A little movie called The Last Jedi is now in theaters. And whether or not you decide to take your kids to enjoy the space operatics, lightsaber battles, Porgs, and pew pew pew sound effects, they will undoubtedly have some sort of familiarity with the franchise. Because it’s Star Wars. And it’s everywhere. This means that, just as there are Sarlaac pits and pod races, your kids will ask questions. Is Chewbacca related to the Ewoks? Why does that man in the mask breathe that way? Do the Jedi get to pick their own lightsaber color? This is one of the huge joys of the franchise: More than 40 years after A New Hope debuted, fathers still get to field fun questions about Lucas’ world.
Inevitably, however, one of the questions to emerge will be trickier to answer than lightsaber shades or furry creature genealogy: Daddy, what’s the Dark Side? So, to help you out, here’s a bit of a guide.
To understand the Dark Side, kids, you must first ask consider a simple question: the dark side of what? The answer, of course, is the Force. But what exactly is the Force? In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Fair enough. So basically, kids, believing in the Force is the galaxy far, far away’ equivalent to being spiritual but not religious. It is an unknowable energy that connects us in a way that we intuitively recognize, even if we don’t understand it. Or you can just tell your kids that it’s an invisible field that they can just sense. Like when they knew they’re hungry.
Next, the ‘ole duality issue. According to Jedi mythology, there is a Light side and Dark side of the Force which are constantly in conflict. Most people tend to generalize the Dark Side as evil and the Light Side as good but it, of course, realy isn’t that simple. As the series evolved, it became a story about how both forces are constantly bubbling inside all beings and it’s a constant struggle to, well, stay on target.
But, as far as The Dark Side of the Force is concerned it’s a powerful but dangerous agency most commonly used by the Sith, the sworn nemeses of the Jedi Knights. While Jedis primarily channel the Light Side of the Force by controlling their emotions through mindfulness, inner peace, and discipline, the Dark Side calls on users to give in to their emotions and embrace their anger, hate, and fear. Because of the raw energy of the Dark Side, many believe that it is stronger than the Light Side. When Luke asks Yoda during his training whether the Dark Side is stronger, Yoda replies, “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.” It’s giving into your baser instincts.
And perhaps all kids really need to know about what it means to embrace the power of the Dark Side is this: Nobody is born in Dark or Light. We all have both sides inside us and what side we end up on depends on the decisions we make every day. Whether it is our world or theirs, doing the right thing is almost never the easy choice. It requires constant work and humility. You have to be comfortable knowing that you will be making enemies every step of the way.
Giving into the anger and fear inside yourself is seductive because it simply requires focusing on yourself and your desires instead of considering how your actions are affecting the world around you. And the Dark Side can manifest itself in all of our actions, whether a kid throws a tantrum or daddy yells at that jerk who cut him off. When the Empire destroys Alderaan with the newly operational Death Star, Obi-Wan says he feels a “great disturbance to the Force.” And at its core, that is exactly what the Dark Side is. It is choosing to disturb the community and harmony that everyone else has worked hard to build for the benefit of no one but yourself.
Basically, tell kids this: If you are faced with a tough decision and feel yourself being drawn in by the power of the Dark Side, remember to consider how your actions will affect others. Lying to your friends may seem harmless but in reality, you’re giving into selfish impulses at the expense of others. You know how Luke ultimately rejects the Dark Side when he resists the call to power and refuses to strike his father down? Thanks to his selfless actions, Vader is able to escape the grip of the Dark Side and find redemption. That’s pretty cool. In the same vein, we can all reject the Dark Side every time we do something kind or generous or show patience in a tense situation. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but it will help make the world a better place.