I think, outside of my university days, that’s probably the longest title I’ve ever written. At least for an essay.
But this is too important a subject to be ignored. Many Star Wars fans have a conception of the Force that is completely and utterly contrary to what is actually presented on-screen. I really really doubt that this essay is going to change anybody’s minds, but this is all stuff that needs to be said.
Join me under the cut!
What is the Force? What isn’t the Force? What are the Light and Dark Sides? How does it affect the Star Wars Universe?
The Force Is An Energy Field Created By And Connected To All Living Things. It Binds the Galaxy Together
This, aside from the fact there’s a Dark Side to the Force, is literally the first thing that we learn about the Force.
And it seems really simple, right? The Force is some kind of energy field that the Jedi and their enemies can tap into that gives them their powers. Kind of like a computer plugging into a power outlet, right?
Wrong. The Force is a part of everything, as confirmed by Yoda and Maz Kanata. Yoda explicitly tells Luke in ESB to feel the Force between the trees and the rocks, the land and the X-Wing Luke’s currently failing to pull out of the swamp. Three of those things are distinctly non-living. Maz, for her part, repeats and rephrase’s Obi-Wan’s original explanation, which is good for us because it reinforces what the Force really is.
And this connectivity is something the fans (and a lot of writers in the Star Wars Universe, especially in the old EU, let’s be fair) have a real hard time with. The Force is everywhere, it’s a part of everything. Life creates it and makes it grow, according to Yoda. This is because the Force is life, or damn near.
Something else to note. Chirrut Imwe, a man who is very strong in the Force and quite wise, refers to the Force as ‘the Force of Others.’ This is partly a mythology gag, as that’s what the Force was called in early drafts of Star Wars, but it also serves to highlight the interconnected nature of the Force. It’s not your Force, it’s the Force of Others. Of friends, family, even of enemies. Of cute little teddy bears and fat space birds. Of ships and rocks. Of tiny green goblins and bright young farmboys. Of princesses and scoundrels. And yes, even of evil space wizards and their Dragons.
Such is the nature of the Force.
I’ll just straight up admit that I think this the least well-understood aspect of the Star Wars universe, and a fair bit of that is George’s own fault. He really, really didn’t execute or explain the idea very well.
However, midi-chlorians are neither very complicated or do they contradict anything in previous Star Wars lore. Let me explain.
First, the midi-chlorians don’t generate the Force on their own. I’m not really sure where anybody got that idea, but it’s been a popular one in the Star Wars fandom for a while now. The thing is, this isn’t what Qui-Gon tells us: he claims that the midi-chlorians act as a channel for the Force, allowing people to hear the Will of the Force. But that’s kind of it. They’re more like, I don’t, cellphone towers than they are power generators. Remember, the Force is generated by all living things, making the midi-chlorians only a small part of a much larger framework.
Second, the midi-chlorians aren’t indicators of power level, exactly. While Anakin’s count per cell is stupidly high, and Yoda is mentioned as also having a high level, that doesn’t quite translate into raw power. It’s not like, you know, ‘over 90000’ or whatever that stupid meme is. Anakin is the best example. He’s got a ton of potential as a Jedi, but is arrogant, hot-headed and prone to stupid mistakes. This is how Dooku manages to beat him, twice, in their initial duel and how Obi-Wan manages to cut off all of his limbs. It isn’t until Anakin’s lost most of his limbs, his power, and got stuck in a mobile iron lung that he became the truly powerful Darth Vader. And we see much the same with Luke: Luke has potential, yeah, but he gets his ass kicked a lot, especially in ESB, until he matures. At which point, he starts kicking ass all over the place.
So maturity, training, and skill all have greater importance on one’s actual strength in the Force than do midi-chlorians, which just kind of suggest what power you might have, if you were trained well enough.
The Light, The Darkness, The Balance: It’s So Much Bigger
What is the Light Side of The Force? What is The Dark Side of The Force? And what, in the Galaxy Far Far Away, do we mean by The Balance?
The Light Side of The Force
The Light Side had been a source of fan speculation for years, for it was never a part of the movies. Only the Force as a whole and it’s Dark Side were ever mentioned. And yet, the mere appearance of The Dark Side demands a Light Side to counter it. It’s not, say, like the contrast between the omniscient God of Christianity and his wayward servant. No, these two sides are much more equal. But what is The Light Side of The Force?
