Sunday, April 23, 2017

Balance in the Force... and Destiny

Couple of things here, before we get started.

"You must unlearn what you have learned."
- Yoda

George Lucas said that the Jedi view of the Force in the prequels was the correct one. He only made the statement once, and I want to acknowledge that he said it. It... doesn't really mesh with everything we've seen of the Force, but Lucas is the man, so... There it is.

I'm going to stray from that maxim; but I'm also going to admit that the trailer for Episode VIII, the Last Jedi seems to contradict everything I believe about the Force - or, at least, it gives the impression that we are (or, at least, I am) woefully uninformed as to the true nature of the Force.

Also, I'm not going to be able to say everything I want to about this without there being spoilers for Star Wars. Just - any of it. It might get spoiled here.

You have been warned.
The threat of change in the upcoming movie, makes the writing of this post feel a little premature. I'm gonna do it anyway, however, because I've recently come across people interested in playing "Grey Jedi," and I'm not sure how a Balance in the Force (as understood by many Star Wars Gamers) fits in with the Morality System of Fantasy Flight's Force & Destiny. So this is me trying to reconcile my own opinions about the Force with the nature of the Force as it is expressed in canon, and tying that all together in the Force system in the Force & Destiny Roleplaying Game.

Okay? Well then: Here we go.

"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."
- Ben Kenobi

I still don't know how to tackle the question of Balance in the Force.

It's difficult not to think of the Force in the terms of Jedi and Sith. These two factions are the lens through which most of us have viewed the Force. So maybe we should start there. The Jedi tell us there are two sides to the Force: Light and Dark. The narrative of Star Wars tells us those two facets of the Force are represented by the Jedi and Sith respectively.

The Jedi
The Jedi seem to represent the Light - guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic (before the dark times). By the time of the events leading to the Clone Wars, the Jedi seem to have lost their way and allowed themselves to be caught up in the bureaucracy and politics of the Galactic government. By their own admission, they had become arrogant and stubborn).

Before they lost their way, however, the Jedi were bound by a code. Not the prodigious codex eluded to in the prequel films, but a short, simple axiom.
There is no Emotion; there is Peace.
There is no Ignorance; there is Knowledge.
There is no Passion; there is Serenity.
There is no Chaos; there is Harmony.
There is no Death; there is the Force.
Whether a guide for meditation or instruction for how a Jedi was to live their life, the Jedi Code was meant to assist the Jedi in mastering the Force, while avoiding the Dark Side. It points to an inward focus. It seems to me that as a Jedi, one seeks to control oneself. There isn't even any directive about the exterior world other than that inferred by what a peaceful, knowledgeable, serene, harmonious Force User might do.

The Sith
Born of an ancient, rogue faction of Jedi, displeased with the restrictions on using the Dark Side of the Force (an oversimplification, I know - but it serves our purposes here). The Sith were unapologetically evil. Self-serving, self-aggrandizing, megalomaniacs, the Sith were prone to give themselves over to their passions and their lust for power. I might be a little biased.

A Force User need not be Sith to be "Dark," but the Sith were the embodiment of the Dark Side. Where the Jedi sought to guide and instruct the Galactic Society, leading the way to Peace and Justice, the Sith enforced Order through Tyranny. Their own Code was a direct counter to that of the Jedi.
Peace is a lie; there is only Passion.
Through Passion, I gain Strength.
Through Strength, I gain Power.
Through Power, I gain Victory.
Through Victory, my Chains are Broken.
The Force shall Free Me.
I never understood the attraction to the Sith. I get the desire to "play" the bad guy; but a literal reading of the Code of the Sith always looked (to me) like the battle cry of the try-too-hards. This me-me-me objectivism in a universe where immorality has real, tangible penalties is karking ridiculous. There is a reading of the Sith Code that allows one to exist in the Star Wars Galaxy without falling to the Dark Side; but it requires quite a lot of mental and moral gymnastics.

The Sith Code is focused outside the Self. It imposes a prison upon the Sith and then promises to free them; the entire philosophy of the thing literally has its foundation in Mein Kampf. There's nothing more I really need to say about it.

The Grey
The Grey Jedi - those who claim to walk the line between Light and Dark without striving to attain the former or succumbing to the latter stem from an individual character's reaction to the Jedi and the Sith. For the purpose of this writing, I'm not choosing to discuss so-called Grey Jedi like Qui-Gon Jin who were called so just because they disagreed with the Jedi Council.

There was no Order of Grey Jedi. In the Legends canon, you can find a few that came close. In the poorly conceived and lackluster Dawn of the Jedi, the so-called precursors to the Jedi Order (and by extension the Sith) were the Je'Daii. An order of Force Users born out of a necessity imposed by the very nature of the planet on which they lived (If even a single Force User strove too far into the light or fell too far to darkness, the planet itself reacted with massive Force storms and earthquakes and other nonsense. It really was a dumb story).

