The Gray: Exploring the Darker Themes of the Force

On Star Wars Day, where fans around the world display their affection for arguably the most celebrated franchise of all time, I decided to dive between the cracks of the Light and Dark to find answers further than the fundamental reason why people flock to the story of Star Wars. What goes beyond the story of family, beyond good and evil?

Warning: Mild Spoilers for The Clone Wars and Rebels.

George Lucas appeared on stage after what seemed a prolonged exile from his own estranged child, and calmly walked across the dais to the roaring nerds who had packed the ’40 years of…’ Star Wars Celebration panel. Not unlike hermit Ben Kenobi, he spoke in short, quiet little sentences, but with a forced patience, perhaps not much like Sir Alec Guiness at all in that sense. The panel skimmed over the good times that Star Wars had offered to its cast and crew, even bringing back Anakin Skywalker himself- Hayden Christensen, who got some much-needed love from the crowd. The one standout line I can remember from the entire panel was from Lucas himself though, when he quipped:

It’s a film for 12-year-olds”

“Friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing, living on the right side and avoiding the dark side,” Lucas went on. “Those are the things it was meant to do.”

Growing up I think I was less jaded, as we all might have been at some point, and mostly adhered to these beliefs: I’ve always seen myself as good against evil kinda guy, and while a lot of my friends were busy losing their interests in pop culture and the like, I still was known for championing the fight to remain a child at heart, and a nerd for all. Funnily enough though, as I continue my journey to dig through the endless stories and content from a galaxy far away, I realise that the very franchise that has made me believe in such a stark black and white concept of life; has of the last few years made me reject the same ideals.

Long before George Lucas took up his permanent hiatus from the Star Wars universe, and before the humongous sale to the Mickey Mouse Club, everything in Star Wars was canon. By that I mean that every bit of literature, or comics or games, all fell into the theory of "This actually happened" in the Star Wars context; all the material that was created peripheral to Star Wars was officially accepted as part of the story. With that very ruling, we got a vast number of defining stories for mega fans for whom the six-part saga was not enough, and it really was in these fringe stories that the adult aspect of Star Wars really shone through. These were the deep, murky grays of the Star Wars universe between the harsh blacks and whites of the Jedi and Sith. Obi-Wan may have told Anakin that only a Sith dealt in absolutes, but I can see now how the Jedi were so rigid about their rules to abide by the Force. It’s no wonder we saw so many great characters emerge from the valley between the right and apparent wrong.

The now non-canon Starkiller from  The Force Unleashed  series, who walked the line between Light and Dark and later, his house sigil is used as the symbol for the Rebel Alliance.

The now non-canon Starkiller from The Force Unleashed series, who walked the line between Light and Dark and later, his house sigil is used as the symbol for the Rebel Alliance.

Of the more recent characters who bent the rules and who fit completely within the new canon of the Star Wars universe, is fan-fave Ahsoka Tano. I remember going to the theatre to watch the Series Premiere of Star Wars’ first CGI animated adventure, The Clone Wars. The introduction of Ahsoka blew my mind: Anakin had an apprentice?! She was annoying and a bit lame to begin to with, but she really found her feet over the course of the next few seasons of the show, which itself has become some of the most seminal work in the franchise. Where Obi-Wan obeyed his teachings, and nixes his relationship with Madame Satine, and where Anakin finally betrays his feelings and shifts completely to the Dark Side; Ahsoka concluded, as I did too at some point, that the Jedi aren’t all what they are kicked to be. Perhaps this was a storytelling device to save her from the inevitable fate that befell all Jedi during Order 66, or perhaps it was to introduce the most acceptable form of the Force wielders, The Gray Jedi. Those who walk the line between the Dark and the Light and follow their own reasonable way to live outside the tenets of the Force, or those who opposed the teachings of the High Council like Master Qui-Gon Jinn were suggested to be Gray Jedi. Ahsoka herself eventually leaves the Jedi Order when she realizes the harshness of the Jedi scriptures do not allow her to be true to herself. (That and the fact that they think she’s trying to bomb the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.) But with Ahsoka we got to see the middle of the argument, that a lot of us regulars can subscribe to. A more humane approach rather than the extreme good that Lucas professed the Jedi to be.

Another great example of the same is a character from Star Wars Rebels. Set between episode III and IV we get to see the scrappy fight between an nascent rebel movement versus the behemoth of the empire. The Jedi in the show, Ezra and Kanan are both morally grey in nature; one being too old to be trained and thus conflicted, and the other having not completed his Jedi training thanks to Order 66; respectively. Both of these characters are excellent in seeing the complexities of having to choose a side and then having the stones to stick to it. Through the entirety of the show we have characters like them and returning characters like Darth Maul, conflicted with the same problem. Each finds a value in the opposite side that could be used for their development, and the show really takes it deep into Star Wars Mythology to craft their stories out beautifully.

Ezra and Kanan, the confused Jedi.

Ezra and Kanan, the confused Jedi.

However, there is one character that literally embodies the middle: The Bendu. The Bendu is a mythical creature and force-wielder who appears to Kanan on the planet Atollon. The Bendu has been chilling there for centuries and takes every opportunity to remind Kanan that he is  ‘The Middle’, between the light and the dark. Throughout the season, he helps the blinded Kanan (sometimes rather sadistically), centre himself and accept his fate that he cannot control his padawan's decision to fall to the dark side. Voiced gloriously by Tom Baker, The Bendu remains a mystery throughout the season and one of the most engaging and interesting characters we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe.

The Force-sensitive Bendu.

The Force-sensitive Bendu.

These thoughts of Gray Jedi and the like have been floating about for longer than I can remember, but it seems more pertinent now than ever, especially since that bomb of a line was dropped at the end of The Last Jedi trailer.

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

It could just be a jaded Luke Skywalker line early in the film, while he trains an untrainable Rey; only to be proven wrong at the end of the film. In all probability it is that, but what if after giving the fans what they wanted in The Force Awakens; a return to the glory of feels the original trilogy had, Kathleen Kennedy and gang decided that its time Star Wars took a deeper and more evolved look at the light and dark of things? Perhaps the Jedi and Sith are the traditional characters in these stories but perhaps there is more? It surely makes sense in a world where there isn’t any place to draw lines between race, gender and other categories; and to a lesser extent, maybe the stories themselves have to go to a new place for them to be everlasting? 

I think the 'Gray' side is perhaps the one that people would most be able to reconcile with. The older I get, the closer I get to possibly being on the side of Han Solo, easily the most relatable character in the entire saga, who's initial feeling that "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid" goes well beyond it's literal sense and really boils it down to what it is. Life isn't all just dark and light; and I think most of us are comfortable seated in the shade.

Scribe: Tejas Menon

Captain's Log: Tejas is a core member at Geek Fruit HQ and HE IS READY FOR THE TRIALS. Find him on twitter @tejasmenon