star wars villains

The Dark Side is Not an Evil Side (Obligatory “Two Sides to Every Schwartz” joke)

One of the things I wish Star Wars would do with its storytelling is to resolve that the Dark Side is not evil. Nothing is inherently evil in this world. Only humans (and some well-evolved animals) can be evil. It takes a good brain to be evil, because evil is gaining pleasure from the pain of others.

So not spiders or guns or poison or magic or anything is evil. It’s what you do with those powers that determines your fate. It’s why I feel bad for Slytherin house. They all get painted with the same brush. You get sorted into Slytherin, it’s a death sentence for your social life. But there’s nothing evil about ambition or resourcefulness or determination or self-preservation.

It’s the same thing with the Force, which is essentially magic. It’s just that people who use the Dark Side of the Force keep using them for evil. But there’s nothing that says they have to hurt people. That’s why I like Kylo Ren as a character, and why I’m holding out for his redemption.

There are force-neutral powers, like telekinesis, jumping, persuasion, telepathy, and force concealment, (which is like “masking your scent”. I guess other force-sensitives can tell what side of the coin you land on so there’s a way to cover that up. Who knew?) But these powers can be used for good and evil. You can read someone’s mind and invade their privacy. Deceiving others about the nature of your powers seems like it should be on the Dark Side, but it’s not. And Persuasion is basically like mind-rape. I can’t believe there’s not more controversy about this–I guess it’s okay to force your will on someone else as long as you have a wispy beard.

star wars force infographic

Midichlorian Manipulation – Create, maintain, or save life by “influencing midichlorians”. This was how Anakin believed he could stop Padme from dying. Of course, no one knows what midichlorians are or how they work, so I don’t know how this can be called good or evil. In fact, this might be all bupkiss, made up by Palpatine. And isn’t healing others a good thing? The Light Side has healing, detoxification, revitalization, but if someone’s not breathing, you just stop?

Force Rage – Tap into fears, pain, and hate, turning them into rage that can increase speed, strength, and ferocity. Well, isn’t that what normal anger does? Anger isn’t an evil emotion. Anger over an injustice can lead to a greater good. If your kid is trapped under a car, fear and anger lets you lift that F150 off the ground.

Force Choke/Crush/Grip – This is just telekinesis. We always see Dark Siders doing it–lifting someone and choking them or throwing them around. They’re just focused on specific body parts. But it’s no different than anything the Light Side can do.

Force Drain – Tap into the strengths of an organic target, exhausting it immediately. Can be used to affect a wide area, depending on how mastered in the technique.This seems to be the inverse of the Force Heal (though it’s not clear if the life and vitality is transferred to the user or it just dissipates). Most of the time you see a “drain” spell, it’s in the context of magic meant to harm. Final Fantasy does this. Magic: The Gathering does this. Vampires do this. Not many arguments that removing health from someone in order to gain isn’t inherently evil, but there are examples.

In Blade, the female protagonist lets the hero drink her blood to regain his strength. I think Buffy does the same thing with Angel at some point. Rogue is an X-Man X-woman X-menman X-person superhero with power-draining powers. Metroids can drain and inject energy, and we all remember the tragic ending of Super Metroid. And in real life, there are many blood-drinking insects and animals, but they’re so small that they don’t individually do significant harm (unless they transmit a disease). And here’s a fun fact: Male garter snakes will emit and act like a female garter snake when rising from hibernation. This gets other male garter snakes to cluster and coil around them, transferring body heat and helping them wake up.(See also definition 3 of trap)

Force Slow – Cloud the target’s mind, slowing them down mentally and physically. This is a weird one, but I can see instances where it doesn’t need to be considered harmful. Like if you’re a cop and you’ve got to handle some whacked-out PCP meth-head brandishing a sword at an intersection. And Zack Morris could have used it to deal with Jessie Spano.

Force Corrupt – Temporarily manipulate the mind of another sentient being to make him/her serve your own cause. Isn’t this just Force Persuasion? And that was labeled as a core power. Moving on.

Force Lightning – This is just the collection and projection of energy. I consider it to be Force concentrated, like how electricity is concentrated fire (like all good science, this is based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, and not actual science). We only ever see Sith use it, and only ever to harm others, but that doesn’t mean it has to. Why not repower that Moisture Reclamator and help a farmer out.

Transfer Essence – Basically, you switch bodies, or transfer your soul into an inanimate object. (Does that mean anything? Like a rock? Or a droid? Or a ship? Is this where Emperor Snoke came from? I have a fan theory that Snoke is really Palpatine, who survived the fall and Death Star II explosion using his strong connection to the Force, but that’s why he’s all scarred and weird looking.) As long as you can’t “Project: Genesis” someone, this doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, Hollywood has taught us that the results are always hilarious, like in Freaky Friday and Shrek the Third, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

It seems like the most distinguishing characteristic of dark Force powers is avoidance of death. The Light Side has no defense against that, except for being a Force Ghost. Not to mention we’ve seen Luke using some of these Dark Side powers (in ROTJ, he chokes some moblins in Jabba’s palace).

The best thing about Kylo Ren is how conflicted he is. He has a huge legacy to live up to. His loved ones betrayed him (Mom and Dad got divorced, Uncle/teacher tried to kill him). Everyone’s always talking about his “raw” power, but no one tells him what to do with it. He’s just a puppy looking for a master. His best strengths are telekinesis (holding blaster bolts) and telepathy, both neutral powers. And he can shrug off a bowcaster blast, something that sent a dozen stormtroopers into the sky.

So I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to him in the future. And I hope that it ties with how the force works in the context of Light Side vs. Dark Side.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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