The Force is dead. Long live the Force.

<rant>

I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice over opening weekend — just to make sure the Peetimes were spot on.

The good news is that it’s an enjoyable film, if you just don’t think about it too much. But if you’re like me, and you can’t help it, you’ll find that you like the movie less and less.


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Who made this mess?

To be fair, it isn’t all J.J. Abrams’ fault. Lucas crapped on Star Wars way back in the Phantom Menace with the whole midichlorian debacle. I remember there was considerable optimism when Disney announced Abrams was going to oversee the Star Wars franchise, but I’ve seen enough of Abrams to know that he wasn’t going to fix the Force. If anything, he’s made it worse.

What I love about the Force?

Star Wars: A New Hope introduced audiences to this mysterious but ubiquitous Force. “May the Force be with you,” is one of the most memorable movie quotes ever. It sounds like saying, “Good luck,” but goes much deeper than that. Deep down it’s akin to the Buddhist concept the Middle Way, or Eightfold Way — don’t stray too far in the direction of indulgence or austerity.

When they get it right in the movies, may the Force be with you translates into: may you take the path laid out by the Force and find your way to an end that is balanced between extremes. 

The Force feels right because it acknowledges that good and evil aren’t intrinsic to an action. A shark eating a seal isn’t evil. Sharks must eat to survive. And in hunting the seals they keep the seal species healthy. When an ecosystem loses its predators the prey often increase in numbers to such an extent they threaten not only their own survivability, but the survivability of the entire ecosystem. Like the Force, an ecosystem works best when there is balance.

Bringing balance

The Dark Side of the Force represents greed; the desire of power for the sake of power; killing for sport, not survival.

But if that’s so, then there must be an opposing Light Side of the Force, which is the desire to do good for the sake of good. This light side of the Force is only hinted at in the movies. And this is where the mistakes begin.

The Force Bible

I don’t believe Lucas or J.J. Abrams ever intentionally sat down and wrote a bible for what the Force is and how it works. It’s the storytellers’ prerogative to keep the audience mystified. When done properly, it works wonders. But a storyteller can’t keep themselves in  a mysterious place  of making things up to suit a preconceived outcome.

Both Lucas and Abrams keep the Force vague  so they can make it work the way they needed it to, in order to tell the story they wanted to tell. Any skilled storyteller would tell them that approach doesn’t work. (Okay, they’ve made billions, so I guess it works, but they end up producing high caloric stories: they feel good when we watch them, but we feel like crap later when we think about it.)

Better storytelling

Good storytelling involves defining a universe and its characters so they tell the story. Once you have a well crafted character, they will tell you what they would do. The author telling the character what to do is cheap and obvious. And that’s essentially what we get out of Star Wars stories today. We’re told everything that happens. There’s no figuring things out; there’s no feeling of synthesis as disparate threads inevitably weave together in an outcome that couldn’t have been predicted, but seems obvious in afterthought. No, in Star Wars there’s only characters acting inconsistently to achieve the outcome of Lucas/Abrams’ vision.

Fixing the Force

There’s almost no fixing the mess they’ve made without a reboot — and that’s not going to happen. The only solution I see going forward is to introduce another Yoda-like character who re-explains the Force and how it works. They would need to reimagine much of the existing canon created in the Star Wars universe, but they’ve been wildly inconsistent so far. Why stop now?

First and foremost, drop any genetic relationship to the Force. That’s just absolute crap from the start. It’s absurd to think that gurus, saints, or prophets,  can pass on their knowledge genetically. Why should it be any different for the Sith and Jedi? What can be passed down is the teaching.

Also, by making the Force a genetic trait it creates elitist royal bloodlines of the Skywalkers and Palpatines. While the concept of the Force feels real on some level it’s a real turnoff to think that true mastery of this mysterious Force is off limits to we plebeians.

There are numerous examples of Jedi talking about “balance in the Force.” It’s time to formally adopt the concept of the Middle Way, by acknowledging that good and evil are the same as positive and negative charges in particle reactions and will always be conserved. For every good there will be an evil, and visa-versa. And as such, the power of the light side of the Force, represented by the Jedi, will always be balanced with the dark side of the Force, represented by the Sith.

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In Phantom Menace there were hints of this. The Jedi were described as impartial arbiters of the galaxy for thousands of years. As such, they didn’t intend to do good or bad, but only arbitrate and enforce contracts/laws. However, as time went on they grew inclined to take sides in some situations and do what they thought was right/good. In doing so they created the imbalance in the Force and thus gave rise to the power in the dark side, themselves.

It’s a common and compelling trope that the protagonist unwittingly creates its own opposition.

