There is a saying in sports, “Have a short memory”. The rationale behind it is to learn from your mistake and move on. Do NOT dwell on it. This is easier said than done, trust me, I coach high school athletics. This does not pertain to the citizens of the Star Wars Universe. By examining the evidence throughout the movies, it appears they have no idea the Jedi ever existed.
In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, Han Solo–my favorite character in the series (more on that at another time)–mentions that he doesn’t believe in the force; therefore he implicitly suggests the Jedi don’t exist. Solo: “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.”
Between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, 19 years have passed in the Star Wars Universe. How did Solo, who as a smuggler, would have traveled the galaxy more than the average person, not know about the Jedi or their exploits?
In addition, the Jedi have been around for 1000 years at the beginning of The Phantom Menace. Even Anakin Skywalker, a nine year old on a backwater planet such as Tatooine, knew who Jedi Knight were. He asked Qui-Gon Jinn if he was a Jedi based on his “laser sword” and made a comment about how Jedi cannot be killed. The Jedi were really well known across the known galaxy. What happened to make it all seem as it was legend?
Here is my theory: During the Clone Wars the Jedi were generals in the Grand Army of the Republic. They did travel around the galaxy during the civil wars, but they were based on the capital planet of Coruscant. The people of Coruscant would be the ones who typically saw the Jedi out and about or around the temple. Throughout the Clone Wars the Jedi died in battle and were finally wiped out with Order 66. Well, minus Yoda, Obi-Wan, Kanan, Ahsoka1 and a few others. The Emperor has a strong, strong hatred for the Jedi. He rules with an iron fist, and I’m sure with any mention of the Jedi he would bring the hammer. That means, the people who knew about the Jedi would conveniently “forget” about them. After the Clone Wars the Jedi and their contributions to the livelihood of the galaxy would become an afterthought.
As for Rey & Finn in The Force Awakens, Luke was the lone Jedi at the time of Return of the Jedi. If Solo thought the Force and Jedi were some “Hokey religion” just 19 years after the Jedi Order was around, the time between Jedi and The Force Awakens explains how only ONE Jedi could conceivably be a legend or story.
The real question is what will the citizens of the galaxy believe once Rey gets trained…Assuming she becomes a Jedi.
1 Technically Ahsoka left the order.