What is it?
Your fathers lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster.
Luke pushes a button on the handle. A long beam shoots out about four feet and flickers there. The light plays across the ceiling.
An elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.
It's no secret that George Lucas meant to model the Jedi Knights after the Samurai of old Japanese culture. Even some of the production design is meant to evoke familiarity with the imagery of that era.
"That era." That's really what I want to talk about here. The era of civilization that allows and is conducive to having it's "guardians" be armed primarily by close-quarters hand to hand weapons, like swords and knives. Anyone who has seen the motion picture, The Last Samurai , or has studied the history of the Samurai is familiar with the change in society which brought about their demise as a force for law and a force that was respected by the population.
In short, the introduction of projectile weapons...specifically, musket and bullet propelled rounds in the hands of an enemy would (and did) provide an end to the ways of the Samurai. Technology changed everything.
Which brings us to Star Wars and specifically, the Prequels. Naturally, it would be difficult to set up a society in which there were no "blasters" given the timeline leading up to Episode IV. And this isn't to suggest that there wasn't a time in the last "thousand generations" in which the Jedi were the dominant and respected force of justice in the Republic. But the question really is, why didn't their kind die out when the "blaster" came into its own in the Republic? Much like the Samurai on Earth, we see in ROTS just how helpless the Jedi really are when faced with too much firepower. While they are indeed skilled at deflection, they aren't invincible.
So by my estimation, the reign of the Jedi should have ended long before we even get to the time period described by the Prequels. They outlived their usefulness and clearly don't have the respect that they probably once did. When I first heard Old Ben's words, I conjured romantic images of imposing lightsaber wielding figures walking through city streets as the crowds parted in utmost respect and perhaps a little fear. It was the Jedi who were not only the tip of the sword...the were the sword and anyone bold enough to break the law would have to face the firm judgement of the Jedi Order.
With this universe that Old Ben implied, we never would have been witness to this kind of statement:
Jedi business. Go back to your drinks.
No. In almost the same way as Old Ben need not request that people return to their own affairs in the Cantina (ANH), the Jedi of legend would never have had to utter words similar to that of a prime-time cop show on NBC.
What happened to the Jedi that we were promised?