Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Grey Side of the Force

Before I get going, I should explain that we take Star Wars very seriously in our household. Well, okay, not really seriously, but we do get into some rather epic discussions about it for some reason (so expect quite a long post today). This usually revolves around the mysterious Force, what it is (to us, spiritually... none of this Midichlorian whatnot), and how the characters view it and interact with it.

Our Force-related talks are rivalled only by our Mass Effect discussions, but don’t get me started on that.

So, as it’s Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you), I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the Light and Dark Sides of the Force, and my conclusion that both are closer to each other than Sith or Jedi would like to admit. The best path, it seems to me, is a balanced approach, something that Luke comes closest to, and that I call ‘The Grey Side of the Force’.

Above: how the Jedi and Sith like to view the Light and Dark sides of the Force
Below: my view of the Light and Dark sides of the Force

The Sith and the Dark Side

I recently reviewed The Book of the Sith, a Star Wars companion book written by Daniel Wallace, which draws together a lot of information about the Sith from the various Star Wars films, books, games and other tie-in bits and bobs. This is pretty useful for a discussion such as this, so I’ll be using it quite heavily as a reference.

So, first off... what is the Dark Side? We know it mainly from what we see of the Sith: Palpatine and Darth Vader, and tie-in fiction about other Sith Lords. It’s important to remember that ‘Sith’ isn’t synonymous with ‘Dark Side’; it’s just one path that follows and embraces the Dark Side of the Force. More about that later.

The Sith Order began a long (longlonglonglong) time before the Star Wars films, when certain Jedi rebelled against the Jedi Order, were banished, and fled to a distant world where they encountered the Sith Empire. They took over, and ‘Sith’ became a way of describing these particular Dark Jedi. They were pretty nasty individuals, undeniably, BUT, their reasons for rebelling against the Jedi are actually very interesting.

Let’s take a look at the Jedi Code compared with the Sith Code:

Jedi Code

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

Sith Code

Peace is a lie. There is only passion.
Through passion I gain strength.
Through strength I gain power.
Through power I gain victory.
Through victory my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

Wow. Take a moment to let that sink in. Far from what we are led to believe about Dark Side practitioners, the end goal for the Sith – at least as we are told in their code – is not power or cruelty or hate, but freedom. Freedom. Strength serves to help gain power, power serves to help gain victory, and victory is needed to release them from their chains. To free them.

What chains? Well, take a look at the Jedi code again. It’s a long list of things that they are not allowed to have. NO emotion. NO ignorance. NO passion. NO chaos. NO death. The last two could be viewed as a positive or a negative depending on your beliefs and how you interpret the meaning here. But most importantly, the early Sith appear to have seen this as a restrictive, oppressive code. A system of denying basic things that make us who we are. A code that limits freedom and makes individuals feel chained and desperate. And looking at what the Jedi code does deny them, I have a great deal of sympathy for this view.

In fact, the Sith code is a lot more positive. The Jedi code offers seemingly beneficial things, such as peace and serenity, at the expense of other things that might be devastating for us to lose. The Sith code only offers a way to fight against these restrictions, to be truly free. The only thing we are denied in the Sith code is peace, and not because we shouldn’t have it, but because it is a lie. If we consider that the Jedi are offering harmony and peace through the repression of basic emotions that are impossible for humans not to feel, then it does begin to make this so-called peace look a little unlikely. The illusion of peace, perhaps, with a roiling sea of suppressed emotions beneath the surface, like a shaken bottle of soda waiting to pop. The Sith code comes across (to me, anyway) as, if nothing else, at least more honest than the Jedi code.

It’s clear from the bits of history we see in Star Wars fiction that the Sith went far beyond this simple code, enslaving other life, and gaining their own freedom from the suffering of others. It’s also clear that at some point the placement of power in service to freedom became corrupted, with power becoming the ultimate goal. However (simplifying here quite a bit), if the rebellion against something bad leads to another bad thing, that doesn’t make the original bad somehow good. There are simply two bad things. And the fight against either of them might still be a fight worth engaging in.

In other words, the Jedi Council is just as restrictive and ‘evil’ in its own way as the Light Side. It forced people who wanted freedom into exile, and refused to budge on its own questionable dogma. It didn’t make those Dark Jedi into despicable people, but it certainly pushed them down that path. And this is a mistake that seems to be repeated, tragically, over and over again...

The Light Side of the Force and the Jedi Council

The Jedi really don’t like emotion. Emotion leads to the Dark Side. Here’s the famous quote from Yoda:

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate... leads to suffering.”

Yoda, by V-kony on DeviantArt
There’s a lot of wisdom wrapped up in this. Fear does lead to hate, a lot of the time, and this does usually result in suffering for everyone involved. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and anger can also lead to fear, and suffering can lead to anger, and so on. And sometimes fear and anger are actually good for us. But Yoda is trying to simplify a message about how (largely) negative emotions can easily get the better of us, leading us down a dark path that only heightens those emotions and puts us into a vicious cycle.

But these ‘negative’ emotions are not the only problem. Because if we indulge in ‘positive’ emotions too, we are more susceptible to the bad ones. So goes Jedi logic. To feel deep love and passion is to invite in anger and pain and fear when situations take a turn for the worse. A person with no attachments can control their emotions better than a person who has things to lose.

At its best, this Jedi logic makes some kind of sense, though there are several problems with it:


What a sad solution. To deny all emotion and attachments out of fear of the possible consequences. It’s like people who are too afraid to make friends in case they lose them. Or too afraid to enter a competition in case they lose. Too afraid to live, because one day they will die. Yes, a system born out of fear. Now isn’t that what Jedi are supposed to be avoiding?


