What does the wildlife and nature of a planet tell us about how the Force manifests there? Do differences in ecosystems between planets convey whether the dark side or light side is stronger in one or another? Here at Porgology, I’ll be analyzing the biomes of various planets in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, how the ecosystems of these planets influence how the Force manifests there, and how in balance with the Force these planets are. By “balance” I mean harmony, stability, and all around what we consider good.
I want to clarify something before discussing Ahch-To and other planets–I do not believe the the dark side of the Force is in and of itself “evil” and should automatically be shunned. As we’ve been told, the dark side encompasses primal negative emotions like anger, fear, and hatred. Wildlife needs to tap into these emotions in order to survive, a prime example being prey fleeing from predator out of fright–without that fear, that animal would surely be caught and die. The excess of fear and other negative emotions is what leads to chaos and evil. It has to be balanced with positive emotions like happiness and love (which we also observe in the natural world) for there to be overall balance.
Evolutionary fitness, essentially, requires tapping into the dark side. Fear is a natural emotion for animals to feel as they flee and avoid predators. Selfish desire helps drive animals as they compete for mates to pass on their genes. Death, the end of life, is necessary for new life to exist. Every planet or system must deal with it in a way that achieves balance and the perpetuation of life. Even a planet that has apparently achieved its balance, as Ahch-To presumable has, must have a little bit of dark in the light.
Ahch-To is mostly an ocean planet, resembling in many ways Mon Cala or Kamino. However, the Temple Island on which we find the elusive Luke Skywalker is vibrant and teeming with land-based life. Luke had chosen the birthplace of the Jedi as a refuge from galactic conflict so he can wither away in peace. The porgs, the female lanais (AKA “caretakers”) the thala-sirens, and other ocean creatures make up a relatively peaceful and pristine ecosystem that has little to no visible signs of conflict. From what we can tell as an audience, Ahch-To, or at least the Temple Island, has achieved “balance.”
In her meditation, Rey senses a harmonic balance between all biotic and abiotic factors on the island. This scene is extraordinary in how simply it shows the Force as powering life, and being powered by life. Luke only instructs her to reach out with her feelings to sense the Force around her, and she is able to sense the energy immediately. By describing the natural world she sees, she tells the audience exactly what the Force is: life, death, peace, natural violence (i.e. the waves crashing on the island), and the overall balance and tension between these natural factors.
In the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary, author Pablo Hidalgo describes the planet as “a peaceful oasis where the daily struggles and triumphs of life are greatly removed from the ravages of interstellar wars.” We see virtually no unnecessary conflict from the creatures inhabiting the island. The porgs go about hunting small fish. The female lanais (who are distant relatives of the porgs) make sure the temples are kept pristine, while the male lanais (or “The Visitors”) are out at sea hunting and come to the island once a month to reunite with the females. The noble thala-siren lies casually on on the rocky shore and freely offers her nutritious milk to our favorite Jedi Master. All the creatures in the ecosystem appear to be thriving, and are unconcerned with the wider galactic conflict. Everything seems to be in relative peace and balance.
Perhaps there was conflict on the island and Ahch-To that previously threw the planet out of balance, but it doesn’t seem apparent in The Last Jedi. As she reached out to sense the Force on the pristine untouched world, Rey sensed the balance almost immediately. It may be that when land remains undeveloped by industrialist sentient settlers, the Force present on that world may achieve balance relatively quickly. Of course that should not mean development is inherently a bad thing, but that it too often leads to imbalance and the overgrowth of the dark side stemming from increasingly selfish behavior. The Jedi on Ahch-To (as far as we know) did not overdevelop on the island or planet, so did not leave a lasting imprint.
However, Rey also sees in her meditation the natural blowhole that possesses the dark side mirror cave. While Luke tells her to shun it away, she continues to explore it. Just like the dark side, the cave is a necessary and crucial part of the island. Without vocalizing it, Rey appears to realize that. In the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary, Pablo Hidalgo describes the cave as “a natural convergence of energy.” It is not an artificially induced phenomenon by a dark sider, but rather appears to be formed by some type of seaweed. It is indeed a natural growth from the Force-strong island itself. When Rey goes into the cave, it does not try to tempt her to any sort of evil path. All it does is show her the hard truth she needs to understand, through exploiting her fear of being from “nobodies.” It shows her the silhouette of her parents, but only clearly shows her the thing that matters: her, and the decisions she makes.
The only aspect of the dark side we observe in the cave is perhaps the most ignoble and necessary emotion we see in nature: fear. Fear of being targeted by a predator, of not being able to perpetuate your genes, and of simply not surviving drives life forms to thrive. It is only when we let our fears get out of control that we would start down a dark path. I believe that the balance and peace the island had achieved allowed the dark side influence to be this ignoble from the cave. As mentioned previously, the dark side is always there, and must be for life to thrive, as represented by the cave that Rey was brave enough to explore, even though Luke was not.
Overall, the Force is not only strong on Ahch-To, but in balance. On this beautiful planet we are given a perfect location for internal reflection for our heroes Rey and Luke, because everything else around them is so tranquil. But the purpose of the planet in the narrative is not to remain there, as Luke has, but to provide a place for reflecting on how to improve oneself, and become a better friend and hero for the Galaxy at large. Both Rey and Luke ultimately learn this: only difference is, Luke had to take much more time to do so.