And eventually, we got an answer in The Mortis Trilogy of The Clone Wars cartoon. The Light Side is peace, pacifism, forgiveness, compassion and mercy. But not love, not exactly. I’ll explain why in a minute.
So The Light Side is the good side, right? Mercy, compassion, pacifism, forgiveness… those are all things Star Wars preaches as good things, right?
The Light Side is inherently dangerous.
Make no mistake, abandoning oneself solely to the Light is just as dangerous as giving into the Dark. The Father himself makes this perfectly clear, when he seeks Anakin’s aid in keeping his Children locked on Mortis.
At first, it isn’t really made clear what makes The Light Side so dangerous. But I think The Clone Wars leaves us several big hints as to how and why.
First up is Satine, Duchess of Mandalore. Satine’s a good person. Loyal, friendly, madly in love with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a die-hard dedicated pacifist. Oh boy, is she a pacifist. In point of fact, she basically gets walked on by every villain in her arc, and rarely if ever puts up a good fight. She relies heavily on other characters to fight her battles for her, and consistently chooses to trust the wrong people.
This highlights the first flaw with a pure Light Sided approach to life. Pacifism can mean passive, to the point where you can no longer fight for yourself or others. Basically, it violates one of Yoda’s most important tenets:
A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack
The key part there being the defence bit. Satine never really defends herself, not effectively, and has to constantly call on outside help. While it would be wrong to suggest that Star Wars says that asking for help is wrong, you can’t really say that relying on others to do all your work for you is the right answer either.
Another example of The Light Side’s potential dangers is The Daughter herself. While she is a much more active, even violent, defender of herself and others than Satine ever was, she’s not really an independent anthropomorphic personification, if you know what I mean. Basically, all of the Mortis Trilogy is driven by the conflict between The Father and The Son, and The Daughter is very much a passive player in events.
So, succumbing totally to The Light robs you of initiative and the ability to act and think for yourself. Imagine what would have happened if she and she alone got out of Mortis?
The Dark Side of The Force
The Dark Side of the Force has been a part of Star Wars lore since the beginning, and it is always, always the immediate source of evil. But what is The Dark Side? Well, Yoda gives us the answer in ESB:
Anger, fear, aggression: The Dark Side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back.
There’s no qualification here. Anger, fear, and aggression are of The Dark Side of The Force, period. And later, of course, we can add hatred to that list.
So, The Dark Side is pure evil, right? It must be destroyed in its entirety, right? Well…
The Dark Side is a necessary part of life
What’s interesting to note with Yoda’s instructions are two things: first, he never mentions The Light Side. Instead, he always speaks of The Force as a whole. Secondly, he never tells Luke not to feel those aggressive feelings; only that they are dangerous. To himself and to others. Further, we have Maz Kanata, who tells us that the only fight is against The Dark Side, but does not advocate it’s destruction.
Lastly, we have The Ones from The Mortis Trilogy. While The Son is undeniably a bastard, neither The Daughter nor The Father seeks his death. The Daughter, in fact, forgives and accepts him probably past the point that she should, and The Father’s main concern is that The Son is kept out of harm’s way and can’t do any damage. Both love and accept The Son, even as he betrays and kills them.
Now, if The Dark Side were concentrated, irredeemable evil, wouldn’t that make their first priority the destruction of its anthropomorphic personification? You’re damn right it would.
So The Dark Side is a good thing, then? Well…
Make No Mistake, The Dark Side is still very, very dangerous
Yoda, once again, tells us what the biggest problem with The Dark Side is: it’s quicker, easier, more seductive. You get a quick burst of power, often insane amounts of power, but it burns out quickly. Anger and fear feed on themselves and are inherently unstable. In order to keep up the kind of power that The Dark Side gives you, you have to keep drawing on larger and larger reserves of aggressive emotions. And much more dangerous ones, too, like hatred, resentment, rage and terror.
And make no mistake, these emotions are inherently unbalancing and negative. Especially hatred. They warp the mind and corrupt the spirit. They drive you to do horrible things in the name of whatever lunatic justification you’ve just made up.
