Footprints on the Paths Up the Mountain

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Life is like a mountain with many paths. At the top of the mountain is happiness: a common goal that binds us all. The journey up the mountain is constantly shifting though. Each person finds themselves on a different path. Some are similar. They contain some wear or possibly even the footsteps of those who have tread this path before, but at some point, the path becomes our own. Just as we all seek to find our way towards happiness, so to do the characters of that galaxy far, far away. Whether Jedi or Sith, Nightsister or Lasat, all characters are searching for a way to reach the heights of joy as they envision it. On their journey, many turn to communities of faith just as we do, and in doing so, they find support. They find practices and beliefs that help them find the strength to keep moving even when the way is dark and the road seems longer than they can bear. In this way, as in so many ways, our paths up the mountain we climb and the journeys of those we watch and read about can seem so similar.

As they are presented in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Dark Disciple, the Nightsisters are an all-female religious group that are able to manipulate the Force through the use of talismans, rituals, and magic. These mixtures and ceremonies allow the group’s members to do some really visually cool, but absolutely terrifying things. Many would classify their manipulation of the Force as witchcraft and label them as alternatives to the Sith-ly path, but upon second glance, many of the more aggressive actions that creep us out as fans were orchestrated by two specific Nightsisters in order to accomplish their own desires. In the episode, “Nightsisters“, Asajj Ventress and a few of her Nightsister sisters are given the ability to be temporarily invisible to the naked eye in order for Asajj to seek revenge against Count Dooku; unfortunately for them, they are still quite visible to the white-bearded Sith Lord from Serrano. Through the use of potions and rituals, the Nightsisters are able to transform Savage Opress from a meek man willing to “serve as tribute” in order to save others, into a vicious killing-machine who is repeatedly called a monster. This too is done, not because the sisterhood itself seeks it, but because Mother Talzin and Ventress want their vengeance. The matriarch of the group, Mother Talzin, also has some abilities beyond those of other members of the group. She can transmute objects to create really cool pointy raptor-legs for Sith lords finding themselves feeling like they got the short end of the lightsaber duel. She can also materialize and dematerialize across vast distances. She also displays the ability to reanimate the dead in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode most likely to cause nightmares, “Massacre.“ The macabre sight of skeletal Nightsister bodies dropping from goopy-looking pods in order to help their more lively sisters defend Dathomir from General Grievous is not something that is easily forgotten, and it’s easy to forget that this act ,that seems to go against the very laws of nature, is actually done to defend against an invasion.

The mystical abilities of the Nightsisters are used to illustrate their core tenant: they are faithful to their own, and less concerned about the galaxy-at-large than about protecting their sisterhood. Most Nightsisters we have seen seem to care little about the galactic affairs and more about helping the sister struggling next to them. When we do see the Nightsisters step out of the mist of Dathomir, they are usually doing so because they want revenge (like Asajj Ventress) or power (like Mother Talzin). Is this the summit that all members of this group are striving to reach? No. Both Ventress and Talzin are strong, extremely motivated individuals who will call on the help of their Nightsister clan in order to help them accomplish their goals, but the Nightsisters themselves do not seem to seek to leave Dathomir and have a bigger role in galactic events. That is Mother Talzin’s goal and, for a time, Ventress’ goal, but the goal of the Nightsister seems to be to use your powers, knowledge, and skills in order to support your clan.

In Star Wars: Rebels episode, “Legends of the Lasat,” we are given a glimpse into the culture of Zeb’s species. Throughout the episode, Zeb struggles to find his role in the prophecy of the Fool, Warrior, and Child. This prophecy is supposed to lead his people to a new world to replace the one the Empire ripped from them: Lira San. As much as he wants to be the warrior, his role is actually that of the child. As this truth is revealed to our purple-furred friend, Chava (the elderly female Lasat) lays down an even bigger truth: in our lives we don’t just fulfill one role but many. It’s an interesting reminder that people (or furry purple aliens) are actually complex, and we are doing the a disservice when we boil them down to one part.

