One of the oldest mysteries in Star Wars is the trick of the vanishing Jedi. Anyone who’s seen A New Hope knows that Obi Wan Kenobi mysteriously vanishes to become more powerful than Vader could possibly imagine. We’ve discussed this a bit before, but the Rebels Season 3 finale just may shed new light on how certain Force-users can do it.
First off, let’s say that it isn’t only the Jedi that can do this, so the title of this article is a bit of a misnomer. This appears to be something that the Jedi only relatively recently (on a galactic scale) learned, in the sense that they learned it around the time of Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi learned of the ability to retain one’s identity after death through Qui-Gon Jinn, who learned it from a “Shaman of the Whills” according to the novelization of RotS. Qui-Gon sort of contradicted this in The Clone Wars Yoda arc, when he said that he learned it from the Force priestesses. Or was it a contradiction? In a panel discussion, Dave Filoni said that about the Force priestesses that:
…it is actually one being. It’s one ancient being that separated over time for our perception to be able to see her…”
So to me, the logical conclusion here is that the Shaman of the Whills actually split into 5 parts to become the Force Priestesses. He also states that the ancient being that the Force priestesses derived from has been dead for a long time, and can manifest itself in a limited way, such as it did to talk to Yoda. This certainly sounds like the skill that the Shaman of the Whills had.
To me, this quote from Dave about the Force priestesses is among the coolest ideas I’ve heard from Star Wars in a while, and I hope we can revisit these characters sometime soon, hopefully in some future animated project. Rebels season 4?
It’s interesting that if this is true, then the Shaman split into both light and dark components, with some of the Force Priestesses representing negative traits associated with the dark side. Was the Shaman “in the middle” of the light and dark sides?
Let me preface this point by saying there is a distinction between the “Balance of the Force” seen the prequels, and the balance of the individual, where both light and dark side powers could be used. You may be interested in another article of mine on this point.
This is all well and good and well known, but what now? The reason for this article is because the Bendu disappeared in front of Thrawn in the season finale:
Although this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a non-Jedi Force-user vanish, it serves to underscore the main characteristic of the Bendu, “balance”, and raise the question of whether balance plays a role in the power to vanish and retain one’s identity. After all, balance was sort of the Bendu’s modus operandi.
So what does it mean to be in the middle? The Bendu balances light and dark sides of the Force. He wasn’t afraid to explore teachings of the Sith and the Jedi, and was able to walk that tightrope with ease. The Bendu sort of told Kanan that he would not help the Jedi fight Thrawn. So the Bendu had a strong sense of self and personal pride. It is perhaps in the end, when he let go of this sense of self, that he was able to vanish (see below).
He’s the one in the middle, balance is his thing. We’ve never heard of a Sith vanishing in this way, and supposedly they can’t do it (see Qui-Gon’s quote below on compassion). But does balance of light and dark help one retain one’s identity after death? The reason why this struck out at me is because the other non-Jedi that we’ve seen do it is none other than…
Yes. That’s right, the father from the Mortis arc vanished. He was the only one of the Force-wielders on Mortis that vanished. The son didn’t vanish. The daughter didn’t vanish. Only the father vanished. This point was the basis of another theory that I’ve had, outlining the unreasonably large number of similarities between the father and Snoke, but that’s a story that I’ll revisit another time.
For now, let’s consider it was the father that maintained balance on Mortis, or at least tried to. The father maintained balance between the son and daughter, and the father wanted Anakin to take over Mortis so Anakin could keep it in balance. To me, “The Ones” on Mortis bear a lot of resemblance to the Force priestesses. They are tall humanoids, with elongated features like really long fingers and a tall slender physique, and mad skills with the Force. So if they are “related” or part of the same type of supernatural being in the galaxy far far away, could they have knowledge of the same vanishing Force-powers? Anakin saw the Father vanish, and may have understood that balance in the end was part of the trick.