The Je'Daii had a code as well - which, as good as any - might as well serve for our glimpse into the Grey Jedi.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no fear, there is power.
I am the heart of the Force.
I am the revealing fire of light.
I am the mystery of darkness.
In balance with chaos and harmony,
Immortal in the Force.
These "I am the's" in these codes always rubbed me the wrong way. This is an Oath, not a Code. There's very little instruction here. Also, I find myself at a loss for trying to interpret it. My disdain for the concept of Grey Jedi grows deeper and deeper, the more I look into this, and my total lack of enthusiasm for the Dawn of the Jedi comic book - I'm leaving this here as the only example of a "balance" code that doesn't stem wholly from Fan Fiction.

"Daniel-san, must talk... Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes", or karate do "no". You karate do "guess so", just like grape. Understand?"
- Kesuke Miyagi

What is Balance as it relates to the Force?

For the longest time, I tended to believe that the Light Side of the Force was the Balance of the Force, while the Dark Side is an imbalance. The Force just is the Force, in much way the Tao is just the Tao. I'd still like to believe that; but it's no longer something that meshes with the canon.

One way to look at the Balance of the Force is to see how the Chosen one brought it about. This has to do with the Force itself and whether or not It is in Balance. According to the Jedi (and Master Lucas), Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One - foretold in prophecy - who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. Great. That's what we're looking for - or, I guess, part of it.

But what is Balance in this context? Does the question of Balance in the Force have to revolve around Anakin's status as the Child of Prophecy? Does the Dark Side have to exist? I had answers to these questions. Then I started reading. I watched a few videos. I re-watched the Septology (discovering that word also made me chuckle a little). And, of course, I read the rules for Destiny, Morality, and the Force as presented in the Force & Destiny Roleplaying Game.

Did he do it? Did Anakin fulfill the prophecy? Again, Master Lucas says yes. If you're not clear on how destroying the Jedi and establishing a new Sith Empire managed to pull it off, you're not alone. Also, there are quite a few interpretations about just how the prophecy was fulfilled:

One: Anakin Skywalker culled the Jedi to just two - the Same number as the Sith.
After the slaughter of the Jedi, only two remained - Skywalker's former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Master Yoda. Two Jedi = Two Sith = Balance. I don't buy it. What about Kanan? Asohka? Heck, even Ezra? What about the Inquisitors? What about all the other light and dark force traditions out there?

And even if the Jedi were wrong about the "destruction of the Sith" and the prophecy was only about bringing balance to the Force, Balance between the Jedi and Sith does not equal Balance in the Force. It balances two opposing factions within the Force, sure. Is that all this Prophecy was about? Again, I don't think so. But, it might be. And it might also be the reason the prophecy has nothing to do with our discussion about the Balance of the Force within the context of the game or a discussion about Grey Jedi.

Two: The Dark Side was wiped out completely and only the Light exists.
Does Balance have to mean the Light Side and the Dark Side are balanced? As I said, up until the Mission to Mortis episode of The Clone Wars, I was always under the impression that the Force was balance and the Dark Side represented an imbalance. To me it was silly to call it "the Light Side." It was just the Force. I think this stemmed mostly from the way Obi-Wan talked about the Force in Episode IV.

The point here is, Mortis changed everything for me, for awhile. Here we see the physical manifestation of the Force in the form of three nigh-immortal Force Users - The Light, The Dark, and the Balance. Master Lucas had a hand in the Clone Wars, and Mission to Mortis suggested this simplistic Light/Dark/Balance nonsense was the point. I was severely put off my oatmeal for a week or so - my brain doing mental gymnastics to make the Star Wars universe make sense within the context of my understanding.

I still don't think it was real. The Ones weren't Force Gods. The Destiny episode from 2014 showed us how real a manifestation of the Cosmic Force can seem to even the greatest of Jedi. I think Anakin, or even Anakin, Obi-Wan and Asohka had a run-in with a vergence in the Force, where they touched the Cosmic Force and were tested by it.

This is a round-about way of saying that I don't think this is the correct interpretation either. This would mean that Anakin fulfilled his destiny when he killed the Emperor, and died. No more Sith. No problem. Balance. This was what I thought for the longest time. Snoke kind of puts that to bed. His appearance means Anakin's purpose is solely tied to the Sith and Jedi and not the Force as a whole. And again, we're talking about one religious sect in a galaxy of Force Users. I don't feel like bringing Balance to the Force has anything to do with the Jedi and the Sith.

