Star Wars: What is the Balance of the Force?by Todd King, contributing writer
Before we get into the article, don't miss this new short video looking back at the creation of Galaxy's Edge and the details put into it:
Go Behind the X-wings and Blaster Marks of Batuu. Disney Parks.
Since Episode I, we've heard about "the balance of the force," and that the "chosen one" of the prophecy will be the one to bring that balance. But what is this balance? Is it a balance of dark and light, of good and evil? And how is this balance actually achieved? Is it in sheer numbers, of light-side Jedi and dark-side Sith?
The movies touch on the ideas just a little bit, so it's up to us to apply it to our own philosophies. From my certain point of view, it is a balance of power and wisdom, and not just a balance of good and evil. If the Force is used too much in one way—and therefore unbalanced—then trouble starts to brew.
For the longest time, I thought the balance of the Force was solely about good and evil, that there cannot exist good without evil, and vice versa, like yin and yang. What kept hanging me up on this idea is that for it to work, there would have to be equal quantities of good and evil. That didn't seem to directly apply to the happenings in the films. In The Phantom Menace, for example, there are lots of Jedi, the Sith have been extinct, and the galaxy was at peace—or at least, it wasn't at all-out war.
The dark side was in hiding, but Palpatine, the underlying villain of the entire saga, was hiding in plain sight as a Republic senator, then as Chancellor. Was his evil in equal measure to all the good of the Jedi? I don't believe that—or else he would have just waged war openly. Instead, he began to crack the foundations of peace and the Jedi through subterfuge and manipulation. But what was the status of the Force's balance during all this?
In many instances, we hear the line: "There is a disturbance in the Force." Often, that means a Force-user can sense when another Force-user is near or approaching. But Obi-Wan, from the opening scene, senses a disturbance, "elsewhere, elusive." That is perhaps the greater threat—the powers that are causing the Force to be unbalanced, which must have been Palpatine and his machinations at work. But again, what is unbalanced? Evil thoughts and good thoughts?
I believe that indeed there are forces of good and evil on either side of the balance, but I always struggled with the idea that if good reigns—as it seemed to be just at the start of Episode I—does that mean the Force was in balance? The Jedi don't seem to think so since they believe that the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force was yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, it wasn't in balance. That's what always confused me. For it to be balanced, does that mean they just needed a big old bad guy to show up to level the scales? That doesn't seem right, either.
By Episode II, the prophecy expanded from "bring balance to the Force" to "destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force." I became more confused at this, because wouldn't they need the Sith for the balance? How would destroying it bring balance? Seems it would tip the scales too far one way. But then again, the Sith are evil (though they themselves don't believe they are) and cause destruction all around them—that can't be allowed to run amok. So, what needs balancing here?
I think that what the Jedi seek is a balance of wisdom and power. There's a lot of talk about "the power of the Force," like Vader saying that destroying a planet is insignificant next to it. Obi-Wan tells Luke that the Force only partially controls your actions, but also obeys your commands. I believe that gets to the heart of balance. If it obeys your commands, then the Force can certainly be used for good as well as for evil. As Kenobi said:
"The Force is what gives the Jedi their power. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together."
So, if it is unbalanced, that energy fields suffers. If it suffers, then we are not bound together—we are torn apart. It's that tearing apart—that separation—that Palpatine seeks. Even his conjured-up army of droids are led by the "Separatists." What he seeks above all is power. He wants power of ruling all systems, subjugating its people, and relentlessly forcing his will upon the galaxy. He seeks and even gains that power through pulling the strings of government, lying to the people, creating false conflicts, and finally, turning the heroes into enemies. This tips the balance of the Force onto the side of power and those who seek that power flock to his side.
And what of wisdom? That's what I see on the other side of the scale. The Jedi are considered wise. Yoda says the purpose of the Jedi is to use the Force for "knowledge and defence, never for attack." So, what if there is an imbalance to the Force that tips the scales to Wisdom? I believe we see this at play from the start of Episode I.
The Jedi are present in the galaxy, they have a council, they raise young people in its ways to carry on its practices. They do seem wise but at the same time, Palpatine went on his merry way virtually undetected by the Jedi. How did they not see him coming? Weren't they wise? We see the Jedi already having a little trouble.
For one thing, if they are counselors of peace, why are they at the beck and call of government? The original chancellor (Valorum) sent Jedi to settle a trade dispute. Also, why is the main Jedi temple on Coruscant? That's the center of politics and the Senate. For another thing, shouldn't the temple be somewhere more reclusive like the one we saw in the sequel trilogy on Ahch-To? I mean, they do have a library and a school and a council room—the appearance of wisdom. They are fully invested in the Jedi teachings and the "code." So that means only one padawan per knight, only 12 on the council, and those are only masters who are appointed by the council. It also means, no emotional attachments!
