What exactly is the dark side, the light side, and what effect do they have on the living? Do free-will and destiny co-exist? And what about balance? How is balance to be achieved in a galaxy in which the dark and light are a natural part of the Force and exists in every being?
Recently, Paul Szostak shared a YouTube video of George Lucas speaking about the nature of the Force during a Clone Wars writers’ meeting back in 2010. It’s part of a featurette on the Blu-ray edition of the Saga, which I don’t own (being a die hard theatrical release fan) and so have never seen. I began listening to George talk to these writers about the Force, about dark and light and balance, and although this was years before the Disney acquisition was even a gleam in anyone’s eye, I was struck by how George’s vision of the Force was still so prevalent throughout the sequel trilogy.
So, what is the dark side, according to George? “The dark side is pleasure, biological and temporary and easy to achieve.” He described giving in to the dark side as essentially a selfish desire to want “stuff,” whether power, pleasure, or another person. But this type of selfishness, of the need to possess, leads to fear: fear that what or who one possesses will be taken away. George said, “Once you become afraid that somebody’s going to take it away from you, or you’re going to lose it, then you start to become angry, especially if you’re losing it. And that anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering, mostly on the part of the person who’s selfish. Because you spend all your time being afraid of losing everything you’ve got instead of actually living.” This describes every dark side user we’ve ever met in Star Wars, not the least of which is Kylo Ren. He wanted power. He wanted validation. He wanted Rey to join him. These wants were selfish and possessive in nature, and he had all but forgotten who Ben Solo was. In The Last Jedi, when Kylo asked Rey to join him and she refused, the joy of their brief partnership in Snoke’s throne room instantly faded and was replaced with seething anger. He doubled down on his quest for power and his thirst for vengeance, though his desire to have Rey join him remained.
The light side, in contrast, is selfless. It is, according to George, “joy, everlasting and difficult to achieve. A great challenge. Must overcome laziness, give up quick pleasures, and overcome fear (which leads to hate).” This suggests Luke’s words to Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, in which he tells her that the role of a Jedi is to face and overcome fear. Giving in to fear and giving in to easy pleasures might have led her to take Kylo’s hand when he offered her a place by his side—twice. It would have been so easy to do, though it would have required a deep shift in her morals by abandoning her friends and their cause. Kylo and Rey’s partnership might even have brought them pleasure, but as George said, “the pleasure factor of greed and of selfishness is a short-lived experience…you’re constantly trying to replenish it. But of course, the more you replenish it… the more you have to keep upping the ante, you’re actually afraid of the pain of not having the joy. So, that is ultimately the core of the whole dark side.” George was speaking about Anakin and his ultimate turn to the dark side, about making a “pact with the devil” in order to hold on to what he feared losing the most, but it certainly applies here as well. Rey taking Kylo’s hand would have been a pact with the dark side, a pact that her nature revolted against. Although she was of Palpatine’s blood, she was good. Selfless. She didn’t want to give in to her fears and descend into hatred, not even of Palpatine. And so she put in the hard work to remain in the light, facing her fears and resisting the easy path.
There has been a lot of talk since The Force Awakens about what exactly was meant by “balance” and by bringing “balance to the Force.” It’s a term ambiguously used in all three trilogies. Many, like myself, began to believe that balance meant a combination of both light and dark, either in one person or in a partnership between light side and dark side Force users. This led many to hope that Kylo/Ben and Rey would start a new school for Force-sensitives, one which would teach both the light and the dark side and not eschew such things as romantic love and attachment. But that kind of union is not at all what George meant by balance. “The core of the Force…you have the dark side and the light side. One is selfless. One is selfish, and you wanna keep them in balance. What happens when you go to the dark side is it goes out of balance and you get really selfish and you forget about everybody.” Balance is achieved by not giving in to the dark side. From a larger perspective, balance in the Force is achieved when there are no dark side users. Anakin achieved this when he destroyed the last two Sith lords (including himself). As we know, this didn’t quite stick (and the details will be revealed in the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker novelization, which I won’t spoil for anyone here). But for a time, the light side reigned and balance was achieved in the galaxy. When darkness once again rose to power, light rose to meet it. The dark side was defeated, and the balance was brought back.
What of free-will and destiny? The Force is “found in all living things, surrounds us, flows from us, controls individuals yet we have free will. We have a destiny if we want to follow it. We live for a reason and must discover what it is.” Near the end of The Last Jedi novelization, Rey muses that the Force had more in store for Kylo, and it wasn’t up to her to alter that destiny. She knew that the Force was there to guide, rather than to be bent to serve selfish goals. One might suggest that Kylo’s destiny was always to bring Rey back to life, ensuring that a light side Force user remained in the galaxy after the darkness had been destroyed. Balance. As a dyad pair, it is quite possible that bringing balance to the Force was an integral part of a shared destiny, utilizing their free-will in order to save each other, and the galaxy. “Where joy, by giving to other people, you can’t think about yourself and therefore there’s no pain.”
In Yoda’s words, “Luminous beings are we…”