Transcending Death: The Light

In a recent post – Cheating Death: The Dark – I discussed the hate-filled path Darth Maul traversed in order to survive his horrific wounding in The Phantom Menace. If you have not read the post, or want to refresh your memory, I would encourage you to do so. In this piece I do a 180, flipping the conversation from cheating death to transcending death in order to consider how a Light Sider user can, if they are chosen and deemed worthy, preserve their conscious identity (and bodily form) in the netherworld of the Force. 

As I point out in Cheating Death, the Sith and the Jedi share in having dynamic but also limited understandings of the Force. Just as Darth Maul could not dream of the level of Darkness he would reach in his state of intense hatred, the Jedi also lack full comprehension of what the Light Side offers regarding death. This is not a criticism of the Jedi, though. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that the religious orders in Star Wars – Sith, Jedi, Knights of Ren, Nightsisters, and so on – do not have 100% complete conceptual understandings of the Force. Ultimately, the religious orders believe about the Force is centered around their specific experience of it and, as a result, their respective dogmas directly reflect this experiential knowledge.

A perfect example of the Jedi Order’s limit is the skepticism – nay, the outright denial – that one can preserve their individuality after death. In The Clone Wars Season Six episode “Voices,” Anakin Skywalker describes the Order’s dogma on the subject of life after death quite poignantly when he states, “…everything that we know about the Force tells us that an individual retaining their identity after death is impossible.” To this we can also add Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi, ranking member of the Jedi Council, who notes “…the dead are part of the Cosmic Force and lose their individuality.” Even Master Yoda, the oldest/wisest of the Jedi and head of the Council, does not at first believe in the possibility of maintaining one’s individuality after death, expressing his own skepticism when he hears the voice of dead Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Nevertheless, Yoda will come to realize that Master Jinn is speaking to him, opening himself to a possibility he thought impossible. In turn, guided by Qui-Gon, Yoda will begin his own journey towards transcendence.

The journey, though, is not an easy one. Yoda, we find in the last few episodes of The Clone Wars series (starting with “Voices”), must face significant trials to show that he is worthy of retaining his individuality after death. In other words, the great gift of transcendence is not liberally given to all Light Side users. While Jedi Masters such as Mace Windu, Plo Koon, Shaak Ti, and Ki-Adi Mundi are incredibly wise and act with good intentions, they nevertheless are not presented with the possibility of transcendence.

On the other hand, Yoda is chosen to receive the great gift, chosen because he will “teach one who will save the universe from the great imbalance.” Still, even Yoda must be put to the test, and in the episodes “Destiny” and “Sacrifice” he is forced to master himself – his own darkness, hubris, and temptations – in order to prove that he can master transcendence. It is only after passing these difficult tests, coming into a fuller understanding of his own identity and his connection with the Light Side of the Force, that Yoda will begin a long process of training through which he will learn to manifest consciousness after death.

yodadarkside
Yoda is confronted by his own inner Dark Side and hubris.
Photo Credit: The Clone Wars Season 6, Episode, Episode 12 – “Destiny”

Although we are given a fleeting glimpse of this training in The Clone Wars, the training Yoda receives has otherwise never been fully explored – either shown nor described – in any Star Wars stories. The same is also true for Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom we also know is granted this gift of transcendence. While Yoda explains, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, that Qui-Gon Jinn will be Kenobi’s guide in the process, we are not privy to the tests or lessons Kenobi will learn from his former Master.

Yet, all of this is okay. The Force is mysterious, and some of the sacred teachings, artifacts, and rituals that go hand-in-hand with it should be equally mysterious. Just as Sith and Jedi alike are not privy to every aspect of the Force, the same is also the case for fans of Star Wars. In fact, I would suggest that the training Yoda and Obi-Wan receive never be fully explored, lest we water down the sacred mystery of transcendence through over-explanation or take away from each fan’s imagination. Besides, what we do know is that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did learn to manifest consciousness after death, proof that their training, whatever it entailed, was successful.

But while Yoda and Kenobi completed their mysterious training, we also know that Qui-Gon Jinn did not. In “Voices,” Master Jinn explains that he was killed before his training was complete, before he had fully learned to manifest his individuality after death. While his concious identity was preserved at death, enabling him to speak from the beyond as a manifestation of the Force, Qui-Gon is unable to appear in bodily form to those who are still alive. As we are well aware, appearing in bodily form to the living is something which both Kenobi and Yoda are able to do. This is precisely because their bodies quite literally disappeared when “death” arrived, transported along with their consciousness to the netherworld of the Force. Thus, the pinnacle of one’s training, the pinnacle of transcendance, is the capacity to “exist where there is no future or no past” in both mind and body.  

kenobistruckdown
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s body disappears as he is struck down by Darth Vader.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

On this last point, it is worth mentioning that what existence is like for Qui-Gon, Kenobi, and Yoda in the netherworld of the Force is outside of the realm of comprehension. There are simply no words – not here or in any Star Wars story – that can capture what it truly means to exist once one has reached transcendence. Certainly finite language can be used to give hints; after all, even Buddhists understand that all suffering will cease once Nirvana has been reached. But what transcendence actually feels like on a subjective level, what existence means for one who now inhabits the netherworld of the Force, that can only be known to the individual whom has entered the new state of being. And because of this, I hope the existence which Qui-Gon, Kenobi and Yoda achieve is kept a mystery to other characters in the saga as well as fans.

