It Is Time for the Grey Jedi to End

tlj balance“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.

vader no
Consume you, it will.
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.

tpm jedi council

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.

There is no death...
There is no death…
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.

rotj luke dark sideIt’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.

26 thoughts to “It Is Time for the Grey Jedi to End”

  1. Yes! Bravo! Great article!!!

    One thing: what about Rebel’s Bendu… “the one in the middle”? Do you consider he is just making an attempt that will ultimately fail because of your article’s conclusions? (I tend to think so, myself).

    And also, one last request for you and Mike… any way I could translate this and post it in our blog, with all credit, of course?

    1. It’s fine with me if it’s fine with Sarah. As for Bendu, I think Mark’s most recent piece explained him perfectly. 🙂

    2. I’m fine with it as well!

      And regarding the Bendu, I also second reading Mark’s most recent piece because it sums up my feelings rather well. But in short: Neutrality isn’t something to aspire to because if you don’t take a stand against evil then all you’re doing is empowering it. And note that when the Bendu finally does get involved, he is angry and destructive and not much different than a dark sider. So much for the one in the middle, eh?

  2. “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.”

    This a million times. However the Sequels evolve, I hope they resist the temptation to introduce the “Gray Jedi” sort of moral relativism.

  3. Hi guys, An interesting article indeed. I think I disagree somewhat though.

    As I understand Manichaeism, it embodies the gnostic tradition of separating the spiritual (light) from the material (dark) and then purifying the former through asceticism and shunning the latter. Although it refers to the dark and the light, its aim is to extricate the consciousness or ‘soul’ from the lower level motivations of the material in order to elevate it through purification on its journey to communion with the creative force of the universe which may be called ‘khuda’.

    The nature of the force appears to be somewhat different in conception. The idea of the prophecy of the chosen one bringing balance to the force would suggest a conception of the force more closely resembling the Chinese understanding of the yin-yang duality. Here, each of the opposing forces is essential to the existence of the other and is indeed its raison d’être. The concentration of one leads to the intensification of the other in order, ultimately, to arrive at the state of balance. By this conception, the power of the Jedi leads, ironically, to the emergence of the Sith.

    Perhaps Luke realises this, and realises that resurrecting the Jedi order would only perpetuate the ‘dialectical’ struggle between the light and the dark, a struggle that can only result in an eventual balance, negating the motivation for the struggle in the first place. This is consistent with his behaviour of withdrawal despite knowing he is the last trained Jedi.

    Interested to know what you guys think.

    Btw, cool name… took me a few minutes but yeah, very cool.

    1. I’ve had similar thoughts myself—that for the Jedi to exist in any real numbers is to invite the existence of Sith (or other darksiders) and therefore to perpetuate conflict. It would be interesting if that is the bee in Luke’s bonnet here, but at the same time the movies are never going to land on “the Jedi should end” as a reasonable conclusion. So whatever Luke thinks right now, he’s going to have to end up being at least somewhat wrong; hopefully while still making a compelling case for himself and his exile. It’ll be a tricky line for them to walk for sure.

    2. Interesting thoughts. I definitely see the influence of yin-yang duality on Star Wars, but I’m not sure that this denies the Manichean aspects of Star Wars lore. Even assuming that yin-yang is the best concept to understand “balance” in Star Wars at a cosmic level, I’m not sure what it would mean for individual ethics when it comes to character decisions. Perhaps the existence of the Jedi led to or necessitates the existence of the Sith, and vice versa. Perhaps Luke is concerned that his attempts to recreate the Jedi somehow let the Dark Side (which may or may not in this case be the Sith) back into the universe.

      However, in a universe where both Light and Dark already exist, there is a fairly obvious moral/ethical choice between the two – the Light Side is the demonstrably right choice. The “crimes” attributed to the Jedi are some fairly emotionally unhealthy practices and a certain distant arrogance concerning their abilities, failings that (arguably) are not essential to the Jedi qua Jedi – they are perversions of the Light, rather than characteristics of it. By comparison, the crimes attributed to the Sith/Dark Side are multiple counts of genocide/xenocide/ecocide, not to mention numerous specific instances of conspiracy, torture, and murder.

