A Padawan, Padawan learner, or Jedi Apprentice refers to a Force-sensitive adolescent who had begun one-on-one instruction with a Jedi Knight or Master outside of the Jedi academy. Having passed the Initiate Trials and ascended in rank from an Initiate, Padawans were given more responsibilities within the Jedi Order but were subject to the demands of their master.
Throughout the early history of the Jedi Order, the role of an apprentice changed drastically as war and purges forced the rule of the Jedi High Council to bend or become flexible. During and before the Old Sith Wars, Knights and Masters would take on numerous apprentices, training them at their own praxeums or private residences without any direct oversight by a council. Using the term Apprentice to denote their position as a student, many of these students become great Knights and Masters themselves. However it was noted, specifically with the famous incident of Exar Kun and Ulic-Qel Droma and their disastrous fall to the dark side of the Force, that this style of education may not be as conducive to the Jedi Code as previously thought. At some point after the Great Sith War, the High Council was first convened and set in place the bylaws of the Order. During this period, the term Padawan was introduced and Masters were restricted to taking only one at a time. Over time, as the Order flourished, the High Council decided to enforce even stricter standards such as a cut off age for Initiates to be selected for apprenticeship. At the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, which housed the largest of the academies of the era, an annual Apprentice Tournament was created to not only tests the students at the academy, but also to aid in the selection of apprentices by prospective masters. While it set the rules of the Order, the Masters on the High Council typically avoided direct involvement in this selection, preferring instead to allow the Force to bring a Master-Padawan pair together.
It wasn’t until the New Sith Wars began that the Padawan stage once more fell into disarray as the Order was scattered and formal training halted. During the crusades of the Army of Light, Jedi Lords would scour the galaxy for young Force-sensitives that were willing to undergo rudimentary teaching before being thrust into battle with the Brotherhood of Darkness. Following the victory at Ruusan and the following Reformations in the Galactic Senate, the academy on Coruscant was reopened and many of the satellite training academies either shut down or served as secondary facilities in the Galactic Rim.
In the ensuing Golden Age, the High Council again became very strict over who was permitted into the Order, with the Council of First Knowledge taking over administration of the academy. However, in rare cases exceptions were made to the age restriction, especially when a well respected Master decided to sponsor a student, as was the case with Master Eeth Koth, who was brought in far past the enforced cut-off. At the end of the Golden Age and the start of the Clone Wars, the Order entered into service with the Grand Army of the Republic and took up military titles. As in past wars, all able-bodied Jedi took to arms, and Padawans were given the rank of Commander over their troops. Standard procedures were ignored to a lesser degree throughout this conflict, but some small allowances were made in the name of expedience. Many Padawans were promoted faster then was usually viewed as appropriate, and less Jedi were being transferred to the Jedi Service Corps then before. The tradition ended abruptly in 19 BBY when the Dark Lord of the Sith Darth Sidious, in his guise as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, ordered the Grand Army to turn on their Jedi comrades and slay them in accordance with Executive Order 66. With the Order largely decimated, the newly reorganized Stormtrooper Corps of the Galactic Empire were given standing orders to capture any Padawans located during the Great Jedi Purge and turn them over to the Inquisitorius for torture and questioning.
Many Padawans training took place at their Master’s side during missions
Several decades later, following the defeat of the Sith during the Galactic Civil War, Jedi descendant Luke Skywalker rebuilt the Order using the basic techniques taught him by the ancient Grand Master Yoda. Not knowing the Order’s old regulations, Skywalker erected a Praxeum on Yavin IV, and gathered any Force-sensitive he could find, not discriminating against age. As he built up his Order and gathered more records of the Order from the ruins of the Chu’unthor on Dathomir and recovered holocrons and Temple guidebooks, Skywalker began to mirror the Old Order’s ways and teachings. Due to the small number of Jedi Knights, Luke Skywalker loosened the restrictions on the number of apprentices a Jedi could train at once. Simultaneously training his nephews Jacen and Anakin Solo, Skywalker saw this technique produce many fine students, but also saw that it took a toll on some of the older students. As the main instructor of several dozen students, Skywalker could not devote as much individual attention to his apprentices, and two succumbed to the pull of the dark side. As the Order grew in size, the restrictions began to be reinforced by the reformed High Council. While the term wasn’t used Order wide until sometime after the Second Galactic Civil War, the Jedi Trials were once more part of a Jedi’s path to knighthood.
* Taken from Wookiepedia, April 3, 2011, http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Padawan.