“A Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense; never for attack” – Yoda
The above quote by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back is one of the foundational quotes for understanding how the Jedi were supposed to operate. Gifted with their connection to the Force, which they honed through discipline and training, they were to confine their actions to gaining knowledge and to defending others. If they go on the offensive, they fall prey to the temptations of the dark side.
This idea was a major theme of Return of the Jedi. We see Luke throughout that film wavering between light and dark. While walking into Jabba’s palace and Force choking a couple of guards is a badass move, it’s not the job of a Jedi to be cool and powerful. There’s a reason Luke enters the palace in shadow with a big black cape flowing behind him – will he fall like his father?
Before the Emperor, the times when Luke comes close to falling are when he goes on the attack, goaded by his love of his friends. The Emperor says that his friends will die, and Luke attacks. Note, this is not defending his friends – it won’t stop what is going out there. It is an attempt at revenge. It is simply attack. Likewise, when Vader goads him into attacking, he’s not doing anything to actually protect Leia. Instead, he is acting on his passion. That is why the Emperor cackles, “good” when Luke defeats Vader. Luke hasn’t been acting as a Jedi; he has been on the attack, following his passion, acting without knowledge.
Contrast this with the redemption of Vader, who is returned to the light side of the Force when he acts simply and solely to defend Luke. Vader gains no power by this act. In fact, he suffers. It doesn’t placate his passions (especially as originally scripted without the “noooooo”). He simply is defending Luke. That is the way of a Jedi.
This ethos shows up in our most recent film, Rogue One. In Rogue One, the Jedi are gone. Even their old temple planet gets partially destroyed, the old holy city wiped out. Yet in the film there are two pairs of people who are somewhat devoted to the force; Lyra and Galen, and Chirrut and Baze. And in each case, one holds to knowledge and defense while the other doesn’t.
First, the Ersos – Lyra and Galen. If you have read Catalyst (which I recommend), Lyra is described as being a fervent admirer of the Jedi, a devotee of the force, while Galen is somewhat colder, more distant. One would expect that in Rogue One, the character who would act for knowledge and defense would be Lyra. However, she doesn’t. Instead of defending her young daughter and seeing her to safety, she goes off on a poorly thought out assassination attempt. And she dies for it. Pointlessly. No good comes of her death whatsoever.
The contrast with Galen is drastic. Galen ends up embodying the Jedi ideal by working for knowledge and defense. He takes upon himself suffering and hardship in order to understand the workings of the Death Star and find a way that it can be defeated. And why? Not to get rid of his enemies, but to defend his daughter. And because of his selfless efforts, the Death Star will end up being destroyed. Galen knew that with or without him (and with or without Krennic), the Death Star would eventually be created – but through knowledge he is able to bring about its destruction, helping to save countless lives.
We also see two former Guardians of the Whills, Chirrut and Baze. Chirrut has maintained his faith, Baze has lost it (even though he used to be the most faithful of the Guardians). And they end up following different paths and meeting different ends. Consider Chirrut – he is killed after risking his life to ensure the transmission of the Death Star plans (even as Baze begs him to return). It’s a great sacrifice, yet he dies in peace. He wasn’t a Jedi, but it was a very Jedi-like approach.
Baze follows a different path to his own death. There is a beautifully touching scene where Baze talks to Chirrut as Chirrut is dying, and Chirrut comforts him. “Look for the Force and you will always find me.” And the audience would think that Baze starts to look to the Force again – he gives the Guardian “prayer” – but then, he doesn’t act according to the Jedi ideals. In true war film fashion, Baze goes out in a berserker blaze of glory. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a cool scene seeing him mow down death troopers, but to what end? Whom is he defending? What goal is he accomplishing? How is he serving others (for as Chirrut notes some of his first words in the film, may the Force of others be with you)? He’s not. It is an empty death, not full of light and service, but full of despair and rage.
In this Rogue One dealt beautifully with the Jedi ideals, even though there were no Jedi on screen. This hasn’t always been the case in the other films or in the Expanded Universe. There have been times when it seems as though the Jedi are vehicles for creating neat special effects more than they are idealistic servants. Much of the egregiousness has been consigned to Legends status, but what of what is to come in the main series?
In The Force Awakens, Rey is just beginning to deal with the Force. The emotional peak of the film is when she duels Kylo Ren. Yet, as much as I love that lightsaber battle between Ren and Rey, it is troublesome to me. At first Rey reaches out with the Force to defend Finn, calls the lightsaber to her hand and takes up her destiny. This is the path of the Jedi, but she is outmatched and losing. Kylo Ren backs her into a corner, tells her that she needs a teacher in the ways of the Force. And being reminded of the Force, she becomes aggressive, attacks, scowls, and is fierce. She defeats Ren, and she is considering striking him down for good, but before she can, the chasm opens and she flees.
Kylo Ren was right – Rey does need a teacher. That is how the movie ends – with Rey standing before Luke Skywalker. But I am left to wonder on what path the movies will take Rey in her journey. Will it be the path of sacrifice, of using the Force for knowledge and defense, or will it be a path of power and dominance? And if it is the latter, will that be displayed as what is truly the Jedi way? Will future Jedi still be determined to use the force for knowledge and defense, never for attack? I hope so, but we will just have to wait and see.