The Force and whether or not it’s balanced has always been a central part of the Star Wars mythos. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Force—sometimes referred to as the Way in ancient times—was a field of energy created by all living things. In the prequels, we discover that this energy field actually came about by microscopic organisms called midi-chlorians living in people’s bloodstreams. Someone who had a lot of midi-chlorians was called Force-sensitive, and they could interact with the Force to perform amazing feats—telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, and more.
Naturally, different religious factions came about, with different beliefs about the Force and how best to use it. One of the main tenets was that the Force needed to be balanced, and according to prophecy, that balance could only be brought about by a Chosen One. This Chosen One prophecy ended up being a central part to the prequel universe, and it was something about Star Wars that I was always interested in exploring more. Unfortunately, the prequels never explain to us what the prophecy is, the Chosen One’s role in it, or what balancing the Force even means.
The two most prominent religious organizations dedicated to the Force were the Sith and the Jedi. Unlike the Sith, who believed in harnessing their emotions, specifically their anger, and being set free from mortal limits through the Force, the Jedi were much more dogmatic and rigid in their beliefs. As such, the Jedi developed a strict code and only used what they called the light side of the Force—they wished to achieve harmony with the Force. The Jedi believed that the dark side, which the Sith used, corrupted the Force, and that for the Force to exist peacefully and be balanced, the dark side had to be destroyed. The Jedi’s way of life is very similar to Buddhism. Achieving balance is one of the main tenets of Buddhism, and it is sometimes referred to as the Middle Way, as it about creating a reconciliation between two extreme opposing views. In a sense, every virtue is a mean between two vices. For example, materialism, or self-indulgence, is one vice, while complete spiritualism, or self-mortification, is another. In many ways, these two extremes and a lack of balance are represented in the Jedi and the Sith.
The Sith are clearly much more materialistic, crave power, and are ruled by their emotions. The Jedi pride themselves on detachment from worldly possessions and focus on meditating and spirituality. The Sith are selfish, and the Jedi are selfless. In terms of balance, one side is not supposed to take over the other; instead, they should be kept “in check”. As such, both the Jedi and the Sith value two very difference vices, and the Force is not balanced. The Jedi, however, wanted the Force to become balanced, and over the years, they developed a prophecy about a Chosen One bringing balance to the Force:
In the time of greatest despair,
a child shall be born
who will destroy the Sith
and bring balance to the Force.
The prequel trilogy deals specifically with this prophecy and Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One. The movies are character studies for Anakin, who, despite being a powerful Jedi, falls to the dark side, becomes a Sith, and takes on the title Darth Vader. It’s not until the original trilogy, after Vader has wiped out just about all the Jedi in the galaxy, that he re-embraces the light side of the Force and kills Darth Sidious. This one act both costs Anakin his life and restores balance to the Force. I briefly talked about this a while back in a Magical Mondays post, where I argued that the use of midi-chlorians takes away from the fantasticalness of the Force, the Chosen One prophecy, and how they don’t make sense.
However, it’s not just the midi-chlorians that ruin this prophecy in the prequels. By now, most of you probably already know how I feel about those three movies. If you don’t, I think that they are poorly written pieces of crap, filled with cardboard cutout characters, and that nothing is properly explained or setup for any kind of meaningful payoff. This is especially true of the Chosen One prophecy.
Our first problem is that the prequels at no point in time ever explain what the hell this prophecy is. This seems like a huge oversight to me, as the prophecy is tied intricately to Anakin’s character. The Jedi reference the prophecy all the time and talk about its importance. I can only assume that the prophecy I quoted above is the same prophecy the Jedi talk about, but it never appears in the prequels in its entirety, and the movies never explain what about balance is so important. We only learn what the full prophecy actually says through the extended universe, which is not considered canon. In Episode I we find out that Qui-Gon believes Anakin is the Chosen One, and that’s why he wants to take Anakin on as an apprentice. However, the movie doesn’t expand on that. Episode I is about a different matter entirely, and the Chosen One prophecy is an afterthought at best. Because of that, we never find out what the Jedi Council was thinking when they decided to accept Anakin into their ranks, why Anakin was so important to Qui-Gon, and what any of this means for Anakin as a person.
