Now More than Ever, Don’t Embrace the Power of the Dark Side

Do we take seriously our own fictional heroes’ warnings not to embrace the power of the dark side?
on Jan 23, 2019

“. . . Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. . . . If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.”

— Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Temptations to the dark side lie everywhere, not just on Twitter and other social media.

Enemies are real. Their evil is real. But so is the temptation to believe—or act as if you believe—that you are somehow the exception to this “rule” as taught by Star Wars and many other wise stories:

To be a hero, don’t turn yourself into your own enemy. Don’t become the evil you despise.

I thought of writing something about this. Then I realized I’d already written this very article in 2017 for Christ and Pop Culture.

From the official script for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: “Luke looks at his father’s mechanical hand, then to his own mechanical, black-gloved hand, and realizes how much he is becoming like his father.”

Excerpts follow.

Harry Potter casts a word-wounding spell, sectrumsempra, against his enemy Draco, then repents and later refuses to use dark magic against Lord Voldemort. More recently in this summer’s Wonder Woman, demigod warrior Diana is tempted to return evil for the evil of man’s world, but chooses to embrace heroism as defined by self-sacrifice for a world that doesn’t deserve her goodness. Last year’s Batman v Superman divided some fans, but meant to explore Batman’s journey into from vengeful vigilantism—and then back to his heroic redemption, inspired by Superman’s plea for the dark knight to save his mother. And in Captain America: Civil War, also in 2016, T’Challa (the Black Panther) watches hero turn against hero, blinded by vengeance and provoked by the plotting of villain Zemo, until finally T’Challa himself refuses to keep following the same anti-heroic path to the dark side. . . .

We are consuming these hero stories like never before, spending multi-millions on these films and franchises. But are we taking seriously these heroes’ warnings not to embrace the power of the dark side?

Deep down, some of us risk accepting a “better” hero story. We may secretly believe the dark side makes us stronger. We may secretly believe the only way to defeat very, very bad people is to adopt the same darkness they have adopted. Only then can we save the world.

[Insert several news items current as of summer 2017. As I anticipated then, you can easily replace them now with the latest outrage-of-the-week.]

These headlines will age within weeks. But by then, we’ll have new accounts to remind us that most people won’t listen to our own heroes’ warnings against embracing the dark side.

In each case, the self-styled “hero” identifies a real and dangerous villain. Social progressivist leaders are right to condemn the fear of Muslims. Conservative Christians are also right to condemn militant Islamic terrorism. But in these cases, the “hero” decides his villain is so powerful, and so dangerous, that he must stop them by any possible means. And if he must embrace murder to stop murderers, or deception to stop deceivers, so be it.

Batman doesn’t have Batman stories to warn him against the dark side. But we do. And rather than seriously listen to their warnings, we risk becoming flippant. We assume that, unlike the heroes of our stories, we can control the dark side.

What are we to do about evil then? Is it really as simple as “don’t embrace the power of the dark side”? Avoid any semblance of deceit, vengeance, or hatred against enemies? Really and truly be holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), and “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21)?

Yes. That’s it exactly. There is no nuance, no disclaimer, no creative twist beyond that. Only a new repetition of an old and godly truth.

Read the rest at Don’t Embrace the Power of the Dark Side.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.

What say you?