      Even if they are cosmically linked, there is no moral balance between Light and Dark in Star Wars – hence, the loose comparison to Manichaeism, which recognizes the interrelationship between Light and Dark, but decisively rejects one in favor of the other. I doubt that Luke (or any other character) will be able to escape this basic dilemma, especially with the First Order on the march.

  4. Valuable insights no doubt. I agree with a lot of what had been stated. When we explore the dimension of moral or ethical judgement of the inherently oppositional relationship between the light and the dark sides, we cannot escape the ‘amorality’ one has to contend with in order to be able to relate to the Sith and the dark side. This is encapsulated more than adequately in Palpatine’s masterclass dialogue when he juxtaposes “good” and “point of view” in Ep 3.

    The question, though, is.. If we accept the Sith are evil and that evil is wrong and must be stopped, and if balance in the force is a necessary state (as stated by Max von Sydow in the opening lines of Ep 7) and necessitates an intensification of the dark side in response to a concentration of the light side by, say, training new Jedi, then is Luke right or wrong – ethically – for withdrawing?

    1. A tough question, for sure. I think that the real question would be whether Luke was ethically justified in trying to recreate the Jedi Order the first time around. Assuming that the Force operates on the basis of a Light/Dark balance, then maybe avoiding recreating the Jedi would be a good idea, in order to avoid reinvigorating the Dark Side? That’s assuming that the Balance is somehow open to direct manipulation by individuals, and that the Light and Dark wouldn’t simply find other manifestations even absent Luke’s action. It’s not clear to me that this is the case, but I could see an argument made along these lines.

      In the case of Luke’s withdraw following the failure of his initial Jedi Order, though, I’m not sure what the logic would be. The failure of Luke’s first Jedi Order means that the Dark Side is back at large in the galaxy. I’m not sure how attempting to recreate the Jedi Order again would at that point make things worse; rather, by failing to “balance” against the Dark Side, Luke enables the First Order to run rampant. It makes sense that Luke might try to use some logic about “balance” to justify his self-imposed isolation, but I’m not sure how convincing this will be.

      1. I think we have to be very careful at assigning a 1-to-1 metaphor or allegory with any particular strand of religious thought. The idea of the Force is heavily influenced by certain Buddhist ideas (particularly ideas of attachment and compassion), but we also need to be wary of assuming that other aspects of the same or another religion will be present in a direct way. As with everything else, Lucas adapted these ideas for his story.

        What the story tells us, and what Lucas himself says, is that the light side is all about harmony between living things, and in order to attain that we need to be humble and live compassionately and selflessly. The dark side is about power, domination and control, and to use it you use your negative emotions – fear, anger, hatred.

        So in theory, a large number of Jedi shouldn’t cause an imbalance, because they should be living harmoniously and encouraging harmony rather than imposing themselves on others. Harmony is the direct opposite of control and destruction. The dark side, by contrast, seeks power, and by gaining that power spreads fear across the galaxy – and as we know, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. The spread of this may be what causes the imbalance. I would argue that the failings of the Jedi in the PT are not because they are too light, but because they’re not light enough – they guard their power jealously, and as Yoda says in Rebels, fall into fear and anger by getting involved in the Clone Wars. These are hallmarks of the dark side.

        Also remember that the light and dark side are not the same as those that wield them. At the end of RotS there are two Jedi and two Sith, but the Force is certainly not in balance – as Rian Johnson himself has said.

        It’s worth watching this clip. When Lucas talks of the Force going out of balance, he’s talking about it happening because people fall to the dark side. When the dark side grows it continues to grow and takes power. It seeks to destroy the light; the key to the light, then, might be acknowledging that you can never destroy the dark, but you seek it keep it at bay.

        As Coop says, the answer to Luke’s question is not going to be “the Jedi must end” (for branding reasons if nothing else!) – that’s the question posed by the movie, and the title, but it’s not the answer. Where the Jedi go from here will be something Luke and Rey will have to discover together.

      2. The Lucas interpretation has always been my understanding of “balance” in Star Wars (the above speculation notwithstanding). However, Lucas is no longer at the helm, so I wouldn’t rule out some changes in interpretation going forward (especially if they are superficially “dark” or “edgy,” since we all know that that is what consumers want today :/ ). Not predicting this will happen, but with the new management I think the conceptual basis of the Force is up for grabs.