I am, however, willing to concede that the Prophecy of the One stems from a singular religious Order, and may - in fact - have been specifically dealing with the affairs of that Order. In this case, I still think number two is the answer. Snoke is a Dark Sider, but not a Sith. Prophecy fulfilled - as far as the Jedi are concerned.

Three: Balance refers to the internal struggle of all Force Users.
I don't think this has anything to do with the Prophecy; but I do think it might have something to do with where the franchise is headed, and it's the most interesting aspect with regards to our discussion here about Balance in Force and Destiny.

In the Destiny episode of The Clone Wars, Yoda is experiencing a manifestation of the Cosmic Force. He is attacked by an embodiment of the Dark Side within him, though he does not - at first - recognize it as such. He fights it. And the more he fights it, the stronger it becomes, until he realizes what it is he is fighting, and accepts that it is a part of him; though his training and discipline allow him to control it, and it does not control him. This is a wonderful window into the Balance of the Force within oneself.

Hello there!
There's a version of the Jedi Code (the version Xen Ma'lak adheres to), which is stated thusly:
Emotion; yet Peace.
Ignorance; yet Knowledge.
Passion; yet Serenity.
Chaos; yet Harmony.
Death; yet the Force.
You can't be afraid of the Dark Side - even the Dark Side within yourself. Rather than suppressing, or ignoring it, you're supposed to accept - not embrace - but accept that the Dark Side is a part of you.

Here I'll share a bit about the way I've chosen to interpret the Jedi Code as written above:
  • You have emotions. We are emotional creatures. That's fine. So be it. Strive always to make Peace with your emotions - to experience them without allowing them to control you.
  • Do not, however, allow that peace to be born out of ignorance. Accept that you will be ignorant. No living organism can know everything. But in accepting your ignorance (knowing that you know nothing, and all of that), seek out the Knowledge necessary to bring yourself better in-line with the Will of the Force.
  • Do not, however, allow your Passions to drive you as well. Notice these are different than emotions. Perhaps you can think of them as obsessions - even minor ones. You're going to have them. As a function of your emotional make-up, you are going to become driven by some purpose. Deal with it. Seek the Serenity necessary to fulfill that purpose, or to accept the truth when it is no longer yours to fulfill. Don't let minor passions drive you about - all this way and that after ten-thousand small things.
  • Do not allow the chaos - either in your minds and hearts or in the galaxy around you to sweep you away either. Be in harmony with the chaos. The entirety of creation will be a roiling storm around you, and yet you will be as One with the Force - in Harmony with whatever may come.
  • Do not, however, seek Death. You will not simply shrug your shoulders and allow things to just happen. This is a function of chaos and no way serves Harmony or the Force. Do not "Let Go, and Let the Force" to paraphrase a common maxim. You are a part of the Living Force, and it will obey you. Death will come when it comes - to all of us - in its own time. This is the way of things. The Living Force feeds into and becomes the Cosmic Force, and as One with the Force, so too will you. Death is not the end of things, but a beginning.
We are Luminous Beings - not this crude matter. I think this is the meaning of seeking Balance in the Force. Acknowledging the darkness, but adhering to the light.

"Your focus determines your reality."
- Qui-Gon Jin

Force & Destiny: Destiny

Destiny is an interesting mechanic in the Force & Destiny RPG, which facilitates player agency within the game. Destiny can be seen as one of the mechanical arms of the Cosmic Force in play.
"You mean it controls your actions?"
"Partially. But it also obeys your commands."
The Destiny Pools allows us to take a look at the Balance of the Force in action. The player draws on the Light Side of the Force, by spending a Light Side Destiny Token, which is immediately replaced with a Dark Side Destiny Token. The Dark Side grows stronger. The Dark Side has its way with you, and the Light blooms in its place.

Is it a model for seeking Balance within the Force? No. Not for individual Force Users. Within the framework of our understanding (and the mechanics of the game), accessing the Dark Side of the Force does not nurture the Light Side within you.

Like... At. All.

If we look at the Destiny Pool as an example of the Balance of the Force, we have to remember that we're seeing one facet of an inscrutable, indefatigable, cosmic phenomenon. The give and take of the Dark and the Light is only a glimpse at the mechanics of the Cosmic Force.

"There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense." Han says right after spending a Destiny Point to calculate the hyperspace jump to Alderaan and escape an Imperial Star Destroyer. The GM, I'm almost sure, flips a Dark Side Destiny Token and says, "Ben, you feel a disturbance in the Force - um - like, millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

The Force giveth, the Force taketh away.

"Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering."
- Yoda

Force & Destiny: Morality

Qui-Gon Jin said once (in one of the Legends comics, I think), "a Jedi is not a creature of morals."

