Images Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation, Ltd.
Spoiler alert! This article will discuss details about two recent Star Wars novels: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston and Star Wars: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno. If you have not read those amazing texts, please read them then come back to gain what I think are some interesting insights into kyber crystals. (No, really! They’re interesting!)
The battle did not rage on. In fact, there was very little rage involved at all; instead, there was simply a connection. The warrior flowed from one enemy to the next, striking them, not with fury, but with a sadness forged through the knowledge that she and her enemy could have been friends if only their actions had left more than pain and destruction behind them. Alongside the warrior was her partner. It did not fight as the warrior did, and for all the praise the warrior received for the beauty of her fighting style, it was the partner who conducted the battle ballet. It instructed her when to feint and when to parry, when to lunge and advance. It directed her, and she listened, responding to her partner because it was not just a tool to be used. It was just as much a part of her as her heart or soul because she was a Jedi, and it was her kyber crystal.
In recent years, the Lucasfilm Story Group and their predecessors have given fans a much better understanding of the mysterious kyber crystals. Kyber crystals themselves have been in Star Wars since the second draft of George Lucas’s script for the original film. It later changed names from kyber to kaiburr and appeared as a macguffin to be chased by Luke and Darth Vader in the novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. In this novel, the crystal was almost like a Force amplifier, so whoever won the prize would magnify their abilities in the Force. The next great delving into the nature of kyber crystals, at least canonically, is in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “The Gathering.” In this episode, a group of younglings each face a trial: they must enter the caves of the planet Ilum and find the specific kyber crystal that calls to them. In order to claim their crystal, each youngling overcomes a negative trait that they struggle with such as an over-reliance on technology, excessive pride, or allowing fear to dominate them. This was our first inkling that kyber crystals are more than just glittering gems that focus the energy needed to emit a lightsaber blade. They do that too, but they are clearly so much more because they are personified in canon. Each kyber crystal calls to a specific youngling through the Force, and it knows them well enough to prepare them for the power that comes with wielding a lightsaber by asking them to conquer a challenge that is personal to them before granting them its power. The crystals are not just tools. They are alive.
If kyber crystals are alive and have sentience enough to choose who they are going to call to and has the ability to know the one called enough to form trials of preparation through the Force, does that mean that a Jedi is essentially enslaving a living being when it forces it into the small, metal cylinder of a lightsaber? To make an Aladdin reference, are they taking phenomenal cosmic power and giving it an itty-bitty living space? Recent entries in canon seem to disprove this. In the novel Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston, one of the interludes is told from a third-person point-of-view and captures, not the thoughts of Ahsoka or another Force user, but of the crystals of the planet Ilum:
“From time to time, someone would arrive and call to them, like the harmony of a perfect song. Each crystal had a chosen bearer, and only that bearer would hear the music and see the glow. All others would pass by, seeing nothing more than ice” (Johnston, 296).
The kyber crystals call to the Jedi. If they didn’t, they would not be found. The younglings who seek them would see “nothing more than ice.” It is only because they make the choice to sing that they are discovered. The kyber crystals are singers looking to make their mark upon the world, and they raise their voice to find the perfect youngling to complete their duet. They aren’t enslaved by the Jedi. They form a partnership with them. The give themselves to the Jedi and take on a color to represent an invisible aspect of that Jedi’s personality that may not be obvious to other beings or even to the Jedi him or herself, but that the kyber crystal is able to sense through a deep connection with the Force. The crystals allow themselves to be put into the lightsaber and tuned within it, so they and their Jedi can work together, as partners with each other and with the Force, to accomplish some good in the galaxy.
As beautiful as the relationship between a Jedi and his or her kyber crystal is, Jedi are not the only ones to possess lightsabers. We have yet to see a Sith or user of the dark side of the Force be called by a crystal the same way we do the younglings of the Jedi Order. Part of this may come simply because we spend more time with the Jedi narratively. They are the heroes of our story, so our focus is on them. How does the dark side of the Force interact with kyber crystals? Once again, E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka leads the way:
“Dark crystals were made, too, but not in that holy place (Ilum). They were plundered from their rightful bearers and corrupted by the hands that stole them. Even rock could be changed by the power of the Force, bleeding alterations until their color was the deepest red. The balance was finely staged between the two, light and dark, and it took very little to upset it” (Johnston, 297).
