With the new Star Wars film out and raking in a record bundle at the box office, it’s time to examine the very foundation of the films: not the battle between the Rebellion and the Empire, but the battle between the Dark Side of the Force and the Force itself.
Here’s the sad truth: the false dichotomy between the Dark Side and the Light Side of the Force is just another indicator of the decline of Western civilization.
Seriously. (Well, kind of seriously, because hey, it’s Star Wars.)
First things first. I have not seen the new movie, so there will be no spoilers here. Also, I love the original films, and know them well. That doesn’t mean that they don’t push an immoral vision of the universe.
Here’s what we know about the Dark Side vs. the Light Side.
According to Obi Wan Kenobi, the Force is “what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” The Force flows through Jedi, and Jedi can use the Force by reaching out with their feelings. Yoda says you can tell the Light Side from the Dark Side when you “are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
The Dark Side of the Force, by contrast, is an addictive part of the Force based on anger and hatred. Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the Dark Path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” Yoda also explains, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The Emperor tells Luke that if he utilizes hate to fuel him, he’ll be entering the domain of the Dark Side: “Strike me down with all your hatred and your journey towards the Dark Side will be complete.”
So, here’s the problem. When Episode IV opens, the greatest practitioners of the Light Side are respectively living in a swamp in Dagoba and a cave on Tatooine. Meanwhile, the practitioners of the Dark Side are ruling the galaxy and blowing up planets.
So that whole “right side of history” thing doesn’t apply to utilizers of The Force, apparently.
And as it turns out, in order to defeat the Dark Side, you have to get familiar with it. The dichotomy just doesn’t work, practically. When Luke Skywalker defeats the Emperor, he does it by exercising mercy toward Darth Vader – but only after letting the hate flow through him, attempting to kill the Emperor, and chopping off Daddy’s hand. When Darth Vader throws Palpatine down a shaft, does he do so out of pure love, or does he do so out of just a bit of hatred of the guy who’s busy Force-electrocuting his son?
To understand the flaw of the Force as conceived by Lucas, we have to understand where the concept came from. Lucas drew the Force as a sort of Eastern wisdom; the Jedi speak like kung fu masters. Meanwhile, the experts in the Dark Side are supposed to represent the West – Lucas himself said that Star Wars was meant as a parable about the Vietnam War, and said that the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi were supposed to be the Vietcong against the massed mechanized power of the United States. No word on whether the Ewoks massacred hundreds of thousands of other Ewoks after taking over Endor.
But more than that, the Dark Side vs. Light Side nonsense prioritizes feelings over behavior. Hate doesn’t lead to evil. It depends on what you hate. Lucas says hate leads to suffering. Well, hating the Nazis didn’t lead to suffering. As Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.” And passivity doesn’t lead to decency. Gandhi urged the Jews to try passive resistance against the Nazis. That was moronic.
Worse, the morality of the Force creates the worst sort of moral equivalence. It’s the same idiotic logic that leads every show these days to include some character chiding the prospective hero about not killing the bad guys, lest they become the bad guys. If you use hate to kill the Emperor, the Emperor has won, this logic goes.
Really? What if you use hate to kill the Emperor, then turn around and don’t use hate on the civilians? Was it better to sit there in a cave while millions of voices cried out and were suddenly silenced on Alderaan? Wouldn’t it have been slightly better for Obi Wan not to have retreated to his cave monastery?
The vision of the Force in the Star Wars galaxy is morality-free. It’s feelings-centered, which is another way of saying “selfish.” Who cares about your feelings? Go kill the Emperor using whatever means you have at your disposal. And it turns out that shooting lightning from your fingertips and Force-choking is a slightly more useful skill set than Jedi mind tricks that don’t even work on Jabba.