Hold on, you say, there were lots and lots of Jedi and only two Sith in Phantom Menace. True. But as I’d recommend, the combined power of the two Sith alone balance out the combined power of all the Jedi combined.

This introduces another interesting plot twist: Darth Maul and Palpatine share all of the power of the dark side of the Force. Even though Palpatine is the Sith master, it still leaves an incredible amount of power for Darth Maul. Making any fight between Maul and any individual Jedi unfair. However, as Maul, and later Vader, kill off the Jedi, they are inevitably killing off their own power. The balance is continually maintained. If Palpatine truly had every Jedi killed then he would be left powerless. And by using the dark side he would inevitably recreate his own opposition. There’s no way around it.

Transcendence through Gnosis/Knowledge

Wait,  there would be one way around it. During the climactic confrontation in Rise of Skywalker I momentarily thought Rey might possibly take the following approach. She could come to a new understanding of the Force, that while the balance must be maintained it can be maintained inside one person. She could have mastered both the dark side and the light side simultaneously. Making her inconceivably more powerful than Palpatine, who was limited to only the dark side.

It would have been an ending similar to The Matrix, when Neo realized that he was beyond the rules, and could create new rules as it suited him. Once Neo achieved gnosis/knowledge, he moved beyond his adversary, who was still rooted in the rules.

Imagine the satisfaction of seeing Rey achieve a level of gnosis/knowledge —where she could contain all of the dark and light side of the Force — continually balanced, like the Hindu god Dattatreya who contains the triad Brahma/creator, Vishnu/preserver, and Shiva/destroyer as one.

That’s the story I want to see. I guess I’ll have to write it myself.

</rant>

Movie analysis – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

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8 thoughts on “The Force is dead. Long live the Force.”

  1. Excellent article. I’ve thought since the original trilogy that we need both dark and lights sides to be balanced. To me, this is more Carl Jung than anything else.

    Maybe Lucas cribbed that off The Middle Way, as you say. That’s where I wanted SW to go, and I think they kind of achieved that with Rey. At this point, I think she has both sides at her disposal. And at this point, she is the only *trained* Jedi or Sith. Of course, there are the raw Potentials, like Broomsaber Boy on Canto Bight. (Which reminded me of Buffy, BTW – with no genetic relationship for the Slayers).

        1. As a storyteller I think that’s a little too easy. There has to be a price/cost/effort to using a tool like the Force. Otherwise the Force becomes something Green Lanternish.

          1. I understand what you mean. However, belief in the self as a limiting factor is a legitimate hero’s quandary. Even a show as dark as Xena used it to great effect, for example. Sometimes she seemed vastly overpowered for good storytelling, but she kept emotionally getting in her own way. And it was a main theme — Xena never forgave herself or could do enough for her own image of redemption. It kept the story from being all way too easy, as Hercules: the Legendary Journeys was.

            Harry Potter got in his own way too. Thor always needed weird peptalks about his worth, and he was a freaking God. Having overpowered heroes means you need to be creative in other ways.

            In any case, Yoda berates Luke for not lifting his X-Wing bc he didn’t believe it. “That is why you fail.” I always took it to mean that your belief in yourself is part of why the Light Side is harder to use and less seductive. Which is why we had that bookend X-Wing lifting scene at the end. It wasn’t that amazing in itself by this time. But it was coded to bring things full circle.

            We all take away something personal from an epic. I took away so many amazing things from Star Wars. And also a big lesson about not judging others. As Leia said, “he has his own path to follow. No one can choose it for him.”

            I ignore midichlorians. I honestly think those dreadful missteps are mentioned…once. I’ll have to check.

            I think some time I’ll have to write a post about The Things Star Wars Taught Me. I wish more mysticism had been threaded into the other trilogies.

            Or something about the Problem of Overpowered Heroes. Between Marvel and DC alone, I have at least a dozen I could list, and how the writers try to work around them.

            I never saw Green Lantern due to the fan derision. Maybe I should watch it for posterity. RESEARCH!

  2. Clearly they all have both sides in them. Rey used force lightning, and Ben (nee Kylo) used force healing. I like the grey area. No one in that universe apparently understands it all, so why should we?

  3. That’s true. At least it’s something of a mystery to the characters. But I’ll never embrace the idea about midichlorians, no matter how well they explain it. 🙂

  4. I think they dropped the midichlorians like a hot Jar Jar. It’s only mentioned in one scene in TPM. Even they knew it was a galactic mistake.

    Adam (no velociraptors), I am with you. I wrote about the same thing in my Force analysis here on RunPee. I’m pretty sure that’s what the ending was about, and the point of the entire saga.

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