Allright, I’ve rewatched all six Star Wars films. Crash, you viewed the Jedi as serving the Force in its entirety and I viewed the Jedi as serving the “light side” while the Sith serve the dark side. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to your view as “Taoist” and mine as “Manichean”. I watched the films in release order, starting with A New Hope. I’ll go through my notes for each film, trying to clear my mind of everything I “know” about Star Wars and the Force and try to piece it together from the ground up. I haven’t planned this out or come with a conclusion ahead of time. Here we go:
A New Hope
Obi-Wan tells Luke that the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. The Jedi are described as the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy (in other words, they’re the “good guys”, the ones the audiences’ sympathies are supposed to lie with). The Force is described as an energy field created by all living things. This is important. The Force is created by living things, so it is in a symbiotic relationship with life. Presumably, the Force would not exist if life did not exist.
Later we learn more about how a Jedi receives power from the Force. A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him. There is a stong emphasis on feeling in the Star Wars saga – often in favour of thinking (e.g. Let go your conscious self and act on instinct). This is rather interesting because most philosophy I’m familiar with (i.e. Western philosophy) emphasizes thinking over feeling. The Force both controls your actions and obeys your command. Again, the Force is in a symbiotic relationship with life. At this point, I would even go so far as to say the Force isn’t to be revered in the way a deity might be. It seems to be life’s partner, not its superior.
All this is sounding very Taoist... but there’s something I haven’t mentioned: the dark side. Obi-Wan says Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force. Very vague phrasing. Later Obi-Wan feels a disturbance in the Force as Alderaan is destroyed. Knowing what we know about the Force (e.g. it is in a symbiotic relationship with life), and forgetting about the elusive dark side for a minute, it makes perfect sense. However, later, Darth Vader feels a disturbance in the Force when Obi-Wan enters the Death Star. This disturbance isn’t as clear cut as the Alderaan one. It would appear the Force doesn’t play favourites, as both Obi-Wan and Vader sensed a disturbance in the Force, and they’re on opposing sides. I won’t harp on this though, because it can be easily explained away.
The Empire Strikes Back
Enter Yoda. From Yoda, we learn that becoming a Jedi Knight requires great discipline... the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. Yoda shoots down Luke’s naive view of the Jedi as “great warriors” and tells Luke that a Jedi doesn’t crave adventure or excitement. Furthermore a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack. Being a Jedi is more sobering than it may have appeared in ANH.
Yoda then tells Luke to beware the dark side. The ways of the dark side are anger, fear, and aggression. Luke wonders how he will be able to know the good side from the bad, and Yoda tells him he will know when he is calm, at peace, passive. I could recite these lines, but I never noticed how they went together until I saw it in writing. Calmness is the opposite of anger, being at peace is the opposite of fear, and passivity is the opposite of aggression. It’s a duality of two diametrically opposed sides. One side of this duality (anger, fear, aggression) is named, the dark side. The other (calmness, peace, passivity) could be reasonably called “the light side”. Yoda is guiding Luke away from the dark side and towards the “light side”. The training Luke is undergoing requires great discipline, but those who fall to the dark side take the quick and easy path. When Luke refers to these parts of the duality as the good side and the bad, Yoda does not correct him. Really this is the best evidence of the Manichean view and, coming from the lips of wise master Yoda, this hits pretty close to the core of Star Wars.
The cave is described as being strong with the dark side and a domain of evil. The dark side once again appears to be equated with evil.
Also the duality of dark and light seems primarily to be about passion vs. serenity, not life vs. death, creation vs. destruction etc. Fear, leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. A Jedi must become detached lest he fall prey top these passions and use them for evil. Obi-Wan warns Luke to not give in to hate, which leads to the dark side. Vader tempts Luke by telling him to release his anger and to use his hatred to destroy his enemy.
Luke running off to “save” Han and Leia show that Luke both lacks discipline (he’s taking “the quick and easy path”) and has much attachment. Ultimately, Luke accomplishes nothing (Leia escapes without any help from Luke) and Luke learns that Vader is his father before he’s mature enough in the Force to take it. In this case, I think Yoda was right in telling Luke to complete his training.
Return of the Jedi
At Luke’s first appaerance there are forebodings that Luke is dangerously close to the dark side (he’s wearing black and he Force chokes Gammoreans – a power only used by Vader so far in the saga).
The tension comes from Luke’s attachment to his father, Vader. Obi-Wan seems to condone a detached confrontation with Vader, ending in Vader’s destruction. Obi-Wan warns Luke that his attachment could be made to serve the Emperor. Luke however, believes there is good in his father and manages to influence his turn away from evil. Ultimately, I think Star Wars is about the triumph of love (boy that sounds cheesey ), over an overly-philosophical detached attitude... but that’s a whole other can of worms. All I’ll say is that it’s interesting that it isn’t really the three attributes of the”light side” that Yoda mentioned that saved the day, it was love – a passion.
One of the things that really struck me in this viewing was the way the dark side was portrayed as an addiction. Deep down Vader knows that his use of the dark side is evil, but he’s been at it for too long and he feels that it is too late for him.
Anyway, the “good guys” win.
Overall, the sense I get from the OT is that the Force as a whole is “neutral”. I mean this in a way that, if two gods, one good, one evil, controlled the universe, the gods would be “neutral” because they cancel each other out. The Jedi use the side of the Force made up of calmness, peacefulness, and passivity and Darth Vader and his master, the Emperor, use the the side of anger, fear, and aggression. However, I don’t necessarily get the sense that these sides are equal opposites.
