This has been a hectic four weeks for me, so everything is a little out of whack. A real update on Tuesday, I promise.
Until then, my thoughts on the newest Star Wars trailer, below the cut:
Right, the big question everybody has on their mind (well, one of them anyway): “Rey’s talking about balance? In the Force? But that’s not Star Wars/that’s totally Grey Jedi/Reylo confirmed!”
Le sigh. If I’ve never mentioned just how much I hate the Star Wars fandom, then let be clear here and now: I hate the Star Wars fandom. And this little discussion is a big part of the reason why.
Balance isn’t a part of Star Wars! It’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil! The Dark Side is a corruption of the Force!
None of these fit into George Lucas’ conception of the Force or even of Star Wars. And here’s the evidence to back me up.
- In script notes for Return of the Jedi, George explicitly mentions Jedi calling on the Dark Side for attack and the Light for defence. This is also alluded to by Yoda in Empire Strikes Back when he warns Luke to “beware the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.” Yoda’s words imply, to a large extent, that fighting in and of itself is part of the Dark Side and the Dark Side cannot be divorced from conflict. Remember that, it’ll be important later.
- There’s also the fact that throughout the original trilogy, and indeed both trilogies helmed by George, the Jedi never refer to the Light Side. That was, for decades, a purely fanon term that would only be canon with the Mortis Arc of the The Clone Wars. To the Jedi, in both the original and prequel trilogies, the Force is one and whole. It is the Sith, with their singular obsession with the Dark Side, that disrupts the balance.
- Which brings us to the Mortis Arc of The Clone Wars. I know there are fans out there who claim that only the movies are canon, to which I have two words: Saw Gerrera. Moving on, the Mortis Arc clearly sets up a balance between the two sides of the Force: the Dark Side, represented by the Son, and the Light Side, represented by the Daughter, with the Father being the mediator between the two. The Dark Side, powered by more active emotions like aggression and anger, is clearly the more disruptive of the two and the more (immediately) dangerous. It is the Son’s ambitions that destroy his family and thus balance in the Force, greatly aiding Palpatine’s cause. Ergo, the Dark Side must be the evil side, right? Not quite; the Father warns the Jedi that should the Daughter get out, she would do just as much damage as the Son, and it’s not hard to figure out how: the Daughter is too forgiving, too passive on her own without the Son or the Father to balance her out. Her qualities, normally considered good and noble, would too easily become that of a doormat, stepped on and abused. Or just give up entirely and waste away to death in pursuit of nothing. It is worth noting that George personally supervised this arc.
- Finally, the Bendu from Star Wars: Rebels. The Bendu claims to be the centre, the guy in the middle between Light and Dark. And, frankly, he demonstrates it. He flips out when Kanan calls him a coward, which is pretty typical Dark Side behaviour, yet also tries to help Ezra and Kanan for no other reason than the goodness of his heart. Which is behaviour more typically associated with Light Sided beings. It’s probably a stretch to claim that the Bendu is above good and evil, but it’s not a stretch to say that he’s found his balance and knows where he stands on the morality scale. Not Light, not Dark, just a guy.
- Forgot one: that minor detail of a prophecy about bringing balance to the Force. Not destroying the Dark Side, but bringing balance to the Force.
So, having established that Balance is important to the Star Wars Universe and George’s conception of the Force, we obviously have a few questions:
What does Balance mean in Star Wars?
I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s not a mathematical equation. Vader and Palpatine slew all but two Jedi, not counting guys like Ahsoka and Kanan who went their own way, with two Sith at the top and yet, the galaxy was considered out of balance. Why? Well, the Dark Side was dominant. Palpatine had won, and left the galaxy in a state of misery and paranoia, crushing anyone he thought was an enemy and just generally being a dick. Leaving the galaxy in slavery is not balance.
Problem is, the galaxy wasn’t exactly in balance prior to Palpatine, either. On the surface of it, it looked like the Light was dominant but what was really going on (as several characters mention in dialogue) was that the Senate and the Jedi Order had become stagnant and passive to a suicidal degree. The Senate was corrupt and overly bureaucratic, slavery was allowed to flourish in what was nominally the Senate’s turf, and the Jedi didn’t do anything about this ‘cept meditate on the future. The only person who gets good and angry about any of this is Padme, and whoo boy does she ever get played. The Clone Wars introduces a few more people and Senators who are trying to change the system, but Palps plays them just as deftly as he did Padme.
