For fans of The Clone Wars the season finale of Rebels’ second season ended in the fan equivalent of high octane adrenaline being injected straight into the heart. Why? It brought together master and apprentice, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. Their friendship and partnership was a driving force throughout the The Clone Wars series and was an emotional climax to the series when Ahsoka elected to leave the Jedi Order. She left before she could learn what happened to her former master, she left before the rise of Darth Vader. In “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Ahsoka literally comes face to face with Anakin with the intention of saving him, but that task would be left to Anakin’s son, Luke a few years farther down the line. A pivotal moment of that confrontation, however, was Vader’s pronouncement that Anakin Skywalker no longer exist, that he had been destroyed by the Sith Lord. Tano responds, “Then I will avenge him,” which in turn invites Vader to comment, “Revenge is not the Jedi way.” Breathlessly, for viewers at least, Ahsoka fires back, “I am no Jedi.”
The four words punctuated a change undergoing within Lucasfilm on how to perceive the Force and those who use it. It’s a moving away from the simpler understanding that rested on the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda in the original trilogy, our original teachers of the Jedi and the Force. As such, as we can see it as a shifting from George Lucas’ original idea of living energy field, or at least, the idea that Lucas was content convey to millions of Star Wars fans. Until, that is, the prequel trilogy, which codified a slightly new understanding of the groups who used the different sides of the Force. For the first time on film, Sith became a description applied to users of the Dark Side, while the Jedi, themselves, romantic knights and philosophers of the original trilogy, became something more stratified and remote. This was not a departure from Lucas’ original ideas, because these new additions were after all Lucas’.
For as much as users of the Dark Side and the Light Side became more defined in the prequel trilogy, be it the adoption of the ‘Rule of Two’ for Sith or the examination of midichlorians as an understanding of one’s power to use the Force, the basic understanding of the Force, the Jedi, and the Sith remained same. If you were a Light Side user of the Fore, then you were a Jedi, and a Sith in the opposite extreme. Lucas actively stepped away from cinematic Star Wars following the release of Revenge of the Sith, but not from the universe that was born from his imagination in the 70’s. Not long after the prequel trilogy had concluded, The Clone Wars debuted over which Lucas remained as an executive producer. Over the course of that show’s six seasons, the philosophy of the Force began to be examined more deeply and non-more so than the mystical elements found in the episodes surrounding the planet “Mortis.”
Over the three episode long arc, we are introduced to incarnations of the Light Side of the Force as a daughter-figure, the Dark Side of the Force as a son-figure, and a neutral, father figure of the two. While the son and daughter both represent the sides of the Force we have long associated as exclusively identifiable as Sith or Jedi, neither of the two can be placed in this category. They represent the dual sides and use it accordingly, but because they are not trapped within the definitions developed over the past decades on film, it opens the question of what the Force is and what defines a Force wielder. Likewise, since we have a neutral ‘Father’ figure, who represents the Force as a whole, we can appreciate that both the Dark Side and the Light Side are part of a greater construction. The Clone Wars also played with this identification of Force users in the form of the Witches of Dathomir.
Lead by Mother Talzin and referred to by themselves as the Nightsisters, they rejected the polarity of simply relying on the Dark Side or the Light Side, but invoked a form of magic that seemed to draw upon both sides of the Force. Ultimately, though, the Nightsisters can be described as users of the Dark Side, albeit with a certain level of arm length stretched between them and being fully consumed by it. This was best highlighted in Dark Disciple, a novel adapted from planned episodes of The Clone Wars, which told the story of Asajj Ventress’ attempt to teach a Jedi Master the Nightsister way of using the Dark Side of the Force. Needless to say, the Jedi Master, Quinlan Vos, failed to avoid being consumed by this side of the Force and tragically fell. This consumption, notably, is what so far has been represented in Star Wars as what we expect from the aforementioned Sith in the style of Anakin Skywalker’s own fall. It even comes with a visual key, the eyes of those who are utterly consumed assume a red and yellow hue. Notably, in the most recent Star Wars film, our representative Dark Side user is missing this identifier. His name is Kylo Ren.
That Adam Driver retains his dark brown eyes throughout the film, even when he arguably has offered the last shred of goodness over to the Dark Side, represents the ongoing official adoption that the Light Side and the Dark Side do not have prescribed manners of interaction and use. The powers that be at Lucasfilm have flat out stated that Kylo Ren isn’t a Sith and his lack of multi-hued eyes back up this assertion. Yet, what does unite all Dark Side users, regardless of the medium, is a propensity to act immorally, be it killing one’s father in cold blood or killing innocent children. Asajj Ventress, herself, early in her own appearances in The Clone Wars had the purposeful mission to find and kill a baby Hutt simply to comply with her master’s orders. Thus, there is a unifying element to the Dark Side, that demands a certain lack of empathy and rejection of what could be considered “Light Side” values.
