In the Star Wars universe, the Force is divided into the Light and Dark Sides. Symbolizing good and evil, it is often debated which side is stronger. The Dark Side is similar to performance-enhancing drugs, where the effects are immediate and overwhelming but leaving a lasting impact on the user. The Light Side on the other hand takes more time to master and focuses on peace and concentration, but is more beneficial to the user and can be more reliable.
What many do not realize is that there are actually many individuals in both the films and the Expanded Universe who are able to attain great amounts of power by utilizing both the Dark and Light Sides of the Force. Although never referred to as such in the films, it is referred to as the “Gray Side” of the Force, because the users seek to utilize both sides of the Force, generally for good. And as can be seen from the following examples, it can be argued that balancing the two sides of the Force can be more powerful than ascribing to one or the other.
Perhaps the most popular character from the Expanded Universe/Legends would be Revan from the Knights of the Old Republic series and the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Revan is a perfect example of utilizing both the Light and Dark Sides of the Force, as Revan began as a Jedi fighting against the Mandalorians before becoming Darth Revan and leading his own Sith empire with Dark Malak. Eventually Revan is returned to the Light Side and defeats Malak, eventually fighting the Sith Empire and the Sith Emperor during the events of The Old Republic.
As a Jedi, Revan was willing to adopt a more militant stance against the Mandalorians than the Jedi Council, a stance that made him extremely popular in the Republic and among fellow Jedi. His skills and tactics in battle also earned Revan respect among the Mandalorians who believed that it was only by Revan’s leadership that the Republic emerged victorious. As a Sith, Darth Revan was able to bring the Republic and the Jedi to its knees, and it was only through a simultaneous Jedi attack and betrayal by Darth Malak that Revan was stopped.
Revan’s exploits continue hundreds of years later during the Great Galactic War and Cold War of The Old Republic, and Revan continues his balance of Light and Dark, generally by fighting for the Light Side but through extreme measures. One quest involves Revan attempting to build an army of extermination droids programmed to kill anyone of Sith lineage, while another quest involves Revan attempting to place the spirit of the temporarily incorporeal Sith Emperor into a physical body, only so that Revan can definitively kill him once and for all. His legacy even inspired the creation of a group called the Order of Revan, or the Revanites, a group of people from both the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic who believe one must use both sides of the Force instead of just one.
Revan’s arch enemy, the Sith Emperor, sometimes referred to as the Emperor or Vitiate, is described as being an extremely powerful Sith who has used the Force to rule the ancient Sith Empire for hundreds of years. It was he who established the Sith Empire, it was he who turned Revan and Malak to the Dark Side, and it was he who invaded the Galaxy during the Great Galactic War.
Strangely, Vitiate did not remain with the Sith. It turned out that the Sith Emperor had been establishing a new empire on the planet Zakuul, known as the Eternal Empire. Going by the new name Valkorion, he sired three children and created an army of Force-sensitive soldiers. After infighting wrested control of the Sith Empire away from him and fighting resumed between the Empire and the Republic, Valkorion’s Eternal Empire launched an offensive against both sides and eventually subjugated the entire Galaxy.
After fighting an alliance of the Sith Empire, the Galactic Republic and an individual named the Outlander, Valkorion was eventually defeated. However, for being the leader of the Sith Empire for as long as he was, it seems almost out of place for the Emperor to shed the ways of the Sith and establish a new path that seemed aligned with neither the Light or the Dark Side. In fact, Valkorion seemed to view the Eternal Empire as superior to the Sith Empire he had spent centuries building. In his own words,
It could be argued that Valkorion merely created the Eternal Empire to better pursue his own goals, but when a character goes to battle Valkorion’s son, he will say “You have mastered the Dark Side of the Force. It is not enough. It never was.” This seems to suggest that the more powerful Vitiate/the Sith Emperor/Valkorion became, the more he realized that only balancing the two sides of the Force could bring about absolute power.
A more extreme example of the Force’s use in combat would be Starkiller from the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series. Starkiller (whose birth name is Galen Marek) begins as Vader’s secret apprentice, being trained to supposedly defeat the Emperor. After being betrayed, Starkiller creates the Rebel Alliance to oppose the Empire and gives his life to save them. In The Force Unleashed II, Starkiller returns as either a clone or the same man who has been memory-wiped (it is never made clear) and seeks out his friends in the Rebellion until ultimately having to duel Darth Vader a second time.
Having begun his life as a Sith apprentice, Starkiller utilizes many techniques associated with the Dark Side, such as lightning, choke, and repulse, which completely disintegrates his enemies. And unlike other Jedi or Sith who are trained in certain techniques, Starkiller was trained by Vader only to test the limits of what seemed possible with the Force, and then to overcome them, hence the name The Force “Unleashed.” This results in Starkiller being immensely powerful and using over-the-top tactics such as pulling a Star Destroyer into the ground or flying through the chest of the massive Gorog. However, to Starkiller the Force is more a tool which is why he is able to somewhat consider himself a Jedi without being seduced by the Dark Side.
