We find ourselves back in Star Wars territory today, with a question posed recently by my friend, @theinsanerobin. He originally shared this thought on Twitter, Before you wonder if I somehow broke my social media fasting, he proved one of my theories true by sharing this musing with me independently.
As he shared it with me:
You’d think the Dark Side would brand themselves differently. Something other than what the Light Side calls them.
Everyone thinks they’re righteous.
Like instead of being “Anti-Light” they’d be “Pro-Passion” or something.
My response was, simply, Do you really want to go down this road[?]
He said my insight would be fun. While I do have fun with my insights at times, I don’t know how fun this will be.
I do believe you’ll enjoy it, though.
What’s in a Name?
The first thing to establish here is that I’m not going to pursue any pedantic, circular arguments about Lucas establishing a fairy tale. However true that is, which does ameliorate a lot of these sorts of questions, it’s an easy way out of the argument.
I’m going to present logical, believable reasons, consistent with everything understood about the Dark Side of the Force.
It boils down to the very Shakespearean sense of the Sith, and any other Dark Side user in the Star Wars galaxy. To borrow the Bard’s sentiment, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
The Honesty of Darth Bane
Practitioners of the Dark Side are simply too honest to care about using a different name. They do not waste their time with preamble about why you should believe their doctrine. Either you will buy in, or you won’t. The only liars are the ones who can’t be honest with themselves.
I’m including Anakin in that line about characters lying to themselves. I still entertain the controversial view that Anakin flipped to the Dark Side in Attack of the Clones, and the rest of the Prequel Trilogy is the story of a man denying what he’s truly become. He’s started the slide, and as he scrambles back up the slope continues to find that his heart pulls him back to the truth of himself.
I’m not completely sold on that interpretation, but it does fit. Even if you incorporate The Clone Wars television series, you can see the Jedi being dishonest with themselves and indulging his worst tendencies in the hopes their prophecy comes true in a positive way. They pushed all their chips in to bet on Anakin, and will do anything to make sure it pays off.
It’s certainly a really interesting filter through which to watch his arc.
The Honesty of Another Bane
Back to the point at hand, Dark Side practitioners may be dishonest as a means to an end, but they’re never meaningfully dishonest about their quest for power. Their end goal is power, control, and domination. They are ultimately selfish.
There is a universal objective recognition that the goals they seek are not good. Since they cannot be of the light, why not simply call it what it is, and pronounce it dark.
You can look to another work that demonstrates this principle just as clearly. Christopher Nolan’s superb The Dark Knight Rises has a character called Bane who’s painfully honest about being “molded by [the dark].” He refers to himself as “necessary evil.”
This gets to an underlying and interesting philosophical point that surely would cause LANDRU to explode. (If you don’t get that reference, it’s a Star Trek thing.) Bane, like his mentor Ra’s al Ghul and other people “of the dark,” can often see themselves as the unpleasant tools of life. They understand and appreciate the personal wrongness of what they do, but can justify it as a means to an end.
I don’t think that applies to Palpatine, though, who’s just an all-around bastard.
They’re Not Trying to Sell Soap
The idea that there’s some sort of political advantage to having a nicer name seems a byproduct of our marketing mindsets. After all, we’re self-marketers on social media, leveraging hashtags and keywords to generate engagement and satisfy our…whatever.
While Sheev Palpatine may have danced around it at first, note that he was exceedingly up front with Anakin Skywalker in the opera box. He flatly declares, “The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural.”
In short, there’s no reason not to call it The Dark Side. There’d be little to no point, because once you got past the name, you’d say, “Boy, that sounds pretty…dark. Like the opposite of light. Can we just stop calling it Fluffy Bunny Side and keep moving?”
It’s about pursuing things that are ultimately selfish. The means to achieve these things are against the Natural Order, like creating life using dark magic, or justifying the slaughter of innocents as a necessary tool.
Anakin is correct that the Sith – our model Dark Side users for the better part of four decades – think inwardly, only of themselves. It’s not limited to the Sith, and I’m not even bringing in the Nightsisters to supplement the argument. I’m not even talking about the Knights of Ren (or Stimpy).
There are people in the Star Wars galaxy using the Dark Side who have no affiliation, or who don’t even have a strong Force connection. Their selfish and monstrous acts simply feed that Dark Side.
The operatives of Crimson Dawn, the soldiers of the Empire, and the chalky visage of General Hux all display an honesty that, while not admirable, is exceedingly blunt. Those of The Dark Side don’t care about what you want to call it. What point is there in obfuscation once they’re revealed?
Their point is not simply to convert, but dominate. To borrow a line from Darth Sidious, “If you will not turn, you will be destroyed.” You can either be down with the sickness, or get 10,000 volts blasted at you through evil magic.
What is that people always say they want to see more, anyway? Honesty! Billy Joel pointed out that it’s such a lonely word, and everyone is so untrue. So embrace the Dark Side’s honesty. They don’t care if you join, because they believe that their power will give them the way to win either way.
I should be president of the Dark Side. Too bad I don’t want to be.