Humans feel emotion. They just do. Suppressing it really isn’t going to help. Remember that bottle of soda? If we leave it with the top off, someone might knock it and a bit might get spilled, yes. But if we screw the top on and then shake it, hard (the physical equivalent of what that council is doing to its poor young Jedi), then if the top gets removed in some unfortunate circumstances... BOOM.

In other words, we could leave Anakin more or less to get on with things, lid off, and then when something bad happens he might get a little worried, go to his friends for help, maybe even flip out a bit, but then learn from his mistakes. Or, we could put the lid on and tell him he can’t love, and then shake and shake and shake, and then Palpatine comes along and removes the lid and... Yeah, exactly.

The Slippery Slope

Jedi wisdom (and Palpatine’s wisdom too, for that matter) seems to be based on the fact that giving in to anger leads inevitably to the Dark Side. That’s why the Emperor wanted Luke to strike in anger. That’s why Anakin wasn’t allowed to love. Because one slip and you’re gone... down the psychopath slide, it seems.

Only, this is demonstrably not true. Pretty much all Jedi seem to lose it now and again, some worse than others, and many feel rather guilty about it afterwards. Luke himself does. Anakin killed all those Sandpeople, then seemed fine again afterwards. It took another, different, situation for him to go to the Dark Side, and even then it seems only to be because he had no other choice. The Jedi wouldn’t help him, and only Palpatine offered a solution. Add to this the fact that the Jedi are self-satisfied jerks who keep telling him he shouldn’t be feeling what he’s feeling, and I’m not surprised he turned his back on them. What have they actually done for him, really?

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...
by maxmontezuma on DeviantArt
So we don’t have a man who flicked the ‘emotion’ switch and instantly became an evil Dark Sider. We have a man who was pushed away, over and over, by the Jedi, and who fled to the Dark Side with the threat of his loved one’s death held over his head.

I.e. It’s not being connected to the Force that makes emotion dangerous. Jedi are like normal people. They can get angry and rage and sulk, even turn violent, and then calm down later and regret it. It’s having so much power that makes them dangerous. An angry man with a knife is so much more dangerous than an angry man without one. That’s simple. But the answer, then, certainly isn’t to repress emotion and make this man with the knife feel even more desperate. It’s surely to teach him how to experience his emotions more safely. How to control the urge to hurt others when he’s angry. To support him when his wife is dying, to offer friendship and compassion, to make him less likely to turn to a harmful path out of desperation.

And here’s the Jedi mistake, again and again. Instead of examining and questioning its principles, it pushes away all who disagree. It’s not emotion that created the Sith, and that continues to do so. It’s the Jedi council itself.

The Sith are born from the fear and hatred of the Jedi, and the Jedi are defined by their fear and hatred of the Sith. Round and round we go.


Balance: The Grey Side of the Force

The words Jedi and Sith are not synonymous with the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. There are Force-users within the Star Wars expanded universe who follow both sides, who do not deny emotion, but who also do not seek power at the expense of all else. One example are the Nightsisters on Dathomir, introduced in one of the books (I forget which, sorry), and covered again in The Book of the Sith.

These people may behave questionably to us, perhaps not putting the same sanctity on life that we do, perhaps not fearing death and violence, perhaps with a society that seems baffling to us. They will certainly be very different from us. But fear of those who are different leads to anger, and anger leads to hate and suffering... right, Yoda?

What this tells us, regardless of how we feel about them, is that it is possible to use the Force without having to dedicate oneself to the extremes of either the Jedi or the Sith path. So they’re clearly both wrong about a lot of things.

Which leads me to Luke, Vader, and the original best Star Wars films. Luke questions Yoda and expressly goes against his advice. He rushes off to save his friends. He gives in to anger and fear at points. And then calms down. And gets back to training. And keeps trying. And wins.

Luke wins. This is really important. Luke wins where Yoda failed. Luke wins where Mace Windu failed. Where Obi Wan failed. Where the entire Jedi Council failed. Why? Could it be because of the strength and support of his friendships? Could it be because of a life of being raised as a normal person, with normal emotions, who truly understands what is at stake – how people live and feel and what’s important to them? Could it be because his father finally turned away from the Sith path, and killed the Emperor... out of love for his son? Because of family. Because of love.

Anakin/Vader was redeemed through emotion. The good guys won through emotion.

Doesn’t that say it all, really?


If you're interested in reading more about the Force, there are two Star Wars companion books that cover the Sith and the Jedi:

The Book of the Sith, by Daniel Wallace, which I've reviewed here.
The Jedi Path, by Daniel Wallace, which I haven't read but have had recommended to me.

And, if you haven't already, watch the original trilogy of films!


  1. Wow.. great post! ! I have been wanting to read the Book of the Sith for a while now. I just put it on hold through inter-library loan. This post makes me thing of Dungeons and Dragons (which I play). I am try to play as chaotic good.. though it doesn't always work. But I think that is a grey area.


    Angela's Anxious Life

    1. Dungeons and Dragons is fun! When I think of chaotic good I always think of Xena. Doesn't care about the rules, and in fact actively seems to go against them even if they make sense, and hates being told what to do... but always tries to do what SHE thinks is the right thing.

      Thanks Angie! :-) Hope you enjoy the book!

  2. Great post, Victoria! I think you make an excellent case.

  3. *jaw drops* Okay I'm impressed. Don't think I could write such a length, coherent post about such a topic! *bow*

    1. Hehe... it's quite long isn't it? ^^ I could (and do) talk about Star Wars for hours. :-) Thanks!