However, while these are all characters from Legends, the idea of balancing the Dark and Light Sides of the Force can be seen in the Star Wars films as well.
Luke Skywalker uses very little of the Force in A New Hope, receives training by Yoda and is defeated by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, but emerges much more powerful in Return of the Jedi. In ROTJ, Luke displays uses of both the Light and Dark Sides. For example, early on Luke uses the Force to choke two of Jabba the Hutt’s Gamorrean guards instead of mind trick or a more peaceful tactic. When confronted by the Emperor and shown the Rebel Alliance suffering heavy casualties, Luke attempts to use his lightsaber to strike an unarmed opponent. Later on when facing Darth Vader, Luke taps in to his anger which allows him to defeat Vader in combat and sever his arm. Even Luke’s clothes are all black colored, instead of the traditional brown Jedi robes.
However, Luke is able to reel in his emotions and remain in control. In this way Luke is able to succeed where Anakin failed, as he can use the power of the Dark Side without being consumed by it. This also represents an important point in the Star Wars story as the Chosen One was supposed to bring balance to the Force. Since George Lucas has confirmed it was Anakin and not Luke who was the Chosen One, we can see that Anakin has indeed brought balance to the Force, although perhaps not in the way the Jedi Order had predicted.
First, Anakin became Darth Vader and assisted the Emperor in hunting down the Jedi during Order 66, which essentially brought the Jedi Order to the edge of extinction. By the time of the prequels, the Jedi Order is shown to have become more political and withdrawn from the Galaxy and willing to bend their rules, such as abandoning their role as peacekeepers and becoming leaders of the Clone Army. However, even though the Empire recruited many Dark Side-users, the only true Sith were Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. Because of the Rule of Two, Sidious himself had become the most powerful Sith Lord to have ever existed.
When Luke finally defeated the Emperor and redeemed his father, the only two Jedi survivors of Order 66, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were dead, and the last Sith, Darth Sidious was also dead. This left only Luke, who had been trained by the Jedi in the Light Side but also able to use the Dark Side, allowing him to create a new generation of Jedi. In this sense, Anakin brought balance to the Force by wiping the slate clean of the Jedi Order and Sith so that Luke’s Jedi could start afresh.
This idea of creating a new order that uses both Light and the Dark seems to have continued into the newest film, The Force Awakens. The Knights of Ren are a new group of Dark Siders, created by Supreme Leader Snoke, who is strangely not actually a Knight himself. The name “Knights of Ren” is more similar to the name “Jedi Knights” than the Sith, who often referred to themselves as the “Sith Lords.” And the leader of them, Kylo Ren, did not himself begin in the Dark Side. He was born Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia, who grew up during the tumultuous early years of the New Republic and the rocky marriage of his parents. All the while, Snoke was tempting Ben with the Dark Side, until finally he became Kylo Ren and led the Knights of Ren in the massacre of Luke’s new Jedi Order.
While it remains to be seen exactly how powerful Kylo Ren truly is, he already displays some impressive uses of the Force. For example, he is able to pry secrets and memories from people’s minds as well as using the Force to stop laser blasts mid-air and holding people in place, usually without appearing to exert much effort. All of these are Force powers previously unseen by other Sith, and Snoke himself says at the end of TFA that “It is time to complete his (Kylo Ren’s) training.”
Snoke is an extremely intriguing figure, and while it is currently unknown if he is a preexisting character such as Darth Plagueis or an entirely new character, the novel of TFA does shed some light on why Snoke selected Ben Solo to turn to the Dark Side. According to Snoke,
“It is where you are from. What you are made of. The dark side- and the light. The finest sculptor cannot fashion a masterpiece from poor materials. He must have something pure, something strong, something unbreakable, with which to work.”
This is perhaps the strangest aspect of Snoke’s relationship with Kylo Ren, as previous Sith such as Darth Sidious were only interested in the Dark Side. However, Snoke specifically chose Kylo Ren because he had originated with the Light Side. It could be guessed that the Light Side itself is stronger which is why Snoke would want an apprentice already trained in it, compared to someone who began in the Dark Side.
Overall, it would appear that some of the strongest characters in Star Wars are individuals who embraced both the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force. While this often doesn’t happen intentionally, such as Jedi who fall to the Dark Side or unwillingly tap in to it, the legacies of them are easy to see. Revan was renowned as one of the greatest Jedi ever, Starkiller started the Rebellion, and Luke Skywalker defeated the Empire and redeemed his father Darth Vader.