While the kyber crystals on Ilum call to their own personal Jedi, the Sith get their crystals by ripping them from the hands of those Jedi. The word choice in this passage betrays the brutal force that rips the kyber from the one they have chosen and enslaves them to their new, dark masters. Words like “plundered” and “corrupted” reveal that the crystals are taken from their place in the galaxy and deformed and defaced by the power of the dark side until they become something they are not meant to be: a “bleeding alteration.” A kyber crystal is both infinitesimally powerful and infinitesimally delicate. Their song can be heard by those with an ear tuned to the Force, and it can be ignored. The crystals can be broken; they can be made to “bleed;” and they can be made to turn if tortured by the dark side. They are the struggle each Force user experiences internally made external; yet, like a fallen Jedi, they can still be brought back to the light with help. As Ahsoka rises towards its climax, Ahsoka is forced into a confrontation with the Sixth Brother, an inquisitor similar to those we’ve seen in Star Wars: Rebels. Having no lightsabers, you would assume (like the Sixth Brother) that Ahsoka is severely underpowered, but she has the Force, and she hears the call of a new set of crystals as a “sharp whine struggling for balance” within the Sixth Brother’s blade. The crystals that have been corrupted are fighting back. They are calling to a new sister of the Force, though no longer a Jedi, because they know that she can heal them. With a touch of her hand on the hilt of the inquisator’s blade, Ahsoka is able to free the crystals, and the crystals are brought back to the light, no longer washed in crimson because of the pain they have endured and inflicted, but bathed in a pure white.
Looking past the Jedi and the Sith, there are others in the Star Wars galaxy who would seek to use the power offered by the kyber crystals. James Luceno’s novel, Star Wars: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, provides two contrasting views on kyber crystals and their use. Some see kyber crystals as just a tool, a means to a promotion. Others remember the ties between the crystals and the Jedi, and they hold fast to a belief that the crystals have spiritual significance and should be used not for the betterment of oneself, but for the betterment of the galaxy. Imperial Orson Krennic sits firmly in the first camp. Throughout the novel, he schemes and manipulates others in order to advance within the Empire. The central bargaining chip that he is hoping to play is that he can convince his friend, Galen Erso, to create the super-weapon that will eventually be used in the Death Star project. He doesn’t value the crystals, and he’s not open to them having any significance beyond being the playthings of Galen that will lead to his advancement.
Galen Erso’s wife, Lyra, acts as a counter-balance to Krennic. While he does not value the kyber crystals at all, she places great value upon them and is often the voice of reason as Galen falls further and further down the rabbit hole of his research. When Galen gets too wrapped up in his research and the serpentine words of Krennic have slithered too far into his mind, Lyra is the one who tries to bring him back to himself:
“‘Our research could lead to a dramatic shift in the paradigm. It’s not unreasonable to feel threatened.’
‘As long as the change is for the benefit of everyone,’ she managed. ‘The way the Force is” (Luceno, 175).
Lyra’s belief in the historical and spiritual significance of the crystals and the Force allows her to act in a way very similar to someone who is a Force user. She is able to sense a connection between her and the world around her, and it motivates her and drives her to act against the work of the Empire and its influence upon her husband.
Between Krennic and Lyra sits Galen Erso. The Oppenheimer of our Star Wars story initially holds a reverential view of the crystals similar to his wife, but he is seduced into weaponizing his research about kyber crystals by a man that he believes is his friend, Orson Krennic. When Galen attempts this, he acts nearly in the same way as a Sith does. He attempts to make the crystal submit to his will, not using the power of the dark side but the power of science. A Sith would hear the song of the crystal turn to a shriek of agony as it was broken, and though Galen is not Force-sensitive, he does experience the resistance of the crystals in a more subtle way. As Galen begins to try to bend the will of the crystal he finds that he is unable to find rest:
“The experiments he had conducted in a lab at the Institute of Applied Science had also revealed that close and extended contact with kybers was detrimental to sleep. He hadn’t gotten a full night’s rest in months, and even on the nights when sheer exhaustion overwhelmed his racing thoughts, the crystals infiltrated his thoughts” (Luceno, 166-167).
Finding that Galen cannot hear its song, the kyber crystal interacts with him through an inescapable uneasiness that haunts him day and night. In tandem with Lyra, the crystal acts in a way similar to the ghosts of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” trying to warn Galen to turn back from his destructive ways before it is too late.
The idea of kyber crystals having sentience within the Force is one that took some time for me to get used to. It just seems odd to think of living rocks in Star Wars. It seems more like something from The Neverending Story or The Wizard of Oz than Star Wars, but the more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke that he “must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.” It always struck me as odd that Yoda included a rock which is traditionally a non-living thing among this list of many other living things. A tree is alive. The land could even be said to be alive. Yoda and Luke are clearly alive but a rock? Yet, Yoda knew the truth. He had seen it for years as he led youngling after youngling into the caves of Ilum where they began their own duets with their crystals. At some prior point unknown, he had to find his own stony partner, and together, they began their own crystalline duet that lasted for more than nine centuries. When I thought about kyber crystals that way, it just fit. It’s another manifestation of what the Force is. The Force requires a Jedi to be humble and open enough to balance their wishes and desires with those of the Force itself. It’s the same between a Jedi and their kyber crystal. Like Star Wars so frequently does, the relationship between Jedi and crystal speaks to our own situations and causes us to look at our role in the world and with the environment and question: what small quiet song is currently being sung to us, and how can we best join in?
What do you think of the idea of kyber crystals being living things? Does it smack of midi-chlorians to you, or does it maintain enough mysticism to fit into our previous knowledge of the Force? Share your opinions with me on Twitter at @mapplebee7567.