In the month since the release of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA)*, there have been a lot of Star Wars developments. The theory that Rey is the grandchild of Obi-Wan Kenobi has gained a lot of supporters, but I’ve also heard some really interesting suggestions that Rey is either of Supreme Leader Snoke’s lineage or even the daughter of Boba Fett. The canon has officially opened to include a couple of TV shows, all of Marvel’s Star Wars comics since January of 2015, and a series of novels, among other sources. Probably the best news is that Disney has committed to releasing high resolution de-mastered versions of Episodes IV-VI or, as many of my geek friends might call it, The Holy Grail. What I would like to do with this post is move on from issues of family in TFA to what might be considered a much deeper issue, namely, the interpretation of the force in TFA.
I don’t know how any of you felt while watching TFA, but when I watched the opening scene where Kylo Ren immobilizes Poe Dameron and freezes his blaster bolt in mid-air the only thing that kept me from screaming and clapping with joy was an explicit promise I made to my wife to control myself. It was during this scene that I first realized that this isn’t “your daddy’s force.” In retrospect, I should have had some idea that there would be innovations in TFA regarding human manipulation of the force. After all, I had just watched the other six movies, each of which introduces new elements of the force.
Episode IV: A New Hope
-force attunement — feeling a disturbance in the force
-force guidance of objects — grappling hook and presumably proton torpedo
-“Jedi death,” ie. disappearing rather than leaving a corpse
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
-force levitation of objects — an X-Wing, for example
-“truth vision” — Luke’s revelation in the Dagobah tree
-super long-distance force choke
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
-force intuition – Leia knowing that Luke was her brother (IEWWWW)
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
-force conception — discussed but never shown
-force door opening
-force relaxation — Qui-Gon calming Jar Jar
-dual-bladed lightsaber use
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
-force animal husbandry
-force lightning block and reflection
-curved-hilt lightsaber use
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
-control over life and death — discussed but never shown
-force disfigurement — Palpatine gets uglier
-force quake — NOOOOOOO!
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
-force immobilization of both matter and energy
-force resistance of interrogation
-force reversal of interrogation
-visions of past events
-communication with objects
-hand-guard lightsaber use
What I think is interesting about the discussion of the myriad uses of the force is that when we enter the cinematic universe of Star Wars we have no idea what uses of the force that our characters are familiar with or what potential uses of the force they just don’t know how to do yet. There is no training manual or skill tree like in a Star Wars video game. Call me ridiculous if you’d like, but I would love to see force flight. I would love to see waves of force that can be thrown like blades and are capable of decapitating a foe. I want to be amazed, but I want my characters to have reasonable powers. I don’t want to see someone turn into some omnipotent Phoenix or Galactus or Beyonder. As much as I want power, I think we also need vulnerability.
The previous post featured a discussion of surrogate fathers which referenced Rey’s connection to Han Solo and Kylo Ren’s connection to Darth Vader. The same work discussion that spawned this distinction also spawned an interesting understanding of how each side makes use of the force. My coworker suggested that Han Solo represented compassion and Darth Vader represented power, and that these surrogate parents represented the respective characters’ desires for themselves. Rey was left behind on Jakku and has been waiting for years for her family to return to her, so clearly she is seeking the love of a family, whereas Kylo Ren has some unrevealed motive to overcome some unrevealed hurdle, and for that he needs power. If we understand compassion and power as a means of confronting the force, we may have some insight into the light side and the dark side. The Sith manipulate the force to accomplish their own ends, to dominate, to control, and to harm. On the flip side, the Jedi love the force and merely act according to its will. In this sense, it is the force that manipulates the Jedi to accomplish what the universe needs. There is a weakness in this understanding of the force, however. I do think that we have probably nailed down the dark side of the force fairly accurately, but we are far from correct regarding the light side. Yoda is unhappy with Luke when his compassion drives him to leave his training early in order to save his friends, suggesting that compassion is not the way of the Jedi. In fact, the Jedi are trained to be dispassionate and they are often seen utilizing the force toward their own purposes just like the Sith. In truth, the dark side tells the force what to do and the light side asks the force for its assistance, and yet it still stands to reason that there are those who simply listen to the force and do its will. If these individuals do not properly belong to the Sith or the Jedi, then where do they belong? Here’s where we are forced to confront the balanced force and what some are calling the gray Jedi.
There is certainly some precedent for the idea of gray Jedi in the expanded Star Wars universe. Hardcore fans like to reference a character named Jolee Bindo who was considered a gray Jedi, and Wookiee Jedi Master Tyvokka was quoted in a non-canonical Dark Horse comic saying, “Some believe [Qui-Gon Jinn] is a gray Jedi.”
