If you would like to support our non-profit efforts to get Star Wars books into classrooms, you can donate here.
In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi says to a young Luke Skywalker, “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.” This planted a seed with regards to the association of Jedi and power. Yet, when we look at what Kenobi said, a delineation must be made between powers and powerful. In the context of the quote, Kenobi is saying power as a synonym for ability, which was a smart choice considering where Luke’s head was at at the time. He does not say that the Force makes a Jedi powerful, and yet this is a conversation that still exists across the Internet. “Which Jedi is the most powerful?” is the question that won’t die, despite the canon very clearly telling us that it doesn’t matter, for this is not the scale on which a Jedi should be judged.
Luke makes this very clear when he trains Rey, “The Force is not a power you have. It’s not about lifting rocks. It’s the energy between all things, a tension, a balance, that binds the universe together.” Here he is not using “power” in the same context as his mentor. Rey is coming to him because he is a mythical figure who she believes is powerful enough to stop the First Order with his super Force powers. Luke shuts that down.
It becomes clear in The Last Jedi that Luke has studied the history of the galaxy, and that he has learned about the Jedi of the Republic, who became intoxicated with power. Palpatine was right when he said, “”All who gain power are afraid to lose it. Even the Jedi.” Palpatine is specifically speaking about their political status, but by that point the abilities of the Jedi and their political position were essentially one in the same. Luke portrays this to Rey in his second lesson, “At the height of their powers, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out.” As the ability of the Jedi grew, the humility of the Jedi waned.
Being that the majority of the Jedi content that exists in canon centers around the prequels, it is easy to lose sight of this misstep by the Order. They needed to enhance their power because their connection with the Force was failing them. What better way to deceive the enemy than to wear a mask? It is ironic, then, that the most powerful Jedi to ever live, Anakin Skywalker, ends up doing exactly that.
Power is the way of the Sith. The moment Palpatine knows he has won he screams, “Power! Unlimited power!” That’s what the Sith are about. Palpatine’s focus, we now know, was to achieve the ultimate power, the power to cheat death. “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” This is in Anakin’s mind when Palpatine tells him,”I have the power to save the one you love”
An interesting parallel arises when considering the Sith’s pursuit of power, particularly to cheat death, with Obi-Wan’s final words to his fallen apprentice, “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Again, context plays a major role. Kenobi knows that Darth Vader exists because of Anakin’s inability to save Padmé’s life, and thus seeks the power to cheat death to bring her back. Kenobi is not telling Anakin, “Hey, look at me I have the power to cheat death. Tada!” He’s trying to reach out to his Padawan one last time, telling him that power comes not from brute Force nor aggression,not from ability nor skill, but rather from the giving of oneself fully to the Force. Which is exactly what he does.
In season one of Clone Wars, in the episode “Lair of Grievous”, Yoda reminds a young Knight, “To answer power with power, the Jedi way, this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.” The Jedi do lose who they are, so it is not without great reflection and consideration that Yoda tells Luke, “Wars not make one great.” From his failure, and the failure of the Jedi in the Clone War, Yoda has learned. This is why we don’t see him training Luke with a lightsaber. Everything is focused on faith in the Force; even when Ben Kenobi does train Luke with his lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon, the focus is on the Force. “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.”
It is no coincidence that the two greatest acts of Luke Skywalker’s life have nothing to do with how powerful he is or was. The first instance, when he throws away his lightsaber on the second Death Star, pretty much explains itself. He is giving himself to his faith in the Force, and that his father will see that that same Force is still there for him. A few decades later, it would seem that things have changed. Luke Force projecting himself from Ach-To to Crait proves how powerful he had become. Yet, the power is not what is important. It is not why people tell legend of Luke Skywalker. In fact, we have no evidence that those inspired, the little broom boys and girls, even knew he was Force projecting. What we do know is that Luke stood in front of Kylo Ren not to fight him, but to face him. To face the sin he committed when, for the briefest of moments, he considered using his power as a Jedi Master, his power to sense what would become, to cut down his nephew, Ben Solo. For the audience, for Leia, Rey, and whomever else learned that Luke was projecting, the lesson is not in the power, but in the purpose. Once more Luke Skywalker did not win through violence, but through peace. He put his faith in the Force once more, and saved the day by meditating.
“Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So, you might say that we are encouraged to love.” These words show that on some level Anakin Skywalker got it. A Jedi is not what he or she can do, but how he or she does it. This is not to say that a Jedi should never fight. But “how the Jedi choose to win, the question is.”
Luke tells Rey, “Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.” Sometimes confronting that fear means having to stand firm and fight for what you believe in, which is exactly what Rey does. But consider how she does it. From the word “go” Rey has been compassionate. She was compassionate for a lost BB8, and she goes to Exegol because of the compassion she has for the galaxy. Luke tells Rey that Leia trains her, despite her bloodline, “Because she saw your spirit. Your heart.” She confronts Palpatine with that spirit and heart, and she wins not because she is more powerful than Palpatine. She wins because she is selfless. She gives her life to win, a testament to how much she cared. Further, she won by playing defense, by standing her ground, not by power, just like Luke on Crait. (Ironically, Palpatine’s power is turned back on him to become his method of self-destruction.)
Which brings us to Ben Solo and the Bendu. In Rebels, Bendu says, “An object can not make you good or evil. The temptation of power, forbidden knowledge, even the desire to do good can lead some down that path. But only you can change yourself.” It is the intention of the individual that makes all the difference. In becoming Kylo Ren, Ben Solo was trying to overpower his inner demons. He continued to claw for more and more power, even begging the facade of Darth Vader, “Show me again the power of the darkness, and I’ll let nothing stand in our way.” In the end, he does finish what Anakin started in bringing the one he loves back to life.
But far more important than the what is the why. Anakin wanted to save Padmé for himself. Ben, in seeing the compassion Rey has in giving her life Force to save him, is able to save her because he does it for her. He gives his full self, both literally and metaphorically, to the one he loves.The ultimate act of compassion. He does so not by being powerful, but by being willing to be powerless.