The larger point was that a Jedi serves the Will of the Force, and sometimes the Will of the Force calls for the death of another, or you have to steal something, make someone who doesn't accept Republic Credits, or flub a chance-cube roll.

Regardless of whatever particular set of skills he might have, Qui-Gon was wrong. The Jedi view of the Force may have been the right one in Lucas's eyes, but as far as Force & Destiny goes, Qui-Gon was racking up the conflict.

In the Star Wars Galaxy - and in Force & Destiny specifically - the Dark Side is a real thing. Not only is the Dark Side real, but it is (or, at the very least, it feeds and feeds off of) Evil. With all the moral ambiguity and shades of grey and what-have-you, there is a very real good and a very real evil, and the measure of that moral spectrum is the Force.

When a character in the Force & Destiny game acts against her moral code - against the objective moral code present in the mechanics - she gains a point of conflict, and the potential for her Morality score to drop. The lower a character's Morality score is, the more the character is giving themselves over to the Dark Side - the closer they come to losing themselves to Evil.

Notice, however, that the evil act itself doesn't instantly test the character's moral barometer. There's a randomizer at the end of the session which determines how the character's contemplation of their situation has changed them. They've either learned a lesson from the fallout of their actions and grown from the experience, or they've ignored those lessons (or worse, reveled in the darkness), and lost some ground.

Then, in a triggered Morality situation, the effects are compounded - the result of your die roll minus your conflict is doubled. The character has learned an important moral lesson - whether right or wrong, they have the potential to shift considerably in these situations. Evil acts in these situations have the potential to stunt a characters growth or cripple them to the point of "falling to the Dark Side," where the character can no longer call upon the Force as they once did, and must instead draw almost solely on the Dark Side.

Within the constraints of the Morality system, then, is it possible to find Balance? It depends on what you mean by "balance."

Are you trying to make an excuse for spending Destiny Points and Dark Side Force Pips - claiming to be the elusive (and totally misunderstood) Grey Jedi - who draws from the Dark as well as the Light?

"When you look at the Dark Side, careful you must be... For the Dark Side looks back."

No. It is not possible. I think if you are intimately familiar with it, you could game the system for awhile - spending just enough Dark Side Points so that the law of averages keeps your Morality score at a more or less stable level. But sooner or later, the Dark Side will take its toll - whether from you and your Morality Score, or from those around you. Every time you spend those DSPs, you're also spending a Light Side Destiny Point. Handing the Gamemaster a ready-made tool with which to punish you and your allies. Every time.
"Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."
- Yoda
If you're careful - and I mean very careful, I can see how it might be possible to maintain an average Morality score; but the world(s) around you will to suffer for it.

But Balance can also mean, simply the stability of one's mind or feelings. As far as Morality is concerned - ignoring the little white and black pips on the Force Die for a moment - Balance in this case can be an acceptance of the darkness in the Galaxy, and within oneself, and a willingness not to let it control you. Adherence to the empirical moral code of the galaxy.

In this case, sometimes, it may be necessary to take on conflict to do what must be done. The Dark Side exists in every character in the Star Wars Galaxy. But focus determines reality. How you react to the darkness within you, whether you let it feed off you and grow until it consumes you and drives you to madness and destruction, or if you recognize it and tame it, that determines whether you fall to the Dark Side or strive for the Light. That is your balance. Maybe that is where true Mastery of the Force comes from.

Thanks to Wookieepedia, Geek University, Lore Guy, Nick Lucid, George Lucas and all the others.


Dj Wright said...

In the end, I didn't learn anything. I guess I solidified my own personal bias and decided that no - there are not Grey Jedi. Damn.

Jim Rasmussen said...

Sorry for the delay in replying, I had a comment to share, but then sat upon it for 4 months. I was only prompted to return by the dangerous actions of Susan White as Bher Vinche in D4B this past week. My perspective is that the Jedi perspective is a philosophy rooted in self control. "Mastery of self is the only mastery that matters", if we opt to utilize the dark side of The Force, then we surrender our self control and give way to the things that you enumerate above. I trust that the Jedi arrived at their dogmatic interpretation after millennia of study and wrong turnings. Their philosophy is one that leaves no room for Grey Jedi, or Dark Jedi, those terms are rooted in the ignorance of a handful of writers who poorly represent the philosophy at the heart of the Jedi mindset. Whether we employ the code as written at the inception of the Clone Wars, or as written by Master Odan-Urr in antiquity, it is code that rests upon self control. If we opt to ignore that, then we are no longer Jedi. It is a difficult road and one that is dogmatic, but it is grounded in millennia of practice. From the Jedi perspective, if you want to avoid the sorrow that accompanies the dark side, then you follow the Jedi Code to the best of your ability all of the time.


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