So, Star Wars is a hot-button issue for our little geek community these days… I’m going to skip over all of that though. I want to ruminate about the Force. This post evolved from a lunch conversation with my wife, a lifetime of being a Star Wars fan, and 20+ years of running/playing/thinking about Star Wars RPGs.
I guess I’ll start with the broadest thought… which is, the Force makes perfect sense if you don’t squint at it too much. And that’s not because it doesn’t bear up under scrutiny; it’s because that scrutiny often involves trying to make it fit a preconceived notion that the squinter takes into the exercise.
Let me give my example of what started this conversation in the first place. The “greying” of the Force. I don’t mean Luke Skywalker getting old… I mean the idea that the Light Side and Dark Side are simplistic ideologies conceived by the Jedi and that there is a grey area in between them. This is a very popular idea with lots of fans and it certainly comes up with players in RPGs trying to justify uses of the Force to themselves and their GMs to avoid Dark Side Points.
I submit into the conversation however that this entire concept of a grey area in the Force is hogwash. One reason for this is that the Force is not “aware.” I’ll touch on this point more in a moment because it is important but the idea of grey areas would require that some form of judgement system exists in the use of the Force that weighs the user’s actions and decides that they are Light or Dark. Because the Force is not aware – just an energy field – it is impossible for there to be value judgements about its uses. That is not to say that there are not value judgements inherent in the outcomes of those uses or that there were not value judgements involved in Lucas’ creation of the Force. Just that in-universe, the Force cannot make value judgements.
Yoda – the Grand Master
Examining Yoda’s statements about the Force; let’s take it on faith that he is largely trying to steer Luke correctly and giving him the “Use the Force for Dummies” version because he knows that time is short… Yoda illustrates the full range of everything we need to know about the Force in his actions and words and they shore up a vision of the universe that includes a Light and Dark Side as objective reality for Force users.
First, Yoda explains to Luke that the Force is not “Power.” It is an energy created by all life and some people have an affinity that allows them to tap into that energy in active rather than just passive ways. But the important part is that the Force is about life. It is living energy. That premise adequately sets up everything else that follows.
Second, Yoda explains that anger, fear, hate, and other dark emotions are the path to the Dark Side. This makes sense not because they are value judgements but because they are destructive emotions… they are anti-life. Experiencing anger does not make one vulnerable to the Dark Side. Choosing to act in anger and do harmful things does. Because the person is exercising the power of the Force in an overtly destructive way. Maintaining peaceful emotions and a calm demeanor lessens the likelihood that a Force user will do something destructive with their power.
Third, that ties into how we see the Force work in practice. Many “Dark Side” powers are considered such not only because they are “evil” but because they corrupt the life energy that is the Force into a destructive or otherwise harmful channel. Force Lightning isn’t a defibrillator, it’s an electric chair. The user’s “intent” doesn’t matter. If you use Force Lightning to kill a “bad guy” to save an innocent… the Force isn’t going to make a value judgement about saving an innocent life – it’s just going to cause negative feedback/resonance in the energy field that interacts with your body because you used it in a corrupted, destructive manner.
“Only what you take in with you”
When Luke explores the cave that is steeped in dark energy, he asks Yoda what’s inside. Yoda tells him that what is inside is what he takes in with him. That’s annoyingly vague for a student of the Force like Luke but also incredibly profound in retrospect.
Luke takes all of his baggage – and his weapons – in with him. Luke doesn’t understand the lesson. Because Luke is carrying around a lot of destructive emotions and destructive equipment. He doesn’t go into the lesson with a clear heart, he goes into the lesson spoiling for a fight. He gets one. He acts in a destructive manner and so he is exposed to the dark side.
We also note that sometimes it seems like Jedi use their powers and are exhausted by them while sometimes they seem invigorated (or at least not adversely affected). Yoda lifts the X-wing out of the swamp and seems depleted by doing so. Yoda’s own emotions colored his use of the Force in that moment… he acted out of desperation, despair, and perhaps even annoyance – showing his recalcitrant student that “size matters not.” He is not doing anything that improves or enhances life – but neither is he doing damage to life – so it’s not Dark, but it is tiring. When a Jedi uses the Force to enhance their reflexes, or their strength, or to make the power of life flow through them, it is invigorating – because the Force only responds to their “strengthening life energy.”
Taken collectively – all of this really points to a Force that is not “aware” but is rather, a morally-neutral power source that has clear parameters for how it is accessed that have clear consequences. The Jedi philosophy chose to express this as Light Side and Dark Side terminology – but the acts and consequences remain.
As an aside… this also adequately explains why the Dark Side is easier and more seductive. It takes a lot less effort to cut down a tree than to grow one. That’s the Force in a nutshell.
It also explains why the Jedi would form an ideology that rejects material attachments or romantic relationships. Those things lead to the negative emotions that make it all too easy to fall into traps of using your power thinking that your moral compass is what matters rather than the power itself. Unfortunately, the Jedi Council of the prequel era has taken these teachings too far and moved them from an intelligent ideology that urges Force users to be cautious and turns it into a dogma of “one-true-way-ism.” That stifled the growth of the Order and led to foolish things like taking children away from their families at 4 years old or considering them too old to start teaching…
The Force, Free Will, and Destiny
Because the Force is a manifestation of life-energy, it is not too mystical a leap to imagine that it gives them the ability to peer into the future. Presumably, the continuation of life energy into that future is a powerful thing – but it is not infallible. The Emperor was said to rely too much on farseeing and the Jedi of the Council relied on it as well. But because it is a foretelling method related to life-energy not “time” it is extremely unreliable and open to interpretation.
Which means that the Force likely does not arrange things to its will. When there are prophecies like, “The One Who Will Bring Balance to The Force” they are the interpretations of farseers who think they know more than they know… Again, the Council of the prequel-era had become quite dogmatic and were prone to mystical bureaucratic nonsense like prophecies. But that is the result of sentient species imposing their patterns – personifying, if you will – a non-sentient Force. As it turns out… Most of their farseeing didn’t help much and was often in vain.
I could write about this for a couple thousand more words. But I’m going to try and tie it all together here and wrap up. The Force does not care about your morality. That’s about it. The Force is a morally-neutral power with specific parameters to its use and abuse that are largely defined by it being generated by life-energy. The Jedi express those parameters in terms of Light and Dark sides of the Force. The Sith expressly embrace the aspects that the Jedi call Dark Side because they are short-term thinkers who have embraced the idea that the distinction is a moral one – not simply an aspect of the power source they are tapping into. Other Force-using traditions developed other ways of explaining the split – but at the end of the day, all the Light/Dark talk isn’t important because the Force is “moral,” it is important because it articulates the parameters in a way that can be explained to students and have an Order built around it.
I know I was supposed to write about Battletech again – I haven’t forgotten – but this just popped up and I was excited to put it to paper… err… screen.
As always, thanks for reading.