In the area of users of the Light Side, we return to Ahsoka Tano. She is no Jedi, but we know that she is certainly not a Sith, nor someone who calls upon the powers of the Dark Side to achieve her goals. Her distancing of herself from the tenets of the Jedi Order, as climatically revealed in “Twilight of the Apprentice” reveals that she feels emboldened to act in a way that the Jedi, themselves, would never have condoned, to seek revenge. This act of revenge is never telegraphed as Tano, herself, slipping toward the Dark Side, just a signifier that she is a Light Side Force user who isn’t a Jedi. In the same episode, we also have Ezra Bridger, the padawan apprentice of Kanan Jarrus who flirts with the Dark Side.
In “Twilight,” Ezra encounters Maul, who encourages the young Jedi to draw upon the Dark Side through his anger and desire for power to help accomplish feats required to gain entry into a Sith Temple. Ezra’s use of the Dark Side does not automatically condemn him to becoming a Dark Side acolyte or a Sith, in fact, there appears to be no initial negative ramifications of Ezra’s flirtation until the Season Three premiere, “Steps into Shadow.” Approximately six months down the road, Ezra has been learning techniques of the Dark Side from a Sith holocron. At first, Ezra seems his usual self, but quickly, he displays a Sith mind trick which leaves the viewer unsettled with a supreme case of disapproval. Likewise, Ezra’s personality has shifted somewhat, allowing more anger into his interactions with others, but still, he has not become the red and yellow eyed monster created through total consumption of the Dark Side. Not yet, anyways.
In the middle of this debate of what represents a Dark Side user and a Light Side user, we quite literally have the self-proclaimed middle man, well, creature, Bendu. The Bendu is discovered by Kanan, and effortlessly displays an ability to use the Dark Side of the Force to open the Sith holocron. Kanan’s own Jedi infused worries of the Dark Side are triggered, but the Bendu simply responds, “An object cannot make you good or evil. The temptation of power…even the desire to do good can lead you down that path. Only you can change yourself.” What can we take away from the Bendu, then? Perhaps that on their own, neither the Dark Side nor the Light Side change those who use it, so much as how one chooses to use those powers are what changes an individual. Or more likely, the use of the Dark Side or the Light Side will lead one down paths which will change that individual. If one can resist the allure, for example, of the Dark Side while they use it, they can avoid the path to consumption.
Against this we cast our own human frailty and the Jedi Order’s recognition of the weakness of the individual. Our society, since ancient times beyond memory, have organized themselves around the principal that alone, we cannot be trusted to act in a manner beneficial to ourselves and others. So our societies have religion and laws to either encourage one behavior or discipline another to avoid the pitfalls built into us. In that regard, we see the Jedi as a group who recognized not necessarily the inherent dangers of the Dark Side, so much as the weakness of the individual to resist going down the path it offers. The Sith, in turn, turn this theory on its head, noting the strength to be gained by taking the path. In brief, both sides represent the same polemic views of the Force from different directions. But in the end, what does “I am no Jedi,” really represent?
It represents the fact that our evolved Star Wars universe is one open to others interacting with the Force with different perspectives on how to guard or embrace dangers or benefits it offers. Arguably, the Jedi and Sith way of approaching the Force equate to the most successful approaches to the Force if only because they carry a longevity of success or perpetuation that, at least for now, isn’t quite challenged. Bendu, represents something else, but he’s also a giant creature who seems to spend most of his time sleeping in a hole in the ground. What species he represents, if he represents a species and not some incredible incarnation of the Force itself, is one that for the longest time has been absent from a galaxy that has records going back over a thousand generations. That a middle way is an option that for now has been otherwise loss, suggests that the ability to pursue it with success is a highly difficult one. Quinlan Vos attempted to do as much and failed, wiser minds reject the notion entirely. Because a way exists, doesn’t mean it’s a simple matter of following it and enjoying the benefits of both the Dark Side and the Light Side.
Ultimately, the Force and how it’s approached in Star Wars moving forward is more dynamic than our understanding gleamed from Yoda’s instructions in the swamps of Dagobah. Undoubtedly, we will encounter more alternative philosophies surrounding using the Light Side and the Dark Side, and while enriching the knowledge concerning the Force, they will also serve as potential outlets for those Force users whom we identify with now, such as Kanan or Ezra, as the definition of Jedi is no longer technically associated with purely those who use the Light Side of the Force. If they pursue a different path than that propounded by the Jedi, they can remain ‘good’ characters, but also not make a liar out of Yoda’s solemn declaration to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, concerning Luke’s status as the soon to be last Jedi. The fire of the Jedi may be quickly extinguishing across the galaxy as we continue toward the time period of A New Hope, but it does not necessarily mean the end of our heroes.