So, when the Light is dominant, it leads to corruption and stagnation, eventually turning Dark. When the Dark is dominant, life is just shit. Sometimes, you gotta get angry to turn things around. But on the other hand, allowing anger or fear (and especially hate) to dominate your life is a good way to start goose-stepping and wearing uniforms that are disturbingly Hugo Boss-esque, if you all know what I mean.
A good example of what balance means in Star Wars would be Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye. Laid back and kind of detached, but still motivated enough to find the killer and get justice. That’s balance.
But what about Barriss Offee?
There’s any number of canon fallen Jedi I could have picked on for this, but Barriss’ fall perfectly encapsulates what I want to say, so it’s Barriss we’re going to dissect for today.
Listen, Barriss lost her balance. She’s absolutely right that the Clone Wars were corrupting the Jedi, a point that Yoda himself acknowledges to Luke. Remember how we discussed earlier that the Dark Side is an inherent part of conflict? Yeah. That also gives us a good view into what the Jedi are supposed to be, rather than what they’ve become: keepers of the peace, not soldiers. Windu spells it out for us, Kenobi backs him up, Yoda alludes to it, but it is Barriss who hammers the point home like she’s hitting a home run.
See, Barriss is a perfect representation of the very corruption she’s fighting against. Her anger at the war, her fear and loss and aggression have all turned sour and is no longer being balanced out by the positive qualities of the Light, like forgiveness or logic. Instead of walking away or becoming a conscientious objector or trying to find a peaceful solution to the war, she takes out her negative feelings on her friends and family. She’s become a common criminal, another two-bit killer and arsonist who beats up her best friend. Totally, utterly out of balance.
Look, everybody feels negative emotions. Yoda gets angry and impatient with Luke because Luke’s got his head up his ass. Luke is often afraid and goes berserk on Vader’s ass. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the perfect Jedi, has a full on break-down when he fights Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. But none of these people lose their balance. Yoda, despite often being frustrated with his pupil, does accept Luke and is gentle, kind and compassionate when those are the things that Luke needs to hear. Obi-Wan eventually reverts to his old, mildly-detached self and sacrifices himself to let Luke escape with his friends. And Luke should need no reminder, but in case you do:
You’ve failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
Barriss never does that. And for that matter, neither do most of the other fallen Jedi, Anakin being a notable exception. They don’t seek redemption, they don’t try to change their ways and thus, never regain their balance.
In short, it’s not the negative emotions that are wrong. It’s allowing them to dominate you, and thus your destiny. Be angry, by all means. But learn to let that anger go, too.
Balance is a Grey Jedi thing! Those old Jedi were emotionally uptight and overly restrictive! The Jedi Order is dead!
Personally, I’m going to blame Bioware for this one. It’s not fair, but the idea of Grey Jedi really did rise with Jolee Bindo.
Look, the Order around the time of the Clone Wars really had lost their balance. That much is undeniable and is all but spelled out in the film. The idea that George intended for the Jedi to the THE ULTIMATE GOOD GUYS is pure fanon. In point of fact, George intended for the Jedi to be dressed in black, like the Sith, to hammer the point home that the Order had fallen from grace long before we meet them in The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, that was deemed too confusing and we got what everybody now considers the Jedi Uniform (and dear Godzilla how I hate that idea) but in retrospect, given how badly everyone seems to have misunderstood the prequels (not at all helped by the utter ineptitude of RLM), I really wish they had gone that route.
However, the Grey Jedi idea is pure fanon. The Jedi Order, as conceived by George and when operating as originally intended, is all about balance. Later writers, who spent too much time playing D&D and not enough doing their actual jobs, are what turned the Order into humourless pedants with no emotion. That’s not part of the Jedi Order and was a sign of their corruption.
Ergo, Grey Jedi are redundant to the narrative and not happening.
Balance means Reylo!
… Yeah, no. Ignoring the fact that I’m a Rey Skywalker theorist, or that the narrative effort was put into the Finnrey relationship and not Reylo, or the fact that Kylo tortured and abused Rey, there’s nothing inherent to the concept of balance that requires two people to romantically entangled.
There just isn’t.
Right, that ended up being longer than I originally intended. Part two tomorrow!