11 comments

  1. “In fact, I would suggest that the training Yoda and Obi-Wan receive never be fully explored, lest we water down the sacred mystery of transcendence through over-explanation or take away from each fan’s imagination.”

    It’s a fine line ever since Lucas introduced midi-chlorians in TPM. Once he introduced the fact that the Force can be narrowed down to something so scientific, I think it gave the chance for a lot to be explained and understood. As a younger fan, I did not mind this and thought it was interesting to have the Force explained in more depth.

    Older fans, however, that grew up with the OT, were really angered by this. The Force, to them, was something mystical and I also think they were holding on to the fact that it was something only certain families had as opposed to something that could pop up in anyone.

    Where we stand right now with the Force – and how you explain it in this post – is this fine balance of letting some things be scientific and explained and letting other aspects of it still remain mysterious. I agree with your quote that this is something that I think we should not know more about. I like that all we know is that, yes, Jedi can transcend but the how is not for us to know.

    Great post! Really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment and feedback! Greatly appreciated.

      I agree (obviously!) that there needs to be certain limits to our knowledge even with Star Wars. Just because it is a made-up universe doesn’t mean everything needs to be explained. Still, that doesn’t mean other areas cannot be explored, and I (like you) find the midi-chlorians to be rather fascinating even if their use has been, at times, confusing. Frankly, I think there can be some give and take in areas, providing some interesting insight in some facets while also turning around and allowing the mystery to percolate on its own in others. In fact, I would suggest that a great way this has happened recently is with the Kyber crystals. We know so much about them but, at the same time, they are also exceedingly mysterious. I feel like just the right amount of insight has been given for us to want to know more while also keeping the mystery alive and well. I just hope the Kybers don’t succumb to over-explanation down the road somewhere.

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      1. Sometimes I fear that so much of star wars has the potential to “succumb to over-explanation.” I know Abrams was a big fan of keeping the Force mysterious and not scientific but I’m not sure which direction Kathleen Kennedy wants to go in or if she leaves it up to the director.

        I actually was not a fan of the Kyber Crystal episode in TCW. For me, I felt like that was over explained. See… You can’t please everyone!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am with you on the direction things are headed in. It is hard to tell exactly where we will be in a couple years once Episode VIII lands. My greatest fear is that the desire to tell stories about Star Wars ends up overwhelming the need to keep some things strictly to the imagination. If $$$ can be made from it, they will just keep squeezing Star Wars until all the mystery has been bled from it. Now, I like to think that there are those within Lucasfilm who will push back against that, but again only time will tell (which totally sucks since we, as fans, have little say in things other than what we spend our $$$ on).

        As for TCW episode you mention, I can certainly see where you are coming from. Personally, I have always enjoyed that episode but admittedly, as someone who has studied religion academically, having an episode about the younglings rite of passage was pretty awesome. In fact, I use that episode in my World Religions classes to teach Taoism (and am working on a future post on the topic). Still, the episode absolutely opens the mystery wide open, and at this point the relationship between Kyber and Jedi has definitely received quite a bit of explanation. Heck, the Ahsoka YA novel even opens that door further and Catalyst ran the risk of over-explaining the Kybers in a scientific way. At this point, I think I have enough knowledge of the Kybers to satisfy myself and allow my imagination to take over. While I appreciate the intimacy, for example, that Ahsoka and her crystals have in the YA novel, I hardly need stories that go into detail about every Jedi-crystal relationship. For me, the big picture is established with some nice specifics mixed in, but adding more specific details won’t really help the big picture at this point so much as overwhelm it. Perhaps I am wrong – I certainly might be – but I just don’t think the Kybers need more detailed explanation at this point. We all sorta understand them at this point, right?

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      3. I agree with what you’re saying now that the Kyber Crystals have been explains but I guess if I could go back in time, I would not want the explanation they gave. But then again, I’ve never looked at it through a religion point of view either.

        How was the Ahsoka novel? Worth reading m

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      4. Ahsoka has some really strong points and some really low points. As a YA coming-of-age novel it is pretty good, particularly the first half or so as she navigates life after Order 66. As a whole, though, I found it a pretty bland and otherwise predictable read. I can’t see myself picking it up to re-read anytime soon, but I could be using it a bit here and there in posts, going back to it to consider specific moments (like the Kyber Crystal).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great point. I think any means of cheating or transcending death needs to be handled extremely carefully within stories–lest the writers fall into the trap of bringing back whomever they want, whenever they want. Hopefully this ability will remain limited and mysterious within the Star Wars franchise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the comment! Obviously, I completely agree with you. I really hope the writers/authors don’t call into the trap of over-explaining every aspect of the Sacred. It is just unnecessary since the imagination – each of us individually – can fill in details as we wish. That is one of the best parts of SW in my opinion, being able to insert our own thoughts and experiences into the gaps.

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