  5. Btw, at risk of appearing a total non-devotee, 1138 is the cell block where Leia is held in Ep 4, right?

  6. “some fans consider Qui-Gon Jinn one”

    Wasn’t he considered one by the Council in the comics with the Wookie Jedi, the master of Plo Koon? Of course, that definition of Grey Jedi is nothing like the one you gave here (and I’m starting to think that it was only used in that story), but still…

  7. A lot of this has to hinge on what is meant by “Balance”. Is it to be just an equal number of good/bad force users? Is it a middle path (like what Dawn of the Jedi) tried to espouse – or what Sanderson brings out in the Mistborn series where Ruin and Preservation both need to be kept in check by the other?

    Perhaps balance might be better thought of a Shalom, as peace – as things being copacetic and calm. Consider when Yoda tells Luke that he will be able to act when he is calm, at peace. Evil will stir and upset the apple cart, cause a “Disturbance” in the force – and there will be no balance, no calm, no peace… without the Jedi.

    This would be a way of maintaining the good vs. evil approach that is classic Star Wars.

    But basically Grey Jedi fans are the folks who want to be heroes but still use all the cool Dark side powers in the video games. =o)

  8. Don’t really care for the Gray Jedi trend, but I’ve groused about the subject long enough that I think I can do a fairly decent impression of an actual fan. Going to do some Devil-advocating here. Feel free to ignore me if you find it tiresome.

    One of the main recurring sentiments I’ve seen among the proponents of the Gray Jedi is that it’s more realistic as well as more humane. Feelings of passion, anger, greed, and so forth are perfectly natural and suppressing them (because they’re not going away) in a Jedi-like manner is counter-productive as well as incredibly unhealthy. The Sith on their part go overboard, obsessing over their own desires to the point where it destroys them. The best way to relate to your passions is to learn to channel them productively without being consumed by them, and without neglecting other aspects of your life. Balance. Being simultaneously selfish and selfless is impossible by definition, but there’s nothing incoherent about being one at one point and the other at another point. More importantly, it could easily be argued that it’s not only not wrong, but actually essential in order to be happy. No reasonable person would tell a single mother whose existence is almost defined by serving others that she can’t ever do something purely for her own enjoyment. Without a healthy measure of selfishness in her life, she’d be likely to have a nervous breakdown. Balance! And only someone truly drunk on philosophy would try to insist that our single mother can’t serve herself and her children at the same time, or that the enjoyment she gets out of doing something for her children is somehow debased. Finally, selflessness is fine, but we can’t give if no one’s willing to take. The world can’t function without a balance of both.

    As for the Good/Evil dynamic, most of the Gray Jedi fans seem to dismiss the whole concept as a socially constructed belief about the Force rather than something inherent to the Force. The world just isn’t that simple, and most choices we face aren’t nearly that cut-and-dried. Also, “From my point of view”, etc… A more popular analysis of the Force is that of Order versus Chaos, with the respective flaws of the Jedi and Sith being ascribed in part to an imbalance of these two principles. Without the Sith, the Jedi stagnated, becoming rigid and impractical. Conversely, the Sith seem to need the external target of the Jedi in order to not collapse onto themselves. The process of becoming more flexible and sensitive to nuance (shades of gray?) which you describe the Jedi potentially going through would be a move towards a Gray understanding of the Force.

    Having Luke shift towards a more moderate position actually makes sense in light of his personal experiences. Vader didn’t turn against the Emperor because he was impressed by Luke’s display of Jedi pacifism, but because the Emperor was frying the life out of his son. Love saved the day, and not just an abstract brotherly love of all sentient life, but specifically a father’s love for his son. This would be an emotion. It doesn’t seem all that unlikely that Luke would start to reconsider whether the old Jedi teachings were really correct.

  9. You’ve identified the hinge of it, Eric. How do we understand balance? What DID it mean that Anakin was the Chosen One who would “restore balance”?

    We don’t just have Luke declaring, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” We also have Rey stating, “Light… darkness… the balance,” and the accompanying imagery that implies balance is in the middle.