Anakin Skywalker brought balance to the Force. He was desired by the father for his ability to balance the son and daughter on Mortis. So perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Anakin also was able to figure out how to retain his identity as a Force ghost–the crux of the vanishing Jedi trick. Anakin was of course Darth Vader, a Sith lord, but at the end of his life he was redeemed by killing Darth Sidious and thus sacrificing himself to destroy the Sith. In doing so, he let go and perhaps returned to the light side enough to become balanced himself. In order to bring balance to the Force and destroy the Sith, he had to become balanced himself and maintain parts of both the light and the dark side. He let go as he said goodbye to his son. Letting go seems to also be a key ingredient to retaining one’s identity. At least, that is what Qui-Gon said to Yoda, which brings us to…
In the Revenge of the Sith: Illustrated Screenplay: Star Wars: Episode III, Qui-Gon makes it clear how to retain identity on death, which is an essential part of the vanishing Jedi-trick. He says:
The new Lucasfilm story group has rejected the concept of a “gray Jedi”. For example, with this tweet from Pablo Hidalgo:
I don’t get the ‘gray Jedi’ thing. You’re either a Jedi or you’re not. It’s like being a ‘gray vegetarian’ who eats meat.
— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) January 17, 2017
“Jinn always does things his own way, always sure he is right, always incredulous if we do not see it his way. Some think he is a gray Jedi.“
So if anything, I would say “gray Jedi” was an attempt to describe a balance of light and dark in some old EU content. Or at least a willingness to look a little outside the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi. It is perhaps this willingness to explore these new ideas that led Qui-Gon to learn about defying oblivion, as he put it. I’m not saying that Qui-Gon really is a gray Jedi, but it at least opens the door that he could have tapped into something beyond the pure light side. Qui-Gon was trained by Count Dooku, who was his master before he turned to the dark side. Dooku’s training is perhaps is part of what influenced Qui-Gon to question authority and possibly explore beyond the usual Jedi mindset.
Qui-Gon was a big proponent of the importance of the “Living Force”. There was a distinction made between the “Cosmic Force”, which focuses on destiny, prophecy, and the future, and the “Living Force”, which focuses on the here and now. Qui-Gon always said things like “focus on instinct. Feel, don’t think” as part of his adherence to the Living Force. In a way, the living Force is part of letting go. It is about letting go of trying to control destiny, and living in the moment. He had faith in the Force guiding him, and that all he had to do was listen, feel, and a solution would present itself. Some of this kind of dialogue from Qui-Gon was criticized as being “hokey” at the time, but it was all for a bigger purpose of spelling out Qui-Gon’s philosophy of the Force.
It was this idea of the living Force that changed both Yoda and Obi Wan. Obi Wan and Yoda changed because of Qui-Gon’s teaching from the netherworld. It was part of how they were able to do the same vanishing Jedi trick as everyone mentioned above. If you listen to them in the OT, there are numerous cases of letting go and acting on instinct. For example, consider Obi Wan to Luke:
I suggest you try it again, Luke. This time, let go your conscious self and act on instinct.
So this, and the quote above from Qui-Gon and the skill of “no attachment, no thoughts of self, no physical self” at least provides another big part of how to achieve the vanishing Jedi trick. Letting go. However, this only goes so far, and doesn’t tell us why letting go is necessary. Why would letting go be necessary to retaining one’s identity after death? If you let go, you eliminate greed, and you eliminate the notion of the self. Perhaps this is a prerequisite for balance. Letting go could be the only way to skate close to the dark side without being overcome by the greed for power. It is in this state that balance of light and dark is achieved.
We’ve seen in Rebels that a balance or merger of light and dark side powers could be a way to unlock some amazing powers. The fused Jedi/Sith Holocron could have tapped into the same Force-power wellspring that leads to the power to retain one’s identity after death. But I have a feeling that these kinds of ideas will be a long time coming in Star Wars story telling. Plenty of time to think about what it could all mean, and the speculation is half the fun.