Midnight in the Garden of Light & Dark

There’s one line in The Force Awakens that gives me pause every time I hear it:  “There’s still light in him, I know it.” Even after thinking about it for quite some time while pondering this post, typing it still felt weird. The phrase just seems wrong. My brain had to strong-arm my fingers to keep them from typing “good in him” instead of “light.” I mean, that’s what we’ve always heard before, right? Padme says there’s still “good” in Anakin on her deathbed; Luke repeatedly talks about the “good” in his father…so why is there no “good” in Kylo Ren? Does Darth Vader have the market cornered on goodness in a villainous character? I don’t think that’s it, but I do have some ideas, so, if you’re interested, follow along at home as I pontificate…

In case you haven’t noticed, TFA is chock-full of uses of light as symbolism for what’s happening in the scene (hell, light could practically be considered a character), but no instance is more dynamic (or obvious) than that fateful meeting between father and son on that catwalk inside Starkiller Base. When the two begin talking, the light is shining down on them and Kylo seems as though he’s going to give up his evil ways and relinquish his weapon, but, as the light fades, so do his good intentions, and, well, we all know how the rest goes…so, does Leia say “there’s still light in him” simply to tie-in the use of light in that scene and stay on message with the symbolic nature of light in the film? I don’t think so (at least I hope not; that’s fairly disappointing if so). No, I think there’s more to it than that…


From a Certain Point of View
What is good, anyway? I think it’s good when the Penguins win a hockey game, but I imagine fans of the team they beat don’t agree. I think eating a cheeseburger is very good, but there are vegans out there who would call me evil for that kind of carnivorous behavior. Certain terrorists think it’s good to blow yourself, and innocent bystanders, up to support the cause, but I happen to find that to be more or less the definition of evil…now, do you see how “good” is a somewhat arbitrary concept based entirely on the individual’s allegiances, morals, values, tastes, etc.? Darth Vader thinks everything he does to secure peace for the Empire is good, so, if you asked him, he would say that there’s most definitely good in him because he’s out there doing good every day, but from Luke’s point of view that’s Vader suppressing the good person that is Anakin Skywalker and letting the evil Lord Vader have control. In much the same way, I think Kylo Ren thinks he’s doing good by attempting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and bring peace to the galaxy…so how does one know what is truly good and not just good from a certain point of view?


Light vs. Dark
Honestly, you don’t. Things that are “light and dark,” however, are a little more straightforward, though they can both be used for good or evil (complicated, I know). For example, I think everyone can probably agree that giving someone a piece of candy is a fairly light-side thing to do…but there can be two sides to that coin:  if you’re a bank teller giving a sucker to child you know has been waiting in line with his parent for quite some time, I’d say that’s a light-side action with a good result; on the other hand, if you’re a kidnapper that gives a child a Hershey bar to get into your van, I’d call you a despicable, evil person…conversely, killing someone is about as dark-side as it gets, but I think assisted suicide for terminally ill patients that live a life of constant pain is a good thing, whereas killing someone to steal from them or simply because you don’t like them (or for just about any other reason, really) is a very evil thing to do…so, when Leia says “there’s still light in him,” she means he still has the propensity to do light-side deeds, which, in her mind, means he can still perform good-natured acts that would lead him down a path toward once again becoming a “good” person from her point of view instead of someone who dabbles mostly in dark-side deeds in order to be the “good” person he thinks he is…


So, clear as mud, right? Yeah, in what is somewhat typical fashion for me, I droned on but never really came to a finite conclusion…I guess the bottom line is I can see where replacing “good” with “light” makes sense in the story, but, regardless, I would rather have heard her say “there’s still good in him, I know it.” It would be more in keeping with the previous six films, and it wouldn’t make me squish my face into a questioning expression every time the line came up, like when you’re watching a movie on cable and they replace the “f-word” with “fart” or something ridiculous like that (okay, it’s not that bad, but still…). Really, this is yet another instance that piques my curiosity about the events that take place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Does Luke adopt a vocabulary that excludes “good” and “evil” for the more relatable “light” and “dark?” And, if so, why? If not, is there another reason that good is to light as Vader is to Kylo? Or is it really just a matter of beating the audience over the head with the symbolic use of light? As is the case for so many other unanswered questions, we’ll just have to wait and see…and while we wait, may the Force be with you…

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