Is the Dark Side More Powerful?

Vader in a cut shot from Return of the Jedi
The more I see cut moments from Return of the Jedi, the more I want to see them as a special feature.

This is one of the great lingering questions of the Star Wars saga for me. Is the Dark Side, in fact, more powerful than the light? It’s a lingering question because the films seem to contradict themselves on this point and Lucas seeming to contradict himself on this point over time. While I think it has to do with poor word choice leading to a semantic confusion of the answer, the question remains.

Is the Dark Side of the Force more powerful?

Preface: A Question of Balance

You’ll notice that Lucas extended a theme through the prequels that retroactively applies to the entire series. The theme of Balance.

There’s a very clear sense of balance that comes to the galaxy, especially if you regard the films as the authoritative text. At the end of Sith, you have four major powers remaining, two on each side.

There are two masters [Sidious, Yoda] and two disciples [Vader, Kenobi]. To be sure, it’s a simplistic view of balance, but effective symbolism nonetheless. Basically, by the time A New Hope happens, the Force is held in an inflexible state of constancy, until Luke and Leia come of age to throw things out of whack again.

All of this seems to discount the “expanded universe” materials that show a Jedi refugee under nearly every rock. Obviously, the Jedi would therefore still outnumber the Sith; until you take into account that in the “expanded universe” materials, there are about six million rules-lawyered exceptions to the Rule of Two.

So for simplicity’s sake, I leave it to the films as the text discussed and eschew the rest. Even taking it in, it seems still to be a wash.

Yes with an “If,” No with a “But”

Palpatine: Power! Unlimited Power!

–Revenge of the Sith

Examining the series through that lens, there’s an ebb and flow to things that determines which “side” of the Force is more powerful at any given time. This is the framework of Destiny wherein Free Will can still work.

To wit, when Anakin comes on the scene, the Dark Side is ascendant. The Sith are in a powerful enough position to reveal themselves to the Jedi. Darth Maul’s line, “At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi,” implies that they’ve been waiting for this moment for a while yet.

Pair that with the moment in the Jedi Council chamber when Qui–Gon states his theory that the charming man in the face paint was a Sith Lord. Ki–Adi–Mundi exclaims that the Sith “have been extinct for a millenium.”

I point these things out to underline the nature of the Force’s flow as demonstrated in the text. Basically, if we’re to take what the films present, the power of the Dark Side is growing quickly after the Light has been shining brightly for a long time.

This does not rule out people falling to the Dark Side from time to time. Like the stock market, there are peaks and valleys even when the overall trend is upward.

Further join this understanding with Mace Windu’s line in Attack of the Clones, “…our ability to use the Force is diminished.” This paints a clear picture that the Dark Side itself is ascendant, and is at one of its peak moments.

It’s bound to happen; this is especially in line with the thought that the actions of people will influence the general energy of the world. We know that the Republic Senate at this point is filled with “greedy, squabbling delegates.” Corruption has become the norm for the Republic.

The basic conclusion of both of these lines of thought is basically hopeful, because even when evil wins, it’s brief. The Light burns more evenly and so lasts longer.

Anakin’s actions will determine where the peak of the Dark Side is on this graph. If he made different choices, then the Dark Side could be stopped and made to recede (not disappear, of course, since evil never truly dies) until it can ascend again.

Instead, he takes it to new heights, though it will inevitably have to collapse again. So I suppose you could argue that Vader is actually causing the duration of the New Sith Empire to be shorter in duration since the brighter candle burns more quickly.

It’s an investment bubble of Fate!

Playing the Long Game

Yoda meditating
Eat burritos, early in the evening, you should not.

Luke: Is the Dark Side more powerful?
Yoda: No…no. Quicker, Easier…more seductive.

–The Empire Strikes Back

It’s during only certain moments of time that evil is resurgent and every so often, dominates the scene. Think of real human history. There have been real moments of despair and dysfunction; during the Twentieth Century, despite the greatest technological advances of all time, there were leaders who rallied evil forces to impose some heinous darkness on the world (Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Woodrow Wilson).

But the Light – Good – will always win because it’s the baseline. Underneath everything is goodness. And since this is all a marathon, not a sprint, true Evil doesn’t have the endurance to sustain itself. Anakin ushered in an era of great despair only to have his son embody the Balance his choices prevented him from being.

Either that, or I’ve thought about this stuff way too much.


3 thoughts on “Is the Dark Side More Powerful?

  1. I like your response, especially since it comes from a perspective I haven’t considered. But the question of balance begs a an answer as to what exactly constitutes balance. And this is one of the things that I thought was never very clear in the prequels.

    Anakin is prophesized to bring balance to the force, “The Chosen One.” My first thought to that was a balance between light and dark, and that’s bad news for the Jedi at that point, who had been the only game in town for a long time. But I think that interpretation misses the mark.

    But on the other hand, balance as a metaphysical concept, it seems to me, would constitute a harmony and serenity in life. And this makes it a much much bigger question. In this sense, the Jedi have fostered that harmony in the Old Republic and the galaxy was peaceful. Could the Jedi have been powerful enough to support peace if their wasn’t a cooperative constituency to go along with it?

    It seems to that prophecy is actually two prophecies in one. By declaring that a chosen one would restore balance to the force, at a time when balance seems to exist, suggests that an era of unbalance is coming. That’s also bad for the Jedi.

    The seeds for the imbalance are sown by civil war in the Republic as the Trade Federation invade Naboo while the Senate is befuddled to do anything about it. The constituency for peace has slipped away and those who thrive on discord have their opportunity. They turn their back on their institutions and promote those of ambition to unprecedented power to solve their problems.

    Anakin’s journey mirrors that of the republic. He is a hero who falls into darkness as the galaxy falls into tyranny, both complicit in their fall for their own lack of vision. Both rise again because of the courage and will of those who will not turn to darkness and the ultimate determination to throw aside that burden themselves.

    1. To clarify, the Light, the Jedi, thrive on balance and harmony. The Dark, the Sith, thrive on discord and confusion.

      I think that’s important because the natural state of humanity is peace. Humankind is at its best in times of peace. And, in the event of discord, humanity gets stronger and better as they resolve it (if you take the long view of history).

      I think that gets at the nature of good and evil. Good is stronger as that is the natural state of things, harmony. Evil requires an opportunity to gain traction and infect the soul, which is ultimately free will.

      Even if Palpatine and Vader were successful in eradicating the Jedi, they would have been overthrown because a population does not tolerate tyranny forever and ultimately the collective power of the will of the people (from which much of the power of the force must derive) will turn against even them.

      1. Thoughtful replies as always, and much appreciated. Please accept my apology for the delay in acknowledging them — read them, mulled them over and then lost track of the responding part.

        I can go with you on this, and like the ideas of a constituency that must support the Light in order for it to survive, and how it would tie in to the Prophecy.

        I like its own parallel to things like the French revolution and the rise of the Nazi state in Germany (or really almost every bloody populist movement).

        I’d add that naturally we all know that Lucas was trying to draw comparisons to the Nazis (‘stormtroopers’) but I think that the historical parallel he leaves out, or at least doesn’t emphasize enough, is the fact that usually such exercises of popular stem in some very hard times. The French were a highly stratified economic society and the Germans post-WWI were just seething thanks to the sanctions that leveled the country’s economy in general (also, a deep-seated racial crisis played an important role).

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