When most people think about pre-Padawan Jedi, they think of younglings. Personally, I like to see this as a type of boarding school for gifted children. Although at the time just prior to the Clone Wars, younglings were scooped up from their families as babies -- supposedly to prevent attachment -- they are not chosen as Padawans until they are about three years old (if they mature at the same rate as humans).
Although this is a confusing factor for many, not all who start on the journey to Jedi are children. During the time of the Old Republic in particular, many Jedi started as young adults. If you've been following the Hyperspace Beacon, you may remember the articles about Nomi Sunrider. She was in her 20s when she started as a Jedi Initiate.
During her time as an Initiate, a future Jedi will learn the very basics of the Force, and specifically, the regulations of the Jedi Order. The first trial tested the future Padawan's knowledge of the Jedi Code. The second test focused on Jedi history. And the final trial would usually pit the Initiate against the Dark Side on a minor scale.
Initially, Jedi Masters were able to take on more than one Padawan at a time. Nomi Sunrider, whom I mentioned above, was a Padawan to Master Thon at the same time as Oss Wilum. There isn't any canonical explanation for this, but at some point after Nomi's training, Jedi were only allowed to take on one Padawan at a time. This could very well be because of the fall of so many Jedi during Nomi's time. Oss Wilum was one of these fallen Jedi.
Training as a Padawan is long and extensive and is usually focused on learning as much about the light-side of the Force as possible. The training generally took place over the course of a Jedi's adolescence and ended about the time she reached maturity. Obviously, this varied among specific species, but a Master could take a Padawan as young as three and usually schooled her until about age 20. Once a Padawan has learned everything a Master can teach her, she faces the Knight Trials.
When a Jedi speaks of The Trials, she is talking about her Knight Trials. These are a set of tests usually performed by the Jedi Council to assess a Padawan's knowledge of lessons learned, and just as importantly, her ability to uphold the light-side of the Force in times of adversity. Although I cannot get into the specifics of each of these trials (maybe in a future Hyperspace Beacon!), I can tell you that there are five parts: Skill, Courage, Spirit, Flesh, and Insight. Each test is usually extensive and exhaustive. Sometimes a Jedi doesn't even know she's taking a trial. For instance, the tree cave on Dagobah was one of Luke's trials -- one that he failed, but it was a trial nonetheless.
Once the trials have been passed, the Jedi is officially a Knight of the Order. At this point, she falls under the command of the Jedi Council or one of the many other councils on other planets. During The Old Republic, the Council is based on Tython, so as Daniel Erickson alluded to multiple times at PAX, there will be plenty of reasons for a Jedi to return to that origin world.
I would liken the Knight to a Sergeant in the Army. All Sergeants have similar pay grades, but their specializations vary extensively. There are pilots, weapons masters, diplomats, lore keepers, researchers, and the list goes on, but most Jedi, whatever their specializations, fall into into three main groups. You may recognize these names from Star Wars: The Old Republic: Guardians, Sentinels, and Consulars. Guardians tend to focus on physical prowess; Consulars focus on the meta-physical aspect of the Force; and Sentinels usually fall somewhere in between.
After a Knight has trained a couple of Padawans or is found by the council to be highly skilled in the ways of the Force, he may be asked to take the Master Trials. This can be a repeat or more intensive run through his Knight Trials or maybe the completion of a specific task. This designation is usually left to the Council. However, there have been a few instances, like with Jorus C'baoth, where a Knight will name himself Master because he feels he has earned the title.
To finish up, let's talk about the Jedi Master. I find it most interesting that unlike most real-life academics, whose knowledge becomes more specialized with more education, a Jedi Master is usually expected to have great knowledge about every area of the Force. I always found this extremely confusing. Normally, I wouldn't ask a medical doctor to help raise dolphins. Sure, medical doctors help keep a type of mammal in good health, but the fact that dolphins and humans share a scientific classification doesn't mean we need the same doctors, let alone people to raise us. However, it appears that Star Wars lore set that analogy to the side, so all Masters seem to know everything there is to know about the Force. One thing is certain: Only Masters can sit on the Jedi Council.
My hope is to never see a player called Master in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but who knows, maybe it will fit the story well. What are your thoughts? How do you see the Jedi ranks working within the game? Let me know in the comments below.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!