As the episode continues, it’s simple Star Wars math to think that we have three Lasat and three roles, so each one must play their own specific part in fulfilling the prophecy: Zeb + Chava + Gron = Prophecy Fulfilled! It turns out that that’s faulty math though. The three parts aren’t filled solely by Lasat. They are filled by players from many different species and factions. Lovable rogue Hondo Ohnaka plays the part of the fool (a part he plays so well). Even Agent Kallus has his part to play in the prophecy: that of the warrior. The fulfillment of the prophecy shows that the Lasat believe that every individual has a purpose in the galaxy. This is one way in which the Lasat culture differs from the Nightsisters. While the Nightsisters and Lasat both look to take care of their own, the Lasat believe that each person plays the part the Ashla (their name of the Force) has provided them in the greater tapestry of the galaxy.

Like the Nightsisters, the Lasat also have rituals and objects that empower them. In order to determine the location of Lira San, the Lasat perform a ritual where they draw the prophecy of the Fool, Warrior, and Child on the floor; chant; and use Zeb’s bo-rifle “as the ancients used it” to send a spark of energy through the star chart, revealing the destined planet. Zeb’s bo-rifle is used again when they are confronted by a maze that blocks their path. As they speed through hyperspace toward Lira San, an imploded star cluster’s pull stops them and Zeb must use his bo-rifle to find the way through the anomaly that threatens to crush them. Both rituals and tools are needed in order to complete the journey.

The journey of the Lasat is a curvy one, and the mountaintop they hoped to reach before the Empire blew the lid off the mountain is a tale that hasn’t been told. Their road had to transform because of the Empire, and the Lasat could have fought it, but they chose to embrace it instead. They just started off on a new journey to a new mountaintop, and the irony is that it took a mixture of Lasat and Imperial actions in order to get there.  

The Church of the Force is the youngling in our analysis and the one we know the least about. We get the most information about this enigmatic group from a conversation between Lor San Tekka and Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While brief, the words of Lor San Tekka are dense in meaning and implications about this group that he appears to be the leader of: “This will begin to make things right. I’ve traveled too far and seen too much to ignore the despair in the galaxy. Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force.” The members of the Church of the Force cherish and believe in the selfless ideals of the Jedi while not being able to wield the Force itself. The greatest tool they have is faith. They cannot feel the Force, but they trust that it is there and working for their good. While not yet outed as a member, Chirrut Imwe from Star Wars: Rogue One encapsulates much of their belief when he responds to an Imperial threat by stating, “I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.” Through all the destruction and despair wrought by the Empire and into the fear and darkness introduced by the First Order, Lor San Tekka and the Church of the Force hold fast to a faith that the Jedi will return and bring light to the galaxy.

Practitioners of this faith lead an isolated life. Part of this is due to an Imperial ban on religious groups such as these. The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary details that “In the time of the Empire, with the Sith secretly in command of the galaxy, any displays of organized worship or belief in the supernatural were against Imperial law” (Hidalgo, 15). When death is promised, you have to make the hard choice between standing up for your faith and possibly having it eradicated, or practicing it in secret while believing that you will be given the chance to rise someday. While in hiding, Lor San Tekka is still willing to take steps to act against the encroaching darkness, and because of the vile actions of Kylo Ren, this branch of the Church of the Force is wiped out. All its members are killed because they stood up for their faith, but San Tekka and his group used their greatest tool to move towards their goal. They put their faith in a young pilot from Yavin and entrusted him to help lead a search for the one whom they believe can make things right.

The spiritual discipline we have the most insight into is that of the Jedi. We have whole books (though not canon ones) that detail its code and methods down all the way to the differing lightsaber forms. Their journey is an admirable one in many ways. They forgo excessive attachment to people and material goods and seek mostly to commune with the Force, better understand its ways, and let it guide their path; at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. The majority of our time with the Jedi comes during a dark time for them. We see them during an era when they have abandoned the purity of simply seeking the Force, finding it, and letting it guide them; instead, they spend much of their time trying to adhere to a moral code that (while admirable) takes away from their original purpose.