Anakin learns from the very beginning that he is the Chosen One, yet at no point in time in the following movies does he ever have a serious discussion about it with Obi-Wan, or do the other Jedi really explain to us what the prophecy actually is. Instead, all we are told that the Chosen One will “defeat the Sith” and “restore balance to the Force”. As I said earlier, the Jedi believed that balance could only be restored through the light side of the Force. However, balance means reconciling two opposing ideas—in this case the dark side and the light side. That means that the Jedi’s interpretation of bringing balance to the Force was wrong, because balancing out the Force and destroying the Sith are two very different ideas that are not compatible with each other. This is not something that the movies never address. While the Jedi are almost entirely annihilated, as the Sith almost were many years previously, the prequels treat this as though the Force is no longer balanced. We in the audience are clearly meant to side with the Jedi in this matter and hope that the light side triumphs. The Chosen One prophecy becomes less about balance and more about a generic “good vs. evil” storyline.
Near the end of the trilogy, Anakin becomes a Sith and goes off to murder all the Jedi. For the most part, this transformation of his character came across as both flat and forced. The movies try to explain his actions through his love for Padmé, but saving her had nothing to do with murdering the Jedi and taking over the galaxy. We also never learn enough about either of these characters to make their relationship or actions believable. And because we never adequately learn about the prophecy either, Anakin’s fall to darkness has even less impact. Why is it so bad for the dark side to take over? There are only about two Sith in the galaxy, and Palpatine is no different from any other evil dictator. What would living in a galaxy with a perfectly balanced Force mean for everyone? The prophecy also says that Anakin would be born in a time of great despair, but when he’s born, the Jedi are at the height of their power, so what was going on that was so bad? As far as I’m concerned, he was born when the Sith were in a time of great despair.
Because the prequels never expand on the prophecy and its spiritual significance to the characters, or even what balance in the Force means for everyone, its inclusion in the story is pointless. And when the narrative does feel the need to address it, it contradicts itself—is the Chosen One supposed to triumph over the Sith and destroy them in a battle of good and evil, or is the Chosen One supposed to reconcile the dark and light sides of the Force. Anakin destroys the Jedi when the Sith are on the brink of destruction, and then when Darth Sidious gains too much power, he kills him too. I suppose we could say he’s bringing balance to the Force by making sure the Jedi are not more powerful than the Sith and vice-versa, but killing the members of the different factions is hardly reconciling their two sides, and therefore they’re still not balanced.
I feel as though the prequels are a horrible mess of a story and that literally anything would improve them—and properly defining this prophecy and what balance in the Force means would have done just that. One way to have done that would have been for the story to draw more from Buddhism. Basing “balance in the Force” off a Buddhist mindset and then following through with that could only have improved the story. And if Star Wars had really cared about balance and spirituality like the Jedi’s philosophy suggested, the ending would have been stronger and more meaningful.
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I became a Star Wars in 1999
The Prophecy is simple enough to get, what the Council couldn’t get was that bringing Balance required destroying the Jedi as well as the Sith.
I like that they didn’t over explain things the way your asking, that overepxlaining is what ruined Inception.
I agree with everything you said – though I think the traditional view of the Prophecy these days is that the Jedi messed up and the Chosen One was actually Luke Skywalker. Which is a fairly uninteresting dodge.
The Star Wars universe just suffers from an incoherent vision of Good vs Evil overall, which is humorous given how the black and white vision of the Force was supposed to simplify the moral landscape and give viewers a clear ‘good guy’ to root for. The fact is, people understand that the real world doesn’t work this way, and so we and successive creators in that universe have to various extents rejected that supposed unambiguity. Yet the universe still hasn’t shaken off the feeling that it needs to be a simple morality tale for children, and so has not really addressed its core inconsistencies head on.
In the end, if you define the Jedi strictly in terms of ‘the good guys, who work to fight the bad Sith’, who are they once the Sith are gone? Just the Republic’s secret police? For all their moustache-twirling evil faults, the Dark Side actually uses the Force to do stuff, the Jedi use the Force to ensure that no one uses the Force except Jedi. Who inevitably go evil the moment they try to do anything.
The title ‘The Force Awakens’ for the new film does sound hopeful, though.
I’m a SW fan because of the Prequels, every Nostalgic thing the OT is for yo the Prequels are for me.
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