A Jedi prophecy said the chosen one would bring the Force back into balance. Did Anakin fulfill it? If so, how? Obi-Wan thought he would “destroy the Sith, not join them”. But how would that be balance?
The prophecy can be understood, but it requires an unorthodox explanation of the Force, heretical to the Jedi, but true to the films. This even reconciles key tenets of Eastern and Western spirituality and exhorts us to attain a balanced life, while purely good, uncompromising with evil.
First, what is Eastern and Western spirituality? Largely derived from Judeo-Christian religion, Western philosophy has a clear distinction between good and evil, in which good ultimately wins. This flows from the theology that God is purely good, and He says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Conversely, Eastern philosophy emphasizes balance. (Think yin and yang.) When grounded in pantheism, this means that both good and evil must coexist, such that neither is truly bad. As these two worldviews contradict, when I first heard of the prophecy in The Phantom Menace, I thought it was just another instance of garbled Eastern philosophy in a Western movie.
Understanding the Living Force
Since Star Wars contains the classic story arc of Good defeating Evil, the notion of balance seems out of place. Wouldn’t balance require that the good Jedi and evil Sith share power, which would be a worse situation than the beginning of Episode I and a disappointing end to the saga? I propose a way to interpret the prophecy consistent with the overall story, showing how the Force was unbalanced, and how Anakin ultimately brings balance at the end of Episode VI.1
To understand the prophecy, we must accept that the Jedi are themselves unbalanced and mistaken about the nature of the Force. Indeed, this failure triggered the fall of Anakin and the rise of the Empire. They, and the audience who believes them, falsely equate Light as Good and Dark as Evil.2
The Sith make a different mistake. While turning to the Dark Side, they also embrace something contrary to the living Force: Evil itself. As Obi-Wan correctly states, the Force flows from life, “created by all living things”. But the way of the Sith is the way of death.
We come to the following Venn diagram, which draws a distinction between two complementary “Goods” and a contrasting “Evil”. While the first two columns must be championed in balance, the third must be defeated.
The Jedi only value the first column, while the Sith embrace aspects of the second and third. The Jedi are unbalanced. The Sith are worse off, unbalanced, “twisted and evil”.
Using the first row as an example, we can see how Anakin brought balance to the Force. The Jedi committed themselves to the common good, often spurning love for individuals. Initially, Anakin began to balance this, caring for the mission, but also his mom, wife, master, and even his droid.3 As his tendency was discouraged by the Jedi and manipulated by Darth Sidious, he gave in to not just the Dark Side, but Evil itself, succumbing to hatred, anger, and death. Luke begins down the same path, but ultimately remains true to his love for the galaxy and love for his father. Fulfilling the prophecy as the chosen one4, Anakin as Vader hunted the Jedi and now kills the Emperor, leading to his own death. This leaves only Luke, who lives the balanced Force.
Living in Balance and Conquering Evil
Applying the insight from Star Wars, we can find a balance between Eastern and Western Spirituality. We learn from Eastern thought that many good things must be held in balance. At the same time, this does not mean that everything in this world is good (and certainly not god incarnate as the pantheist argues.) Hence, God’s call to holiness is a call to balance, not between Good and Evil, but between complementary Goods.
This message applies to our politics, especially as we see the nation and world polarize faster and faster. At his TED Talk, Jonathan Haidt notes that liberals and conservatives have different moral strengths, and that we need both to solve our world’s problems. Referring to Eastern philosophers, he calls for balance. For instance, good political philosophy requires a balance of maintaining liberty while also ensuring general welfare.
That said, we need Western thought as well5, as certain mentalities have no place in society, which we must work together to eliminate. Using the example of immigration, while we need a balance of compassion to the foreigner and security for the nation, we must solidly reject xenophobia and racism.6 Unfortunately, we too easily only apply the Western mindset. Instead of seeking compromise between the good aspects of both political philosophies, we deem the other party as the evil to defeat, seeking victory at the polls at all costs.
At asyourpoetshavesaid.com, we relate spiritual truth in our favorite stories to our lives. So, while valuing the political implications, let us not miss other, more personal opportunities to practice this message of balance and goodness. Look again at the chart. First, which evils have you embraced (or let slide)? Second, examining the first two columns, how are you unbalanced? How can you better balance the proverbial “Light and Dark Side of the Force” in your life?
- While I propose this interpretation, I still question it and remain open to debate as to how well it fits the entire saga, especially as people add to it with new movies, TV shows, and books. ↩
- Star Wars Rebels gives further credibility to my interpretation by including the Bendu. While he is neither light nor dark, “but the one in the middle”, he is clearly a benevolent, positive influence, showing the balanced force is not the coexistence of Good and Evil, but it is simply Good. ↩
- While the prequel trilogy clearly presents this tension, The Clone Wars TV series further develops it. ↩
- To discredit this interpretation, one might argue that the prophecy does not refer to Anakin, but the Mortis story arc of The Clone Wars leaves no doubt that he is the chosen one. ↩
- Quoting Sent Ts’an, Haidt says “never be for or against”. But that statement, which is against “being for or against”, carries the same logical inconsistency as “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” More accurately, we could say “Don’t always be for or against” and “A Sith deals in absolutes.” ↩
- This example also shows a thin line between the Dark Side and Evil, as national security could easily, but not necessarily, become a guise for xenophobia. ↩