The Phantom Menace
Here’s where things get interesting again. Early on Qui-Gon tells Obi-Wan to be mindful of the “living Force” – a new term... and a very vague one. I’d be tempted to think that the “living Force” is the name of what I have hitherto referred to as the “light side”. There’s very little to go on.
Enter Anakin, the boy with the impossibly high midichlorian count. We learn that midichlorians are “carriers” of the Force and they reinforce the idea of life and the Force living in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Midichlorians apparently communicate the “will” of the Force... which is weird because, like I said, I got the sense that the Force is “neutral” i.e. it has two sides at odds with each other, and no collective “will”.
The idea of the Chosen One, the one who will bring balance to the Force, is one of the most confusing parts of the saga. What exactly does “bringing balance to the Force mean”? In light of the end of RotJ, I always assumed it must mean the defeat of the dark side – or at least the defeat of the Sith, though it isn’t specified in TPM. In light of the “will” of the Force, it might make sense if this meant balancing light and dark, but I don’t see that attitude in the OT, particularly ESB. The only way I could see it is that Luke and Anakin’s act of love (that sounds awkward ) balances the Force because it is a passion, normally an attribute of the dark side.
Qui-Gon’s philosophy is evidently unorthodox, because he hasn’t been granted a seat on the council. Is it because he thinks the dark side should be balnced or “integrated” rather than outright destroyed? The Jedi are portrayed as being a bit misguided, in need of reformation. They don’t recognize the Chosen One, their temple is in the middle of a Metropolis etc.
Attack of the Clones
Easily the weakest film in terms of Force philosophy.
The Sith have thrown a cloak of the dark side over the Jedi, diminishing their ability to use the Force, and clouding their judgment.
Anakin mentions that compassion is central to a Jedi’s life but attachment is forbidden. So, Jedi do good to others, but aren’t attached to them. Luke seemingly opposed this view in RotJ, refusing to let go of the good he can sense in his father rather than “selflessly” destroying him.
Yoda mentions Dooku “joining the dark side”, again enforcing the Manichean view of two opposing sides. There is no Qui-Gon to balance this view.
There are some other things concerning the Force in this movie, but most are covered in a different Star Wars film.
Revenge of the Sith
Anakin has had major attachment issues throughout the PT and no moreso than in RotS. Attachment is forbidden for a Jedi (because it leads to fear, which leads to anger etc., and jealousy, which leads to greed). Anakin is haunted at the thought of losing Padme, but the Jedi are of no help to him. Yoda tells him that death is a ntaural part of life and to mourn not and miss not those who transform into the Force. “Transforming” into the Force seems to be a Nirvana, drop-of-water-in-the-ocean experience. Padme will cease to exist when she dies, and Yoda is telling Anakin to accept this like a Stoic... which, of course, he can’t.
Obi-Wan refers to the Chosen One as the one who will bring balance to the Force and destroy the Sith. Previously it was only to bring balance to the Force. For me this doesn’t make a lot of sense, because while the Jedi were awaiting the Chosen the Sith had been extinct for a millenia, so what’s the problem? Sure the Republic is corrupt, but that’s a political matter not a specifically spiritual matter (although the two seem to be linked, once the Force is brought into balance the Republic is restored). Again, what exactly is the Chosen One expected to do? Turn the galaxy into Paradise?
The Sith, of course, offer Anakin a path to save Padme. Palpatine accuses the Jedi of fearing their loss of power as much as the Sith fear losing theirs. Anakin mentions the Sith relying on their passions, thinking about themselves, and the Jedi, are detached from themsleves, only thinking about others. This reinforces the ESB duality ofdark side and “light side”, Jedi using one, Sith using the other. Palpatine tells the ability, that some consider to be unnatural, of creating life, saving others from death etc. Is possible but not from the teachings of the Jedi.
Later Plapatine reveals that his teacher, who we now know is Plagueis, taught him everything he knew about the Force, including the dark side. Palpatine tells Anakin that to understand the Force he needs to study all its aspects, rather than just the narrow, dogmatic view of the Jedi. Palpatine appears to be taking a Taoist stance while the Jedi seem to be taking a Manichean stance, “dogmatically” only focusing on the light side. Of course, Palpatine is hardly a reliable character. It is still very significan t though. If Qui-Gon viewed the Force in Taoist terms he was the excption to the rule.
Obi-Wan has the strange line about only the Sith deal in absolutes... which is itself an absoulte statement. I never really understood that line or what it’s relevance was.
Finally Yoda tells Obi-Wan that he has been communicating with Qui-Gon, the unorthodox Jedi who has learned the path to immortality. Both Yoda and Obi-Wan will learn Qui-Gon’s secrets and indeed both characters appear as Force ghosts at the end of RotJ, apparently avoiding the Nirvana fate and maintaining consciousness of a sort. If Qui-Gon taught Yoda and Obi-Wan his “enlightened” Taoist view of the Force, it is only noticeable in Obi-Wan’s dialogue in the OT. I still view Yoda as a staunch Manichean.
These ar just loose thoughts and I haven't really come up with much of a conclusion. Overall, these movies seem vague and open to interpretation regarding the Taoist and Manichean views of the Force Differnt films seem to emphasize different views and different characters seem to hold to different views... that is until Mortis came along and swept away the Manichean view. I haven't re-watched the Mortis trilogy yet btw.
Whew. That’s enough writing for now.
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter east.