The release of The Phantom Menace re-contextualized all of Star Wars. It not only let us see the Jedi in their prime, or the most menacing villain in cinema history as a sweet, caring little boy, it redefined how we look at the Force by bringing the idea of balance into play. When looking at the scope of the saga, we can understand now that Luke and/or Anakin balanced the Force at the end of Return of the Jedi. But in 1983, balance wasn’t a part of the conversation. After the prequels, balance is the conversation.
The Maker, George Lucas, explained that the dark side is selfish, while the light is selfless. In a sense, the dark side is a toxin destroying the purity of the light. The way to balance is not equal light and equal dark because the darkness will always corrupt. To say that equal dark and equal light is balance is to say that someone can live a nice, normal, even noble, life with poison in their veins. It cannot happen. The poison will always kill you unless it is eradicated.
This is not to say that the dark side can be destroyed. In fact, “The Balm of the Luminous”, an ancient Jedi ritual presented in Dooku: Jedi Lost, specifically says, “we walk in the light, acknowledge the dark” Acknowledging and being a part of are two very different things. There will always be darkness. But I don’t think anyone of sane or worthwhile opinion would say that being half Nazi and half good Samaritan is balance. It’s not. We cannot live our best life with such a toxin in our system. This is the narrative of the Skywalker Saga.
The story begins with Anakin Skywalker, a creation of the Force itself. There is a great debate to be had over who or what actually made Anakin, but if we simply look at the film it would seem that Anakin was created to counteract the rise of the Sith. For a millennia the Sith had been in hiding, their strength slowly growing, but never enough to cause any real concern. Once the Force realized it was getting out of whack, it tried to course correct. However, the Jedi’s efforts to eradicate the dark side completely corrupted what Anakin was supposed to be, thus leading to the rise of the Sith.
Enter Luke and Leia. The twins are born at almost the exact moment that the real Darth Vader (please stand up, please stand up) is born. The Force failed to find the balance it was seeking with Anakin, and thus it had to level up by creating twins that would do what Anakin could not. Luke and Leia reunite, in a way, what was torn apart by Anakin and Padmé. Anakin fell because he did not trust Padmé, despite her promise that she was not going to die in childbirth. In his effort to prevent that from happening, Anakin made that exact thing happen.
Luke is able to correct this when he comes to trust Leia. Just as Anakin fought for Padmé, Luke fought for Leia. It is Vader’s threat of turning her to the dark side that leads Luke to finally go on the attack. Luke knows that if he were to die, and the Emperor to survive, that Leia would be the last hope of the galaxy. Fighting to protect her is noble, but it is not selfless. Trust is selfless. Just as Anakin didn’t trust Padmé to win her fight against death, Luke didn’t trust Leia, at least in that moment, to be able to bring an end to the Emperor. It is only when he sees the monster that that line of thinking creates that Luke finds the strength to throw his lightsaber away.
But the darkness in the galaxy was not fully eradicated, and a lack of trust brought it back with a vengeance. Just as the Jedi did not trust Anakin to overcome his darkness, Luke and Leia did not trust Ben Solo to overcome his. In both instances, the exact thing they were trying to prevent was created. Once more, the Force must balance itself. Enter the Dyad.
A new concept to Star Wars, the Dyad is a step up from the bond of Luke and Leia. Creating two from The Chosen One wasn’t enough, so the Force creates the Dyad from the two most powerful families in the galaxy. It is only when these two are brought together, as they are throughout the sequel trilogy, that can lead to a final establishment of balance.
How they get to that point is critical, though, and may give us a lens into the will of the Force. Luke and Leia both lose trust in Ben, despite him just being who he was. He had light and dark within him, yet Luke nor Leia showed him how to handle that by making the right choices. This is the exact same mistake that the Jedi made with Anakin. But in Rey, Luke and Leia get a bit of a redo. Despite her dark blood, Luke and Leia trust Rey because they see her heart, something they failed to see in Ben (although it is quite clear that he does, indeed, have a big heart).
In trusting Rey when she did not trust herself, Luke and Leia taught Rey how to bring balance by being selfless. On the remains of the second Death Star, Rey gives her life Force to Ben. Finally Ben has found someone who loves him (romantically or not being irrelevant) despite the mistakes that he has made. This is the redeeming factor that brings Ben back out, just as it brought Anakin back.
Just as Luke had to face his darkness, manifest in the form of Vader, Rey must face hers in the form of Palpatine. The difference, and what causes the lasting balance, is that Rey does not stand alone. She stands with Ben. Then she stands with all the Jedi. In doing so, she is able to overcome the darkness not just in herself but in the galaxy. In a great piece of visual storytelling, Rey unites the lightsabers of Luke and Leia to defend, not attack, against the attack of Palpatine. She literally turns his darkness back on him, a testament to the idea that darkness destroys.
Nonetheless, Rey is only a half of the Dyad. She alone cannot bring the eternal balance the Force is seeking, just as Luke alone could not do it. In the battle against Palpatine, Ben doesn’t really do much, but in the larger story of balance he is critical because he finally completes what Anakin was trying to do. First, he brings Rey back from the dead, fulfilling the promise made decades before by Anakin to his dead mother. The what, though, is not as important as the why. When Ben gives his life Force to Rey, the two become one. The split created with Anakin and Padmé is reunited. Where Anakin gave his life for Luke, Ben gives his life to Rey.
There is one final aspect of “The Balm of the Luminous” that cannot be overlooked. After the aforementioned dichotomy between light and dark, the text says we “find balance within ourselves.” This is the ultimate understanding of balance. It is only on a personal level, not a galactic one, that we can bring balance. Luke, Anakin, Ben, and Rey all find the balance in themselves first, and because of that were able to help create balance on a galactic level. That’s what being a Skywalker really means.