“I know of only one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
With one phrase, Luke Skywalker has thrown all of pop culture into a frenzy as we finally got our first look at The Last Jedi. As always, speculation runs rampant on both the movie title, the mic-dropping trailer line, and how the two are related. Why does Luke want to end the Jedi? Does that make him the eponymous last one? Is he headed towards the dark side too?
And also: If he’s not a Jedi, then what is he?
In the wake of all this theorizing, the concept of “Grey Jedi” has reappeared. It’s a character type that has been around for at least a couple decades: some fans consider Qui-Gon Jinn one. Now many in the fandom are wondering if Luke is headed down that path as well, away from the Jedi and towards something new that is neither Jedi nor Sith.
Luke may certainly be a new type of Jedi, but it’s unlikely he’ll be a grey one. For one, Luke isn’t the type to willingly embrace the dark side. However, more importantly, the concept of Grey Jedi is one that is completely at odds with what we’ve seen of the Force.
But first, what exactly is a Grey Jedi? The most common definition is, broadly, a person who is generally on the side of good but isn’t afraid to use the dark side. Someone who doesn’t follow the Jedi Code but also isn’t corrupted by the Sith. In essence, someone who is “neutral” between the Jedi/light side and the Sith/dark side. Ergo: Grey. The underlying sentiment is that they are therefore better than either, for using the full spectrum of the Force and not staying at one end.
However, “Grey Jedi” as a concept is inherently contradictory. The Star Wars universe is heavily inspired by Manichaean philosophy, specifically the Manichaean view of evil. According to this view, good and evil are opposing forces in the world and good must triumph by opposing evil in order to eradicate it.
In Star Wars, the duality of light and dark is defined by selfishness. Those who fall to the dark side seek to control the Force and master it. They seek power for themselves; even the Sith code is dominated by the pronoun “I”:
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.
Furthermore, Legends is rife with Sith who attempt to find the secret to immortality, which is the ultimate selfish act of people who can’t bear to let anything go.
In contrast, the Jedi strive for selflessness. They seek to understand the will of the Force, not overpower it with their own. They give up their belongings aside from the essentials. Even in death they look to achieve the most selfless act of all: become one with the Force and live on in order to teach and guide others.
For a Grey Jedi to be both light and dark, that would mean being both selfless and selfish. But those two concepts are mutually exclusive: you are either striving towards selflessness or acting selfishly. Dark-sided actions aren’t any less dark simply because you also do good things. Using the dark side comes at a cost and the more it is indulged then the slipperier the slope becomes.
Obviously, people being people, no one is 100% perfect. But it takes effort to choose to be selfless and not indulge base desires. At best, trying to straddle the middle is the same as saying you want the perks of being a good person without any of the work. It’s a wishy-washy way to avoid having to stand for anything. At worst, it’s a justification for putting yourself first and not caring how your actions may affect others
An important component of the Grey Jedi definition is that they don’t follow the rules of the Jedi Council and aren’t bound by the code, the implication being that the Jedi were going about things the wrong way. However, I’d argue that’s a separate argument from the “uses both the dark and the light.” After all: the Jedi (nor the Sith) are not the Force but merely its practitioners. The Jedi work to understand the Force and strive for the light side, but they are not the same as the light side. After all, the Sith were defeated but that didn’t stop other organized groups of dark side practitioners from popping up in their stead. But just because the Jedi as individuals failed does not mean that their beliefs failed too.
Yes, the Jedi Order of Palpatine’s time was not perfect. Not by a long shot. They were out of touch with the galaxy at large (I mean, they literally lived in an ivory tower) and too tied up in internal bureaucracy. The followed the letter of the code, not its spirit. They rigidly adhered to dogma to a fault, which left them incapable of giving Anakin the support he needed to work through his emotions and trauma in a healthy manner. Plus, taking infants away from their parents surely didn’t endear them to the rest of the galaxy.
But that doesn’t mean that their interpretation of the Force is inherently wrong. The Jedi Code states:
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.
It is imbued with the desire to overcome base urges and make conscious decisions for betterment. To be selfless and think ahead, not just make decisions on what feels good in the moment. And again we see the duality of Manichaean philosophy, as each statement shows the light side (peace, knowledge, serenity, harmony, the Force) triumphing over its opposing darkness (emotion, ignorance, passion, chaos, death).
Contrast this with the Code of the Sith, which speaks only of the desire for personal gain. Indulging your selfish urges may feel good in the moment, but it is an unsustainable happiness.
And again we see why it’s impossible to straddle both the light side and the dark side at the same time. You cannot find peace if you are ruled by your emotions. You cannot both seek knowledge and remain ignorant. You cannot achieve serenity if you can’t control your passions. You will find no harmony in chaos. And you will not know true death if you give yourself over to the Force. The Jedi Code teaches stability, control, and self-discipline.
The Jedi’s faults therefore lie not in the beliefs themselves but in the inflexibility of their interpretation. A short while ago, Mark wrote on the Jedi concept of attachment and why they were correct to avoid the greed that type of selfishness births. The failing was not in forbidding attachment; instead, it was in not adapting to Anakin’s unique circumstances and helping him to work through his fears and trauma in a healthy way.
So where does that leave Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi? The same Luke Skywalker who says the Jedi should end?
We know little of Luke after the Rebel victory on Endor. We know he rescued some Force trees from the Imperial Remnant, we know he tried to rebuild the Jedi Order, and we know he vanished after Kylo fell to the dark side and destroyed it all.
Han says Luke vanished because he “felt responsible, and theorizes that Luke left to search for the first Jedi temple, though he doesn’t expand on why. But perhaps, Luke is trying to revisit the spirit of the Jedi Code and to discover what it truly means to be light-sided. Perhaps Luke tried to model his Jedi Order more or less after the Old Republic’s. We know he still greatly respects Obi-Wan and Yoda and it’s not hard to imagine that their influence would factor heavily into his training. And while it’s not unlikely that he would also try to improve where he saw failings, I’d guess that his new Jedi Order would be similar in teachings to the old Jedi Order. And then for history to repeat itself, for someone to fall to the dark side and destroy the Order…well it’s easy to see why Luke would feel dejected. He thinks he did everything right and yet everything he worked for is gone within a generation.
And perhaps Luke realizes that the Jedi had become too caught up in rules and hierarchies and distractions. Perhaps he is searching for the essence of the Jedi, to go back to where it all began and rebuild the Jedi anew and free from the baggage of the old.
It’s hard to say at this point, of course. Without knowing the context of the line from the trailer, everything is pure speculation. But I don’t believe that Luke’s intent is to pursue a path similar to a Grey Jedi. This is a man who felt the call to the dark side in the Emperor’s throne room and made a conscious decision to not indulge in it.
And because of the strength of his Jedi beliefs, Luke was victorious and gave his father the strength to find a spark of goodness and end the Sith. Harmony was created out of chaos.
And yes, the Jedi and Sith are only practitioners of the Force and not its literal embodiment. The Force is far larger than both groups. However, the codified beliefs of the respective groups are a useful way to distill what it means to be either light-sided or dark-sided. Light-sided Force practitioners tend to follow the selfless path of the Jedi; Ahsoka may have left the Jedi Order but she still followed the spirit of their beliefs. Meanwhile, dark-sided practitioners all eventually fall victim to their own selfishness and greed.
“Grey Jedi” is an inherently contradicting concept. You can’t say that a Force practitioner can have the morality of a Jedi but also indulge in the dark side on occasion because the concepts are mutually exclusive. You can’t be both selfless and selfish at the same time. The light side and the dark side are opposing forces and you cannot indulge in the latter without feeling the cost.
As Yoda says: Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.