Star Wars, the Force, and balance.

Oct 31, 2015

I've had some ideas kicking around in the back of my head for a while, in particular after finally watching the other two Star Wars prequels (I saw the first and it put me off from watching the other two for many years - ye gods...) and this article in the Huffington Post about where the next movie might be headed. I'll not cover that territory because there really isn't any reason to, but there are a few things that I've been ruminating on for a while.

First, let me state a couple of things up front: I'm not a raving Star Wars fan. There are things I enjoy much more than the Star Wars movies but I do appreciate them as science fiction. Second, I haven't seen the trailers for the next movie. I might get around to it. I'm also not versed in the Star Wars Expanded Universe - the games, the novels, the cartoons... so any of this stuff might be covered in there somewhere. I don't know. These are also my informed speculations on the matter; I don't have any kind of inside line to the Lucasfilm/Disney/whoever else empire. I'm also trying to write with nuance, so please don't treat these words as being written with a broad brush. Treat them as examples and nto as absolutes or stereotypes. In Episode One, we the viewers are informed that the Light Side of the Force has been ascendant for generations. The Jedi are said and shown to be somewhat aescetic in nature, eschewing raw power as we usually think of it (great wealth, political influence, and military power) even though they were more than capable of claiming it. They controlled and even denied their emotions to better bring themselves into harmony with the Force, to explore it and let it move through them, rather than seeking to control it as if it were a separate thing. They were also observed to lead very regimented lives to give structure to their practice. They also seemed to propagate order and cooperation through aid and diplomacy in the galaxy, and resort to combat as a last resort (yes, I do think that the first scene of Episode 1 could have been resolved peacefully if it had not been designed as a setup from the get-go). I see in this echoes of the western tradition's right-hand path, which tends to share many of the same qualities: Apollonian, reserved, and not seeking an overabundance of anything because it results in imbalance and distracts from one's "big picture." One's higher purpose both guides and is the path one travels might be another way to express this idea.

We are not explicitly told anything about the Sith or the Dark Side, but much can be inferred from the actions of the Sith throughout the first trilogy. They appear to be Dionysian in several important ways. Rather than control or eschew their emotions they lived by and rode them, meditating upon hatred most of all. They sewed chaos through the galaxy, starting wars and carrying out assassinations to bring their plans to fruition. In combat, the Sith are utterly without mercy: Darth Maul's fighting style was frenzied and uninhibited; Darth Tyranus' was precise and brutal; Darth Sidious fought rarely because he acted more as a corrupting influence than a combatant, but when he did fight he fought with everything he had at his disposal without thought for what might come next. As for temporal power, Darth Tyranus (in his exoteric guise of Count Dooku) became a grandly wealthy and highly influential member of glactic society after leaving the Jedi, founding the Confederacy of Independent Systems which destabilized the Galactic Republic. Darth Sidious/Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was an aristocrat on his homeworld and a highly placed (and well respected) ambassador in the Galactic Senate. From observing the Sith we also note that they work to gather power to themselves through working with the Force, and they work within the structure of the Trade Federation when it suits their purposes. The Sith are also deliberately distinctive, both from each other and those around them, which is a highly common trait on the left hand path. These are some qualities that are stereotypically applied to the left hand path of the western tradition but are not necessarily found in all adherents.

To put it another way, "Thy Will be done" versus "My Will be done" is one useful way of expressing the differences between the two paths.

So, where was the other side of the equation, the Dark Side of the Force, while the Jedi Order was more or less running the show? Nobody was really quite sure, and if I recall correctly (and somebody will undoubtedly correct me in the comments) there were some who thought the Sith extinct because they had not been observed in years if not generations. The Sith don't play well with others, and certainly not each other ("Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.") for long periods of time. It wouldn't have been much of a movie if this were actually the case, so it's no spoiler to say that the Sith were indeed still active behind the scenes in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways to move the military and political situation of the Star Wars Galaxy the way they wanted. I'm not entirely sure how they managed to not tear each other apart, but I suspect that distance and a common goal had something to do with that. And, as tends to happen when there are two diametrically opposed forces (heh) connected to and directly influencing one another, when one goes up, the other goes down out of sight. Perspective's a bitch in more than one way.

Through the course of the prequels we observe the gradual transformation of Anakin Skywalker from a Jedi Knight into a Sith Lord, trained by Darth Sidious himself. He stops controlling his emotions and begins to act recklessly (Episode 2 - diving off of a building into a presumably Force-mediated freefall to jack a hovercar - That was Obi-Wan. My bad.). He allows himself to fall in love and get married, causing a scandal among the Jedi Knights in so doing. When he finally tracks down Darth Tyranus, rather than arrest him he dismembered and then executed him by decapitation, which by just about any measure falls pretty solidly into the category of 'cruelty' for a Jedi. By the end of the prequel trilogy Anakin he's pretty much cast common sense and self-control to the wind (Darth Sidious has him wrapped around his little finger - it's kind of embarassing to watch, really). He's buying Sidious' line about cheating death on credit with massive interest rates, attempts to murder his wife and unborn children, and tries to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom he studied under for many years.

Oh, and let's not forget Anakin Skywalker murdering the last inducted group of children at the Jedi Temple single-handedly.

Sadly, all of this was Anakin Skywalker returning balance to the force. As is often the case when a system gets too far out of balance, that which occurs to restore balance is often just as extreme as the initial event. The actions of Anakin Skywalker from this point onward, including the remainder of his life spent as Darth Vader and everything that happened during the time of the Empire (the original trilogy) reflects the Force returning to balance. For generations, much order and relatively little chaos spread through everything connected to the Force which caused an inherent imbalance in the universe. The rise of the Sith caused the Force to snap back to equilibrium, with all that implies. The galaxy roiled and shook like the head of a drum, and it turned into a totalitarian state (the Empire) ruled by the Sith. Thousands of years of imbalance counteracted by a few years of turmoil and a few decades of ruthless political oppression.

Luke Skywalker seems to represent a balanced state of the Force - trained in the Light Side but experienced enough with the Dark Side that he seems to synthesize the two states into a third state which is probably more inherently stable. We haven't seen anything representing this in the movies yet, but I seem to recall some serious Star Wars fans of my aquaintenance stating that, in the Expanded Universe, Luke Skywalker founded a new Jedi Order which taught practices and required disciplines which were not as extreme as the old Jedi or Sith, which I would interpret as being not Apollonian or Dionysian but something else entirely. Perhaps something more balanced than the old order of things. I haven't read any of this material because there is so much of it so I could be pulling this out of my ear. It will be interesting to see what happens in Episode 7, though.

Oh, and the moral of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith? Let your anger get out of control, and it will make you stupid. Left hand path fail.