    I’d argue it’s extremely relevant that throughout the Original and Prequel Trilogies, not once did any character mention “the Light Side.” The implication–even if Light Side became a colloquial term–is that there was the Force, and the Dark Side of the Force.

    Palpatine tells us the Dark Side is something “some consider to be unnatural.” This implies that the Greater Force, the Force itself, is natural. The Dark Side, then, is a cancer that creates imbalance by its mere presence, just as cancer creates an imbalance in a body by its mere presence. To say that balance means equal Dark and (non-existent) Light is like saying a being is balanced when exactly half its body is infected by cancer. Rather, balance is achieved by ERADICATING the cancerous, unnatural Dark Side.

    When we reach “The Force Awakens,” though, we now have plenty of characters–Kylo Ren, Maz Kanata, even Han and Leia–dropping references to the Light and the Light Side. I fear this portends a new interpretation where balance IS about finding the middle.

    Everything we’ve been taught so far suggests a Force user who dabbles in both the Light and the Dark can’t stay there for very long–because “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny…” The Dark Side is simply too seductive.

    However, in an effort to offer one more viewpoint, I’ll provide this quote from Randy Stradley, who suggested Anakin restored balance by “breaking down the impermeable borders between the light and the dark sides of the Force. Anakin was the first to ever cross completely (and seemingly irredeemably) into the dark side and return to the light side. It was Anakin’s redemption that restored the balance. It wasn’t that he destroyed the Sith, but that he ‘broke’ the inescapable power of the lure of the dark side.”

    Not a perspective I agree with, but food for thought.

  10. The more I think about it, the more unsettling the concept of Grey Jedi becomes. I remember a character – Set? – in the Bane Trilogy, who was identified as a Gray Jedi. And the thing that irritated me was that Darth Zannah was so convinced it would be easy for him to become Sith. It’s not something like Maul and Ezra, where Maul just seemed to think that he could influence anyone. It was more that Zannah felt like she could manipulate his evil tendencies into following him.

    At that point, how is he even Jedi?

    I do think, at most times, Legends used Grey Jedi as a cool way to say “Rogue” Jedi, or someone who is rebelling against the Order. But yeah. If you learn dark at all, you’re essentially dark.

    1. Did Legends even use it that often? The only instance I can remember is the one above, in which Qui-Gon is derisively called a “Grey” because of his defiance of the Council.

      1. I could absolutely be wrong but I don’t remember the actual term “grey Jedi” ever appearing in a book or otherwise used in-universe—if anyone can cite a specific source I’d love to see it.

    2. Reminds me of something I heard one of the Storygroup guys say once in a panel discussion: “Jedi” is a dogma. If you don’t at least strive to adhere to it, you’re not a Jedi, even if you’re Force sensitive and basically a good person.

      1. Pretty much the reason why I think that the Jedi should go the way of the 36th Chamber of Shaolin and create a secular training regimen for all Force sensitives, with joining the actual Jedi Order being optional and a choice made in good conscience.

      2. Interesting idea, though I wonder what would happen to people who don’t want to be trained? Are Force sensitives realistically too powerful to be left to their own devices?

  11. “I could absolutely be wrong but I don’t remember the actual term “grey Jedi” ever appearing in a book or otherwise used in-universe—if anyone can cite a specific source I’d love to see it.”

    It was in the old Star Wars comic series, the issues about the Stark Hyperspace War (36-39). Master Tovvyka mentions in either issue 1 or 2 that some of the Council already thinks of Qui-Gon as “grey”.

    1. I, like Coop, had thought of “Gray Jedi” as a fan term–but I checked it out, and you’re right, Sannom. In the first issue of the Stark Hyperspace War, Tyvokka tells Plo Koon he’d like to put his name forward for the Jedi Council. Plo suggests Qui-Gon, to which Tyvokka replies, “It will not happen. Too stubborn, that one. Jinn always does things his own way, always sure he is right, always incredulous if we do not see it his way. Some think he is a Gray Jedi.”

      1. The main issue here is whether or not that concept, as used by Tyvokka, refers to the same fan-concept of a Jedi who would toe the line between Light and Dark in order to use the abilities of both side. Qui-Gon had a reputation for being stubborn and difficult, but he’s not the one Yoda is worried about when it comes to the darkness in his heart (that would be Quinlan).

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