Now don’t get me wrong, practitioners of the “Dark Side” have done a lot of bad things over the millennia and I doubt that will change any time soon, especially seeing as Star Wars does seem to love its clear-cut ‘good versus evil’ way of telling a story.
For the purposes of the franchise as a whole it’s a fine way of doing things, because everyone loves a tale where the good guys are definitively in the right and go on to triumph against the baddies.
But what if we try and think about this a little differently? What if, a long, long, loooong, time ago in that galaxy far, far away the original practitioners of the more shadowy side of space magic decided to approach it with a different philosophy?
So why is it called “The Dark Side”?
Well, obviously old Georgie-boy needed an evil opposite to the Light Side, and the word is a natural choice.
But why? What makes the Dark Side intrinsically evil?
Pretty much only its association with the Sith, that’s what.
The original Sith race, after which the faction is named, were a pretty nasty bunch who reeeaaally loved violence and decided they would build a galactic empire on the backs of millions of slaves – you know, standard bad guy stuff. They also had an inbuilt knack for tapping into the Dark Side of the Force, which they obviously used to their advantage.
Ok, so I’m not really helping my case, but let’s go back even further.
Before the Sith became a massive empire of Force-users, and before their name became synonymous with the Dark Side of the Force, there were just the Jedi and one man who decided to upset the status quo.
This unnamed Jedi was born 7000 years before the Battle of Yavin and was the first of the order who decided that their potential was being wasted on meditation and passivity, also harbouring the unpopular opinion that the forbidden arts were the way to go.
To quote Wookieepedia, what happened next was “The Jedi High Council, upset by the beliefs of this rogue Jedi, exiled him from the Jedi Order”.
Note the terminology. There’s no mention of evil, no mention of heinous acts, just the fact that he upset a few stuffy old monks who had decided that something should be forbidden just because they didn’t agree with it. It wasn’t until after this event that the Dark Side truly became a byword for evil and tyranny as this rogue Jedi went on to become the first Sith Lord (enlisting the help of the aforementioned race) and do a lot of naughty things. Maybe someone was a little bitter that he had been thrown out?
I can imagine you clamouring to inform me that the Dark Side of the Force is intrinsically evil etc, etc…
But how is it? Let’s look at a few of the more famous powers:
- Force choking? Just using telekinesis for something a bit kinkier than your average person-throwing.
- Force lightning? It looks mean, but it’s not much more evil than cutting off someone’s limbs with a blade made of superheated plasma.
Ok, so we may get a bit fuzzy in the area of one particular Sith master using the Force to drain the vitality from captives in order to extend his own life, but it’s entirely possible that the same technique can be used to heal someone or prevent them from dying until medical help arrives. Hmm, sooo evil.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the practitioners of the light and the Dark Sides of the Force is the way they are taught to channel their energies and the mental philosophies surrounding them.
For example, just take a look at this awesome image showing the creeds of the Jedi and the Sith:
It’s immediately obvious that the Jedi way is all about embracing serenity, calm, and general chillness to focus their powers. What’s interesting is that there are only two parts of the creeds that directly counter each other: “There is no emotion, there is peace” and “There is no passion, there is serenity” for the Jedi, directly contradicted by “Peace is a lie, there is only passion.”
What does that say to you? Passion obviously evokes anger and violence, because that’s what we’ve come to associate with the Sith.
But doesn’t “passion” also evoke feelings of love, excitement, and happiness? To be passionate about something doesn’t mean “to violently attack it with a lightsaber in a mardy tantrum” does it?
The Jedi’s mantra is all about distancing yourself from emotion whereas the Sith way is all about embracing the feelings that drive us, and thus our vitality and humanity. Embracing the Dark Side is intrinsically linked to these things and intrinsically linked to being human, so despite what some people may say I cannot see how that is automatically evil.
Now before you dismiss this as (only) the mad ravings of a pedantic nerd, there are actually a couple of in-universe examples that not only back me up but go even further to completely eliminate a distinction between the light and Dark Sides completely!
The first of these was developed around 132 years before the Battle of Yavin and was called “Potentium”. Its followers theorised that there is no inherent evil in the Force, there is no light or dark, and that no individual Force techniques are definitively evil; what matters is the intent of the person using them.
Proponents of this philosophy also believed that if they held a sound moral grounding, they could unlock the full potential of the Force without risking corruption, something they thought the majority of Jedi were afraid to do.
Naturally, the Jedi Council was upset by something which even smelled of coming close to Sith teachings so the followers of Potentium were expelled from the order for their beliefs (way to go, champions of truth and justice!) and somehow, despite their clearly super-heretical views, they managed to not end up being evil. Funny that.
There was also a concept among some Jedi in the order that was similar to Potentium but without the hunt for power. This concept was called “Unifying Force” and, like Potentium, held the view the Force was a vast cosmic power without a Dark Side or a Light Side.
Supporters of Unifying Force put much stock in visions of the future, spending most of their time searching for meaning in them rather than the here and now, an aspect that even Master Yoda adhered to (even if he never acknowledged any other viewpoints of the theory). It was probably this passivity that allowed followers of Unifying Force to stay within the order, even if they were frowned up.
So after all of that, why do we continue to associate the Force with a Light Side and a Dark Side?
Simply enough, it’s because the argument is dominated by extremes, and will continue to be for a long time. Since the rise of Palpatine’s Empire the only proponents of the Force have been set in a very binary good and evil, Jedi and Sith, Light and Dark, philosophy, and will be very hard to shake from this pattern.
So do not fear the darkness of the Force, but the darkness within the hearts and minds of the people that use it. If more power could be used as moral means to a just end, then why should we not use it just because it would upset the Council?
As the Sith creed says: “The Force shall set me free.”