The Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force

Let’s talk about Star Wars and The Force.

Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, forever changed the way I think about the Force — in a fashion I’m still not convinced that George Lucas intended. You see, I walked out of the movie theatre convinced that this whole “light side” and “dark side” business is just Jedi propaganda. There are two sides . . . but they aren’t innately moral. There is simply the path of attachment, which gets called the dark side, and the path of detachment, which gets called the light side. And both of them can lead to good or to evil.

What persauded me of this? It’s been long enough since Episode III came out that I probably don’t need to put the answer behind a cut-tag, but just in case — and because I’m headed toward The Last Jedi spoilers, and because I’m about to get wordy again — I might as well.

It was the moment when Obi-Wan Kenobi walked away from the screaming, mutilated remnants of the man he had once called “brother.”

You cannot convince me that was the action of a good guy. Ideally the detachment of a Jedi should be Buddhist: compassionate without being ruled by your emotions. But Obi-Wan comprehensively failed the compassion test in that moment. He left Anakin in unspeakable agony. He turned his back on suffering, because he’d cut himself off too much to care. I’d already had problems with the way the prequels discussed the two sides of the force, ever since Yoda’s terrible lines about “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” — hey, kid, did you know that being afraid, when you’re put in frightening situations, means you’re on the road to evil? But it all made sense when that moment in Revenge of the Sith reconfigured my thinking. The Jedi preach detachment; the Sith preach attachment; morality lies in what you do with it.

I’m starting to think the sequel trilogy agrees with me.

A friend of mine commented that Rey is a good-aligned dark side user, and Kylo is an evil-aligned light side user. I think that’s exactly right. Rey is unabashedly, unapologetically driven by her passions, while Kylo strives constantly to eradicate all human feeling in himself. Look at the results. Now tell me again how giving in to your emotions leads to bad things, while letting go of them leads to good ones?

It’s clear that, at a minimum, the sequels are not wholeheartedly Team Yay Jedi. Luke is deeply critical of them — I know Mark Hamill disagreed with Rian Johnson’s take on the character, but I haven’t looked up details, because I don’t want to muddy my thinking on this matter so soon after seeing the movie. So looking only at what we have in the actual text, we’ve got Luke saying the time has come for the Jedi to end, saying it’s “vanity” to claim that they are necessary to the continuation of the light side of the Force, and pointing out the comprehensive failures of the Jedi as an organization. He doesn’t question the moral valence of the two sides, but he does undercut the simplistic valorization of that label. And he complicates the label itself when he tells Kylo that Rey is the continuation of the Jedi, because see above re: she is so not detached at all.

Then you’ve got the team-up between Kylo and Rey, and its aftermath. I’m very interested to see if the trilogy winds up supporting some of what he says to her . . . because if you strip away the megalomania of “we could bring a new order to the galaxy,” he might be right about needing to destroy past structures and get beyond them. The two of them are already failing to fit into the old molds. How far will the story go with that? Will it go all the way to my headcanon, or something in that vein?

(As an aside: I love the device of having Kylo and Rey able to sense and communicate with one another. Not only does it put Chekhov’s Astral Projection on the mantel so it doesn’t come out of left field when Luke uses it to buy time for the handful of surviving Resistance members to flee, but it solves the age-old problem of “how do we have a meaningful relationship between the hero and the villain when we can’t put them in a room together without problems?” Taking violence off the table opens up space for the two of them to talk and develop a bond. While still leaving room for me to go, “uhhh, I am really not sure whether this will turn out to be a good thing or a bad one.” Survey says: both, and also I came out of the movie really kind of shipping that pair.)

I also wonder what’s going to happen with the books. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment at the very end, when Finn opens up a drawer on the Millennium Falcon and you see the sacred texts of the Jedi tucked in next to whatever he’s grabbing or stowing — which implies either that Rey stole them, or Force Ghost Yoda put them there. Either way, Yoda is such a wanker, with his line to Luke about “there is nothing in those books that Rey does not have already” — I’m pretty sure he was laughing up his sleeve when he said that, because what he really meant was that Rey had the books. And he nuked the tree to keep Luke from going in and discovering they weren’t there for him to burn. What’s going to happen with those in the long term? Will it reveal a different understanding of the Force, one that got lost as the Jedi became too entrenched in their own propaganda? Or something else? I don’t know.

But I’m very keen to find out.

2 Responses to “The Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force”

  1. trogdor

    Very accurate. I agree with your assessment of episode 3 as well, although I’m biased. I’ve never really given it honest thought because I would excuse anything for my favorite jedi. But yeah, hopefully these sequels will continue to demonstrate how the heroes can be good or evil in ways that don’t fit into any nice and neat formula.

    • swantower

      It will be very interesting to see if they attempt any kind of redemption for Kylo Ren, and if so, whether they manage something that will seem like more than a facile paint job slapped on top of the rest of the story.

Comments are closed.