propelled the galaxy within a decade from a crumbling social democracy to a burgeoning military autocracy.
Similarly, the Jedi traditionally held little account of financial troubles - in direct contrast to the rest of the galaxy's citizenry - and the precarious position they were forcing the entire Republic to adopt. Secure in their own private holdings thanks to their status and prestige, the various Jedi factions largely concentrated only upon their own influence within the Council, and few seriously considered, yet alone dared plan for, any kind of extended military conflict; such things were relics of the past and not the Jedi way.
Even once the Schism itself began in earnest, most of the early conflict remained highly ritualised and interpersonal, the bloodshed rarely spreading beyond the individuals involved. While the average citizen saw the seeds of instability for the entire republican edifice, the Jedi themselves assumed the entire matter would burn itself out once the key power-brokers had played their hands, fought their duels, and one faction emerged supreme.
However, the need to eventually press for complete dominance over their rivals and enemies caused the Jedi to coalesce in larger numbers, hoping to tip the balance, with some of the more militant among them bringing squired apprentices and loyal companions who had no business being part of the Council's internal machinations. Yet they appeared nonetheless.
Soon, the Jedi who procured such assistance outnumbered and overpowered those who did not; this in turn encouraged Jedi who once disdained the practice to swiftly recruit support of their own. Those who did not were defeated, exiled, or worse. Escalation upon escalation grew throughout the areas of conflict; first, upon Coruscant itself battles raged within and without the temples and squares among the Jedi enclaves, later raging in orbit above the planet between their consular starships; later still, violence flared on outlying worlds, or any place where one faction or another sought to usurp or disrupt the influence of their rivals.
Exploiting the friction between the Jedi factions, each of which were initially little more than a few individuals or splinter-groups among various philosophically inclined scholar-Jedi, scores of military and paramilitary organisations, most of the largest corporations, and the vast resources of countless underworld fiefdoms, flocked in great numbers to the battlegrounds of the Core Worlds, hoping to join the growing conflict.
A cycle of perverse incentives developed, whereupon in clamouring for corporate support many factions would dutifully ensure they avoided this or that particular system, or sent some Jedi or another to deal with a petty dispute between corporations trying to garner a monopoly on a technology the Order had little care for. With their corporate war chests they began to bloat their numbers with mercenaries - many from the underworld - who flocked to the conflict to turn a credit or two and make a name for themselves. Some of the galaxy's most notorious crews grew from the early days of the Jedi civil war.
Soon, the bickering Jedi found themselves supported by entire armies of vested interests, with their vaunted Knights at the head of each, as its various factions refused admit weakness or wrongdoing and, critically, the Jedi took it upon themselves to make physical a conflict which had for many generations been merely political. Before long, the weight of interests tied to the ongoing war created a momentum which, even had the Jedi even desired an end to it, would have become irresistible.
The Fourth Jedi Schism had begun to tear the entire Order apart.
Weaker factions became quickly subsumed within the strength of others, or were defeated in the cold halls of debate. Still others were eradicated on the growing fields of battle. Several grew strong, burned brightly, and were exhausted by their own over-reaching ambition.
Foremost among the factions were two in particular: the highly rigid and orthodox faction known as Balance Before All, which had dominated the politics of the Order and its Council for decades; and the small and elitist but influential sect of renowned Jedi Masters known as One Spirit, One Order. Each began to act quickly to stifle their enemies in the hope that they could quickly regain the ascendancy and end the conflict before it could further damage the integrity of the Order. Yet even by the time the two powerful factions reacted to the violence, in reality it had grown beyond their power to prevent.
In their effort to draw support from various neutral factions, Balance and One Spirit essentially diluted their own ideologies, disillusioning many influential leaders and key supporters, thus further fracturing their own unity. For every group they convinced to join, another departed in disgust, and the cycle of disagreement continued.
But beyond the worst fears of the Jedi, not only did the schism fail to resolve itself, but the mere whiff of dissent among the great judiciaries of the galaxy shuddered the very foundations of the Republic they had so long fought to protect. After several years of fighting, it brought the structures of government to their knees.
The flames of war engulfed the entire Republic.
Observing the chaos which had arisen during the Schism, the Republic itself took belated action to restore order, yet even within that august institution there was nothing close to consensus in regard to the means by which the Republic should - or even could - intervene.
Three Senatorial regimes began to form. The first was a hard-line, military interventionist model, around which formed a nucleus of anti-Jedi Senators who believed that the Schism represented the perfect opportunity to suppress the burgeoning power of the Jedi Order which had stood above and beyond their influence and reach for centuries. The Senate had no direct ability to force the Order's hand, and many Senators resented that fact and had worked tirelessly to legislate greater oversight upon the actions of the Jedi Order.
The second and largest group included the majority of Senators, who took the side of one or more specific factions within the conflict, believing that the Jedi should be able to resolve their own internal conflict, but that the Republic's place was to act to ensure that one side or the other claimed a swift and bloodless victory.
A smaller number of Senators, among a third faction, supported largely no action at all, and favoured simply acting only to protect Republic assets and trade routes during any fighting, professing something of a middle ground between the other two groups. These Senators proposed that the Jedi could, after the Schism abated, be tried as war criminals should their conflict spill into civilian space. This simple idea, which was little more than a footnote to other concerns at the time, would later become a pivotal platform in the New Order's response to the Jedi after the Clone Wars had concluded.
Ultimately, it was the third regime to whose attitude the galactic citizenry and, perhaps, even the Senate as a whole, eventually came to support. Yet it did not take long for particular interests within the Republic to align themselves with various Jedi factions, which suggested that, in practice, the second regime retained its ability to act even as the Senate itself officially decried any official response against, or in support of, the Jedi.
Galaxy-wide conflict soon took its toll. The Jedi, never a numerous Order in comparison with other branches of government, found the frequent clashes on the field of battle had depleted their numbers. Leading vast armies by the nobility of their own example, and from the front, the Jedi were relentlessly exposed to terrible risks. Dangers which, despite their incredible abilities, soon thinned their ranks.
Furthermore, the Jedi were also not infrequently lured into engaging in the ritualised duels enshrined in ancient texts and believed by many Jedi to be the only truly honourable way to resolve serious disputes. This, perhaps more than any other single factor, saw the end of many of the most powerful Jedi Knights of the era.
Further, while the Jedi frequently dominated ground battles and conflicts where individual soldiers could turn the tide of battle, many were also lost in the frequent space battles which, with their absolute dependence on strategy and the manoeuvring of enormous vessels, were less reliant upon the particular talents of the Jedi. That was not to say that the Jedi made poor starship commanders, only that they were most formidable in personal combat. This also exposed many of the Order to defeat when, in other circumstances, they may have felt themselves almost invulnerable against any foe other than another Jedi.
Once a battle moved from the confines of a planet's environment into deep space, the trained officers and admirals of the Galactic Senate, not to mention many talented pirates and Outer Rim mercenaries, were equally matched against many of their Jedi opponents, allowing corporations and other minor players into positions of strength within certain parts of the galactic conflict.
Naturally, many Jedi were indeed talented strategists and admirals themselves, perhaps none more so than Kal Ul-Maas, one of the heroes of the Schism War. Yet Ul-Maas was killed before the Schism's end, prior to the Clone Wars proper; a testament to the reality that even the greatest Jedi were vulnerable in their own way.
Matched head-to-head against their own peers and among the mightiest warriors in the galaxy, utilised directly and frequently in almost every manoeuvre their forces were engaged in, the Jedi soon became perilously few. The ferocity of the Schism was such that the population of Jedi, even across the entirety of the galaxy, simply could not suffer such losses indefinitely.