Another, major, problem with The Dark Side is that it’s inherently selfish. The Dark Side is rooted in the survival instinct, in the adrenaline rush, in the flight-or-fight response. That’s all well and good, but it’s inherently about you and yourself. And, as you draw on The Dark Side more and more, it becomes less about your immediate survival and more about your need to eliminate any and all threats. And, eventually, everybody’s a threat.
There’s a reason why virtually every Dark Sider is an emotionally immature mess of a person. From Palpatine’s giggling psychopathy, to Anakin and Kylo’s berserk and unpredictable furies to The Son’s blatant pettiness, it’s hard to find a Dark Sider who’s actually, more than somewhat, mature. The only guy I can think of is Dooku, and Dooku displays a fair bit of overweening pride, malice, and berserk rages himself.
So The Dark Side, it cripples you. Emotionally and mentally. Once you’ve drawn on hate and rage and fear for so long, you’re not really functioning in the real world anymore. You’ve become paranoid, prone to lashing out, and extremely aggressive. Also, your ability to empathise with people goes out the window.
So The Dark Side, while necessary for life, is one of those things that needs to be taken very carefully. And in ridiculously small amounts. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s definitely not okay to hate or to act on that anger.
All right. So we’ve discussed the two sides of The Force. What about The Balance?
The Balance is not a mathematical equation
Let’s just get that one out of the way. If The Balance were a simple mechanical equation, then The Father wouldn’t be needed and The Son and The Daughter could exist entirely on their own. After all, one Light Sider and one Dark Sider are balanced, right?
The Balance is not standing the middle
Another popular misconception, one that has been effectively debunked by The Bendu.
How? The Bendu claims that he’s the one in the middle, and that’s balanced, right?
The Bendu is, in fact, pretty much the anthropomorphic personification of The Golden Mean Fallacy. The Golden Mean Fallacy is where, instead of finding the appropriate response to a set of circumstances, you instead just combine two extremes and get the worst of both worlds. And that’s exactly what The Bendu does.
He’s extremely passive, for one thing. He just sits on his planet and lets the galaxy go by. When something as evil as The Empire is running amok, that’s not balance, that’s being a fucking chicken.
And, when gets called on it, he turns into an angry thundercloud and banishes everybody off of his planet. That’s petty and selfish, hallmarks of The Dark Side.
So What Is Balance?
Balance is love, empathy and wisdom.
The Father, who represents The Balance, does not seek his children’s destruction, knowing the ultimate cost of such an action. Instead, he seeks the help of the Jedi and The Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker, to contain and mediate his children. Anakin refuses, because Anakin is a selfish dipshit, but that’s not The Father’s fault.
He also mediates between his children, and attempts to educate them and alleviate their faults. Again, he’s not successful, but that’s not his fault. As The Daughter pointed out, The Ones are their natures. They don’t have the ability to grow and change the way people do.
Basically, The Father loves his children. But he’s neither blind nor stupid. He knows perfectly well what his kids are and just how dangerous they can be. So he takes steps to ensure that they can’t wreak havoc throughout the universe. He doesn’t give into hate or anger, but he does kick some ass when necessary.
Another good example is Luke. Save for a brief moment at the beginning of his adventure, and at the very end, Luke never hesitates to do what’s right and confront the Empire. But Luke still shows mercy and compassion to his enemies, and even works with them on occasion for a greater purpose.
The most famous example, of course, is his final duel with Darth Vader, but I think there’s an even better example: when Luke teams up with Del Meeko on Pilio.
Seriously, whatever else you think of Battlefront II, that mission alone makes the game worth it. It’s the best Luke’s been written in decades, and perfectly captures what makes him The Hero. He kills the stormtroopers because he has to, and not without regret. He helps Del succeed in his mission purely because Del asked him too. And when it comes time for Del to destroy the Emperor’s storehouse, Luke simply asks him not to, pointing out all the damage the Empire has caused already.
It’s beautiful, and it represents that Luke has indeed become a Jedi Knight. He is compassionate but not stupid, merely acting to defend himself but doing so efficiently and without any excess cruelty. He forgives those who genuinely repent, and lets an enemy go, secure in the knowledge that he has challenged the man’s point of view and started him on a different, better path.
That’s what being a Jedi is all about. That’s what The Balance is.