The Nature of the Force (A New Hope)
*NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts I've wanted to do for a long time. It is going to explore our (the audience's) understanding of what the Force is as it is revealed to us movie by movie, according to release date. I'm using release date because I believe if I use episodic I'll lose the gradual understanding we as fans have developed over the bast 40 years. Enjoy.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
These are the immortalized words of Star Wars. They evoke a sense of timelessness and epic adventures. They tell us that what we're about to see is not some minor battle or side-quest, but a world filled with truly great heroes and villains, with awesome powers we do not fully understand. Episode IV: A New Hope offers those adventures and heroes, and it asks a lot of questions. But there's one question, one power that fascinates me: what is the Force?
Wizards with Magic?
The first mention of the Force, by name, isn't until Luke and Ben Kenobi are sitting together in Kenobi's spartan home. Before that, that, however, Luke and Uncle Owen are speaking about C-3PO and R2-D2 looking for an Obi-Wan Kenobi. Owen is upset at that, and tells Luke Obi-Wan is probably dead, and that Luke is not to go speaking to Old Ben. "That wizard is just a crazy old man." The mention of wizard reveals something about Ben, about whatever powers he might have. Does Ben posses magic?
When we get to that conversation with Ben and Luke, Ben expresses that he was a Jedi Knight, who fought in the Clone Wars, and that Luke's father as well was a Jedi Knight, a cunning warrior. Ben presents a lightsaber to Luke, which Ben said belonged to his father, and that his father would have wanted Luke to have it. A new question: does becoming a Jedi require something genetic? Does a Jedi's power come from something within him, or is it a skill one develops?
A Galactic Bond
When Luke asks what happened to his father, Ben explains that a former pupil of his, Darth Vader, betrayed and murdered Luke's father, becoming seduced by the dark side of the Force. The Force, Ben explains "is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."
Let's break this down. We seem to have a partial answer to my question about genetics. The Force gives power, a Jedi does not inherently have power himself. This seems to imply that the Force, in a way, chooses people to be powerful. It's not entirely clear how, and it's still not clear why Luke being the son of a Jedi makes him a candidate to become a Jedi himself. That question is not yet satisfied.
The idea of the Force choosing people, though, is interesting, especially when we consider that Ben describes it as an energy field created by all living things. It seems that, as it binds the galaxy together, the Force acts as some sort of web, which is connected by all things, and is reinforced by the very existence of the things it connects. That is, the Force does not seem to exist prior to living things, but it also is not entirely dependent on living things. either. It's not a deity, it seems, since it is created. However, it's not created by design, by some other power, but by the very act of existence. As life continues to grow, the bond between life becomes stronger. The strength of that existence manifests itself as the Force, an energy field that helps life continue to exist in some sort of connectivity.
The Force does, though, have a way of surrounding itself around certain things more than others. I mean, the Force binds all things together, but that does not mean the connection between all of them is the equal. After all, in the Death Star trench run, Darth Vader can sense Luke. "The Force is strong with this one!" For whatever reason, maybe genetics, or training, or something else, Luke is surrounded by the Force greater than other things.
A Dark Disturbance
But different strengths of bonds is not the only way the Force diversifies itself. Ben says that Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force. I believe this confirms that the Force is not a deity, benevolent or otherwise. Instead, I think it is just as Ben said: a bond between all things. If that bond holds the galaxy together, and if the galaxy is filled with dark things or people, it makes sense that the Force would have some darker aspects to it. Among those darker things, I suspect, could be death or destruction, perhaps just one aspect of the Force. Maybe this is what the dark side relies upon. Though not confirmed, it's a good operating theory.
The next major account of the Force happens aboard the Millennium Falcon, right as the planet Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star. Ben says he "felt a great disturbance in the Force... as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced." A few things to point out. The first is disturbance, that the Force, this bond between all things, can be disturbed. As I understand it, in order to disturb something that thing must first be at peace. Now, peace is a tricky thing to pin down and define. I can cheat and look ahead at the other films at what peace might mean, but purely by what we're given in Episode IV, I have a feeling the peace of the Force is that the bond between all things is stable. The bond is not ripping, and is not being pulled in any one direction. With the destruction of Alderaan, the lifeforms on an entire planet were wiped away and caused the bond between all living things to shift in such a dramatic and violent way as to reverberate throughout the entire universe. A reverberation that Ben Kenobi could feel in hyperspace.
Control and Command
In that same scene on the Falcon we get this dialogue:
BEN: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
LUKE: You mean it controls your actions?
BEN: Partially. But it also obeys your commands.
If the Force is an energy field it would make sense that it would work through your existence, body and mind. Luke's question is rational. If the Force works within me, does it control me? Ben's answer is not complete, but provides enough insight. "Partially," I speculate, means the bond that is the Force must have an affect on you. If you, a living thing, are bound and connected by the Force, it would make sense that when something happens in the universe (anything, really) that will affect the bond itself. In turn, the bond will have an affect on other living things, like it did with Ben and Alderaan. But I do not think this partial control is a "go here, do this, say that" kind of thing. It's more of an influence; a whisper, if you will.
The command aspect is interesting. Somehow, a Jedi has the ability to tap into this bond of the Force, which binds all living things, and manipulate it. Somehow, a Jedi can use that bond to change the circumstances of other living things, as Ben did when he played mind tricks on the stormtroopers back on Tatooine, or when Vader Force-choked the officer on the Death Star. How they command this bond is not known. Ben gives us an idea when he says, in that scene, "Let go your conscious self and act on instinct...stretch out with your feelings."
Again, remember that the Force is an energy field, which is the result of all living things being connected. This energy field, then, is the totality of those living things together. If one was to manipulate that energy field and command it, I think it is reasonable to expect they would have to deliberately join in with that energy field. A Jedi would, I believe, have to surrender their individuality that separates them from other things, and immerse themselves in the Force, being one with it. Letting go of yourself, acting according to your natural instincts, and reaching out with your basic feelings helps achieve that unity with the Force. It is that unity that allows a Jedi to manipulate the Force.
We see this unity when Ben says to Luke, "Let go!" as Luke is on his final approach to destroy the Death Star. By surrendering his senses, which can fool him, as Ben said earlier, Luke must trust that the Force will guide his proton torpedo toward the exhaust port. Unity with the Force is best exemplified when Ben sacrifices himself to Vader. His body is not found when Vader strikes him with his crimson lightsaber, and we hear Ben's voice call out to Luke. It seems, at this point, Ben has completely joined himself, everything that he is, with the Force.
Good and Evil: A Constant Battle
Episode IV is the first time most people have an experience with Star Wars, and I think it was appropriate I explored it first. It is truly the foundational film for the entire saga, guiding how all others feel, how they are structured, and above all, what they say. A Rebel Alliance against a Galactic Empire. Old Ben and Darth Vader. Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin. X-wings and TIE fighters. Luke and the entire Death Star. The Force and the dark side. If this movie says anything its that there is a clear good and a clear evil, a constant struggle between the two. That is one of the core, essential themes of the saga. I think we have to conclude that the nature of the Force operates under this idea. There is a constant struggle between two sides of the Force. Much of this movie helps establish and solidify that concept.
In the next post of this series, I'll continue to expand upon that concept, working in the teachings of a new mentor, and the power of the dark side.