The latter certainly has canonical support as well. The prophecy of the Chosen One who would bring balance to the force is an important concept that lingers over the entire Star Wars film series. When it is introduced in Phantom Menace, Mace Windu appears to dismiss it as some rumor he learned of on some Jedi holocron, but Qui-Gon Jinn seems completely devoted to the concept of a balanced force. Jinn’s protégé Obi-Wan Kenobi would later (in Revenge of the Sith) lament two things when he is betrayed by Anakin Skywalker, that Anakin was his brother and that he was supposed to be the Chosen One. If there is evidence of the grays in Star Wars, it is certainly through this very prophecy, and the line of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, and potentially Kylo Ren lend it support in their rebellious natures.
What the balanced force would look like is another question. Some have suggested that it would involve individuals who are able to use both dark side and light side methodologies of force wielding, which sounds quite a bit like Kylo Ren’s struggle against light side leanings, but I think that the ultimate form of the balanced force would be surrender, as Rey does when she slips into Avatar-mode and becomes more powerful than the audience could possibly imagine. I would actually argue that the trilogy of trilogies has been building toward the gray/balanced force. Episodes IV-VI focus on the re-awakening of the light side (A New Hope) and its eventual defeat of the dark side (Return of the Jedi), whereas episodes I-III focus on the re-awakening of the dark side (The Phantom Menace) and its eventual defeat of the light side (Revenge of the Sith). Viewed this way, the original trilogy posts the thesis of the light side, the prequel trilogy its antithesis in the dark side, and following this logic, the sequel trilogy would focus on its synthesis with the balanced force or the gray.
This leads me to my final topic concerning the force, which is actually a couple of smaller topics surrounding the Jedi academy that Luke was said to have started at some point following the Battle of Endor.
First of all, I’d like to share my buddy Billy’s theory that Luke Skywalker taught his students how to use the force without the bias of either light side or dark side, but also without ever training them in the use of lightsabers. This explains why Kylo Ren has a lightsaber that appears so flawed in its composition, at least when compared to Anakin/Luke’s blue lightsaber. I, of course, love this idea because I have been a fan of the balanced force for some time and this fits into my Star Wars worldview. That said, I don’t know if there is much evidence to support this theory.
Second, there is a question that the new Star Wars movies are going to have to answer regarding who can actually use the force. How did Luke select his trainees without the support of a Jedi order? Perhaps more importantly, which of our main characters are trainable in the ways of the force. It seems pretty obvious that Rey is going to become a full-blown Jedi, and perhaps the most powerful Jedi of all time, but what of the others? Finn is surprisingly agile with a lightsaber. He’s been compared often to Han Solo, but he’s certainly doing quite a bit more than simply slicing open a dead animal with this thing. I have argued that the fact that he has been weapons-trained as a Storm Trooper since basically birth gives him good odds at handling a lightsaber, but I really don’t want there to be limits. I would be perfectly happy with Rey, Finn and Poe joining Luke Skywalker’s new, post-Ren school. As you probably remember from my previous post, I would also like to see Leia as a Jedi Knight, but now that the existence of Chewbacca’s son is canon (as of the Marvel Chewbacca mini-series) I wouldn’t mind seeing Lobacca (or whatever his name is) get some Jedi training as well.
Finally, there is an important question of whether training under an existing Jedi is the only way that one can become a competent Jedi. In the case of Rey, it seems as if her ability to surrender to the force might be more powerful than many, if not most, forms of training. Don’t get me wrong. I want to see Rey get trained by Luke Skywalker. When it comes to movies, there are few things I want to see more than this training. I think the reason I bring up this distinction is because I doubt Luke Skywalker knows the whole truth about the proper training of one who is force adept. Besides, if the theories that Luke is going to become the new Darth Vader are true, then Rey is going to need some tricks up her sleeves that even he is unfamiliar with.
At this point, most of my friends have seen TFA somewhere between two and five times, which makes me wonder exactly why anyone would want to read my posts about the film considering the fact that I have still only seen the film once. Maybe a second in-theater showing is still in my future. Hopefully. Either way, I was thinking about following up this post by starting a more in-depth discussion of World War II references in TFA than I have to date seen online. I know of some people who felt taken out of the film because of the Storm Troopers doing a “heil” motion, but I thought the historical parallels between post-WWI Germany and the post-Endor “Empire” are absolutely perfect. I will, of course, save the rest of my commentary for the next post. Until then, let me know if any of these topics inspire you into some kind of comparison, revelation, epiphany, or whatever else you feel when you talk about Star Wars. Also, and I’m serious, lets just talk about anything pertaining to Star Wars, especially if it involves your own home-brewed theories. If anyone’s interested I have a theory about Yoda that is somewhere between completely unsupported and contradicted by canonical evidence. You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.
* I would have written this follow-up a couple of weeks earlier, but I got hung up on Kirk Cameron and Company’s assertion that George Lucas created Star Wars with an agenda to indoctrinate and convert people to Buddhism. What was originally meant to be a preface to this very post turned into a several paragraph rant against this suggestion based on my own religious training. I decided not to post it because the last thing I really want right now is to get smacked around by Kirk Cameron’s lackeys. If enough people want to read this post, I may put it up in the future, but I expect that it will remain in my draft folder for an indefinite amount of time.