Star Wars has finally responded to the biggest criticism of the idea of "balance of the Force." When George Lucas created the Star Wars franchise, he chose to interpret the Force in terms of light and dark, yin and yang. As he put it in an interview with Time Magazine in 1980, "The Force has two sides. It is not an inherently malevolent or a benevolent thing. It has a bad side to it, involving hate and fear, and it has a good side, involving love, charity, fairness and hope."
This became even more explicit in the prequels, which introduced the concept of balance. The Chosen One was a clearly Messianic figure - born of a virgin, no less - who was destined to bring balance to the Force. Curiously, the Jedi chose to interpret this as referring to the destruction of the Sith, as though the darkness needed to be vanquished. But the very word "balance" suggests a place for both light and dark, good and evil, yin and yang. Shouldn't adherents of "balance" want the Jedi to be destroyed as well as the Sith?
The latest Star Wars novel, Claudia Gray's Master and Apprentice, has finally addressed those criticisms head-on. Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the book explores the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Along the way, it also shines a lot of light on the prophecy of the Chosen One, given Qui-Gon spends a good deal of time with another Jedi who has studied the prophecies, Rael Aveross. In one scene, Rael raises a philosophical objection to the balance of the Force:
"Let's say I believe that someday there's going to be perfect balance in the Force. Thanks to some kinda Chosen One. Did you ever really think about what that would mean, Qui-Gon? It would mean the darkness would be just as strong as the light. So it doesn't matter what we do, because in the end, hey, it's a tie! It doesn't matter which side we choose."
But Qui-Gon gives a simple answer:
"It maters. It matters which side we choose. Even if there will never be more light than darkness. Even if there can be no more joy in the galaxy than there is pain. For every action we undertake, for every word we speak, for every life we touch - it matters. I don't turn toward the light because it means someday I'll "win" some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light."
In other words, as far as Qui-Gon is concerned, the Force itself is balanced. But every living being has the responsibility to choose a side. To focus on the ultimate outcome is a mistake; instead, every person's focus should be on their present moment, whether they are acting for good or for ill. It's fascinating to speculate how this philosophy would have affected Anakin Skywalker, had Qui-Gon survived that fateful encounter with Darth Maul and gone on to train Anakin as his Padawan. Given Qui-Gon would have viewed Anakin as an agent of balance, he'd probably have been a lot more cautious and careful when it came to trying to indoctrinate the child with the tenets of the Jedi Order.
Master and Apprentice confirms that, through the Chosen One, the Force will be restored to a place of "ultimate balance." It remains to be seen what that looks like, given the return of Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker suggests the darkness is still dominant. For now, though, Qui-Gon's teaching is a reminder that every character in the Star Wars story has their own part to play in this balance - a part that will be decided by the choices they make.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019