Perhaps the part of the Republic Jedi’s belief that causes the most problems is their belief that they should deny attachments. Certainly, Anakin’s obsession with Padme and even his mother, Shmi Skywalker, is an unhealthy one, but it’s not his love for them that makes it that way, it is his inability to let them go. The Jedi may have gained a lot from these relationships. If we look at the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, we see that his path was impacted greatly by his attachment to the Duchess of Mandalore, Satine. How would his journey have been impacted if his love for Satine were not forbidden? It could be that he would have married her. He may have had children, and the lessons and skills he learned as a parent would have made him a better master to his padawans. You can imagine that it would have helped his relationship with Anakin quite a bit. There would be a lot less chastisement and a lot more gentle encouragement and understanding.

The path of the Jedi of the Republic during the time of the Clone Wars is also one that may be started with others, but must be completed alone. As they progress in their mastery, they learn to shed their connections to people and things, and in the end, it is just them and the Force. We see this most clearly in the paths of Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Yoda. Each of them starts their journey with their Jedi family as a youngling with a teacher before progressing to padawan and master before continuing the cycle as a master to their own padawan. As they reach the highest level of study, they also quit taking on padawans and many take a seat on the Jedi council. The three Jedi mentioned above go even further in their study of the Force, going into the solitude of the wilderness in order to commune with the Force and its spirits in order to learn how to step beyond the void and maintain their consciousness after death. We see this journey most clearly during the Yoda arc that concludes the sixth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Yoda leaves the Jedi Temple and, companionless, explores planets that are teeming in life; even R2-D2 is asked to stay with the ship. Yoda must confront the visions on Dagobah, the mysteries of the Force Priestesses, and the horrors of Moraband alone.  

Their journey is also an internal one. Just as the Nightsister and the Lasat disciplines focus inward on their own people, the Jedi, during the time of the Clone Wars, are often viewed in a similar light. We see in later episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, that many citizens see the Jedi as having a privileged life, sequestered in the Jedi Temple. The validity of that statement is questionable; after all, the Jedi are out serving on the front line of a war. As the war continues, more and more people forget that though and might wish for the times where Jedi were more counselors, mediators, and servants of the people rather than generals.

The Sith are the outlying group in our analysis. They have many traits in common with many of the other spiritual practitioners in this article. They often study and practice their faith in secret like the Church of the Force, and the Sith Code itself reveals their faith in the Force and how it supports their actions: “Through victory, my chains are broken / The Force shall free me.” The quality that separates the Sith from all others is that while the others all focus inward in order to support their community or the galaxy at large, the Sith seek to gather all the power to themselves in order to then wield it against others. We see this religious greed in their persecution of other groups. During the Clone Wars, General Grievous wipes out the Nightsisters under orders from Darth Sidious. At the conclusion of the Clone Wars, that same evil zealot nearly destroys the entire Jedi Order. Men and women who are a part of his rule nearly destroy the Lasat. Years later, practitioners of the Sith Code destroy at least one branch of the Church of the Force because its parishioners dared to believe in a galaxy where they would be allowed to openly practice their beliefs. Even the Rule of Two betrays the selfish ends of the Sith because, ultimately, the gain is only meant to be shared by a single individual. The code of the Sith always leads to a battle between its members with only one left to reach the summit and revel in its power. In this way, they’re the dark version of the Highlanders; “There can be only one.”
Throughout history, people of faith have committed themselves to the work of climbing ever closer to the summit of their particular beliefs. Some toil to achieve Nirvana, some look to maintain balance, and some search for a method to develop a closer spiritual walk with a deity they have never seen but trust exists. They have formed communities to help each other strive to reach these goals, and they have experienced hardship and persecution. As we continue on our own spiritual journeys (whether through religious institutions or just as a general wanderer and seeker of personal truths), we can take strength from those who have come before us, both in our world and in the world of Star Wars - where the Nightsister, Lasat, Church of the Jedi, and Jedi search as well.

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