Everybody knows that the Jedi and the Sith are the guys battling it out for control of The Force in the Star Wars universe, right? They represent the Light Side and the Dark Side of The Force, and you gotta choose one (although in the words of Led Zeppelin there's always time to change the path you're on). That's it - Star Wars operates on a Manichean black and white philosophical system.
Not so fast! This season on Star Wars Rebels Lucasilm is introducing Bendu, an ancient character whose relationship with The Force is very different from the binary antics of the Jedi and the Sith. Voiced by Tom Baker (yes, Doctor Who), Bendu seems to represent an older way.
"I wanted Bendu to feel like a character out of an ancient time," explained Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni at a press conference at Star Wars Celebration Europe last week. "He’s like a [Tom] Bombadil. He’s in the story and it’s unclear whose side he’s on. He doesn’t play by the rules of everyone else in the story."
If Bendu's name is familiar, it's because it comes from George Lucas' original, Adventures of Anakin Starkiller era, writings where the Jedi were called the Jedi-Bendu. It's all part of an attempt to extend the Star Wars mythology into a kind of pre-history, and to break away from duality in The Force.
"Beyond what the Jedi and the Sith have organized around the Force, beyond their beliefs about it, there is an even older way of thought," said Filoni. "The Force exists - and this is important - beyond the Jedi and the Sith. The Jedi and the Sith are a way of controlling the Force, but they are not the be-all, end-all. We got into that with the Force Gods of Mortis [on The Clone Wars], where there are these beings out there who are ancient and wise who look at the battle between the Jedi and the Sith, and their self-importance, and it looks childish to them."
In many ways this is the most exciting concept to be bandied about in Star Wars in some time. The Light Side and the Dark Side stuff is starting to look pretty childish, and the idea of Bendu bringing in a new way of looking at The Force is intriguing. I kind of hope that this exploration of the grey area of The Force, this idea that The Force is just The Force, extending beyond the conflict between the Sith and the Jedi (and the Knights of Ren, whoever they represent), comes into play in the movies. I want Star Wars to explore more nuanced philosophical ground rather than tread water in stark good and evil divides.
Man, who would have thought a Star Wars cartoon would bring the most sophisticated stuff to the universe?