Anakin, the supposed "chosen one," has lots of attachments. He had no father, he was attached to his mother. That makes sense. Why wouldn't he become attached to his caregiver? He cared for Jar Jar, for R2, cared for Padme, he even cared for Palpatine who in turn had been caring for him. The wisdom of the Jedi, however, was to cut off all attachments no matter what. This was their wisdom. Any attachment was forbidden.
This is probably where the Jedi were wrong. They were relying too much on their wisdom and following the rules of the Jedi code without espousing its spirit. What they didn't seem to allow was a balance that could include attachment and emotion. After all, all the sentient life forms in Star Wars, and on Earth, have emotions. We don't ignore them—we can't. Yes, they can cloud our vision, but they can also lead us if we keep our reason in balance with them.
The Jedi only see vision being clouded, and therefore, it is simply not allowed. This strict view hurts Anakin, who knows there's more to the Force than this. That's what Palpatine plays on with him. Palpatine even says:
"If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi."
He's kind of right. Unfortunately, his purpose is to turn Anakin to the extreme other side, to that of power.
Anakin gets stuck in the middle of all this and it simply drives him mad. He feels the Jedi kept him down from using his power for good and for teaching him that his attachments were wrong and would lead to evil. Palpatine stirs the pot to seduce him to the other side saying that his power can make everything right and good for him.
As it turns out, the Jedi and the Emperor are both wrong. With wisdom and power, there must be a balance between them. Only then will the Force and all the galaxy have harmony. But with the Jedi to entrenched in wisdom they didn't see how Anakin, with a balance of his emotions and his reason, could lead them to a greater understanding of the Force. With the Sith entrenched in power, they could only serve that power to stay alive.
Therefore, the Force remained unbalanced until Luke achieved the balance within himself when he had Darth Vader defeated because he used his power, but restrained his power and did not kill him because he loved him. That allowed Anakin to return and let his attachment, his emotion, his love of his son, bring himself balance, and the balance of the Force itself. But his destructive fight for power for so long still damaged him so this final act cost him his life. Wisdom and power became balanced because of love.
When Luke is in his self-imposed exile, he keeps the ancient texts, the tomes of knowledge of the Jedi, their wisdom—and he keeps them safe in the sacred tree. I believe he was originally trying to get the Jedi back to their roots, so to speak, but he found that will all the wisdom from the texts and from all the power that failed the Jedi over the generations (the power that should have stopped the rise of the Emperor) he thought the cost of this teaching was too much on the galaxy—that it, and by extension, he, had failed the galaxy. Rey was the only beacon of hope, but her untrained power and lack of experience (and perhaps wisdom) led her to the trap set by Snoke. However, her actions and her use of power, while may have seemed like a failure at the start, proved to be a move forward to the light and planted the seeds of hope in Kylo Ren, in Luke, in Leia, in the Resistence. From that point, the goodness could rise because she set new ground for it to grow.
After all this, was Luke the embodiment of the balance of the Force? We would see in later episodes that keeping the balance was always a struggle for him. However, if we look at Leia, his sister, it would seem she personified balance more than anyone in the saga. She was always on the side of righteousness, fighting for the Rebels, and uplifting those around her. She lost her adopted parents, lost her entire people and planet, and still commanded the Alliance with grace. She loved those around her including Han, whom she almost lost at the hands of Vader and bounty hunters. She knew he was worth rescuing and went about it herself even ending up in humiliating chains with Jabba the Hutt (whom she killed single-handedly to save herself and her friends).
Later, Leia would give up her own Jedi training. She would lose her own son to the Dark Side, she would lose her brother who all but abandoned everything. She would lose the love of her life, Han, because they tried to mend their broken attachment. She lost Luke without even seeing him in person. And after all that, she was always leading people as a princess, as a General, accounting for losses and weakness, strengthening those around her. She used the Force only at her most desperate time and would even take up training Rey when Luke had gone. And she still maintained her balance of wisdom and power to lead the fight against tyranny. In the end, she even lost her own life to try and lead her son to the same balance. I believe it was Leia that made it possible for Kylo Ren to once again see his father, Han. She used that power to counsel and lead and it finally allowed Ben to return, and along with Rey, balance the Force once and for all.
So, if we're looking for the example of balancing the Force, look to Leia whom Luke defended against Vader, whom Kylo Ren couldn't kill, who passed on her wisdom and power, and even her true name, to Rey who could carry on the spirit and name of Skywalker.