The Nature of the Force: The Phantom Menace
*NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of posts I've wanted to do for a long time. It explores our (the audience's) understanding of what the Force in Star Wars is as it is revealed to us movie by movie, according to release date.
Much like Episode I, this post comes quite some time after the previous one. I have had a wonderfully busy March and April, having successfully directed my first high school play. I'll share more details about that experience in a later musing. Today, in the week after Star Wars Day, I want to return to our analysis of the Force and its mysterious properties.
To briefly recap what we gained from the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), and to borrow from the end of the last post:
The Force is an energy field, generated by all living things, who are held together by the Force itself
It is possible to enter into this field, and use it in numerous ways such as
Complete immersion (supposedly, somehow, available to an unknown population except Jedi) to become a ghost after death
Move and manipulate physical objects, even over great distances
Feel the presence of someone
Generate energy/things from the Force (Emperor's lightning)
See images/visions of the past, present, and future
Feel movements and disturbances in the Force, even over great distances
The Force has a dark side, fueled by hatred, originating in fear
The dark side is tempting, not stronger, and can cloud your life, but it does not dominate your destiny
It does not take long to master Force abilities
Jedi mind-tricks do not manipulate the brain, but the experience a subject has in their mind
An important and constant theme in the original trilogy was how good is fighting evil, that there is a struggle between them. This struggle creates a tension, a bond that is manifest in the Force itself between the dark side and that of the good. Here is passage from my last post:
The Force must have balance. If it did not, then Ben would have felt more disturbances. I don't know what the equilibrium point of this balance is, though. Is the Force at peace when good is stronger than dark? Or simply when dark does not increase in huge amounts? I do not think it is possible to know right now. We can only conclude that balance itself is part of the natural and undisturbed state of the Force.
Ultimately, I think this idea will be the main focus for the prequel trilogy posts.
The Living Force
The original trilogies are indeed a favorite among nearly all fans, and they spark our imagination. But, in all honesty, they are incredibly lacking in detail on the nature of the Force, or the history of the galaxy, for that matter. This is what makes the prequels truly shine; they provide key insights that help us enrich and broaden our understanding of the Force, and its users.
Among the first things we see is Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi Master to none other than a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. There is nothing unusual here. A master and apprentice, and they are on a diplomatic mission, a task alluded to by Ben in A New Hope. They are representatives of the Republic, given deference (and then hostility) out of respect, and perhaps fear. Even before any action occurs, we are given a really fantastic quote between the two:
OBI-WAN : I have a bad feeling about this.
QUI-GON : I don't sense anything.
OBI-WAN : It's not about the mission, Master, it's something...elsewhere...elusive.
QUI-GON : Don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs. OBI-WAN : Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future...
QUI-GON : .....but not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan.
Holy cow. Unpacking this will take some effort. Qui-Gon admonishes his pupil to put away his focus on the future, his anxiety (which is apprehension about the future). A Jedi, it seems, must place himself in the moment. We should, Qui-Gon admits, be aware of the future, as it has an impact on us, but not at the expense of losing our attention what matters most: the present.
The biggest thing he says here, is that the current moment, the here and now, is intimately connected to something called the living Force. The first time I heard this term, living Force, I was immediately captivated. Besides the "dark side," this is the first time we get an idea that the Force has other aspects to it, other natures. In the context of the future, of the present moment, and the very word "living," we might be able to draw some conclusions. Because of Qui-Gon's statement, I think we can say that whatever the living Force is, it must have connection with the currently existing condition of reality. All beings, all things, all everything that is in the galaxy is tied to the living Force. This flows smoothly from Ben's original statement in Episode IV, how the Force is an energy field made by all living beings. A being can only be living if it is in the present. Ben's comments to Luke, then, must be referring to this living Force. I think that at least one confirmed aspect of the living Force is that it is the energy field, and it is generated by the connection between all beings.
This makes sense when we go back to our conclusion that a Force user integrates himself in the Force to draw its power. Integrating oneself, we said, means to be connected to to all things. I believe this is what Qui-Gon means when he says, "Be mindful of the living Force." We must be aware of all beings around us if we are to properly use the Force.
Guardians of Peace and Justice
When the Trade Federation sends droidekas to kill the two Jedi, we see a flurry of activity of the like never seen by Luke, Ben, or Vader. With quick movements of ease and agility, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon block against blaster bolts, flinging them away or back to the droids. What explains such discipline and precision? I am not sure, and I'll need some more info before I can draw a conclusion.
But, in addition to these accelerated Jedi, what also intrigues me is the hooded figure that communicates with the Trade Federation viceroys. Because it is a hooded figure (SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ) he is most likely the man who will become Emperor in the original trilogy. What is important here, however, is a title. The viceroys call them "Sith Lords." We can only imagine them to be dark side users, which means that we have a name for this faction of the Force. This important. Before, we just had "the dark side," corrupted Jedi who fall to evil ways. But the introduction of the title Sith gives a more institutional aspect. A Sith is different from a fallen Jedi, conceptually, because a Sith likely has rules, or specific ways of doing things. Which most likely means that there is an entire study of the dark side of the Force that is systematic and detailed, and likely completely unknown to us.
But, later in and also near the end, we come to realize that the Sith have been hidden from the Jedi, who have assumed the Sith were extinct for nearly a thousand years. Darth Maul implies that the secrecy is deliberate, intentional. Why, we do not yet know, but it appears to be a part of a scheme that runs deep. Another thing we learn about the Sith is, "Always two there are.... no more... no less. A master and an apprentice." This rule matches with the secrecy. If there are only two Sith, their identities are well-hidden, and they can remain covert. This would seem to imply that the Sith's scheme includes infiltration into the galactic government (maybe even the Jedi). I would say this is confirmed as the hooded Darth Sideous informs the Trade Federation viceroys that he has the Senate bogged down in procedures. Whoever he his, he's in government, and no one knows it.
As Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape with Queen Amidala of Naboo and her escort, and are forced to land on Tatooine for ship parts, Qui-Gon comes across a young slave boy, Anakin Skywalker. After only a few encounters, Qui-Gon can tell Anakin is specially attuned to the Force (I imagine much in the same way Vader surmised Luke was strong with the Force). In a key conversation he has with Shmi, Anakin's mother, he comes to find that Anakin had no father. That Shmi was never with a man; that somehow, Anakin was conceived without a father. For fans and for Qui-Gon this is a big sign that the Force is strongly at work.
After collecting some blood from Anakin, Qui-Gon asks Obi-Wan to for a "midi-chlorian count." Obi-Wan complies, and is astounded to find that the count is above 20,000 (whatever the significance is), higher than Master Yoda, or any Jedi, as Qui-Gon mentions. This is all astounding, but it forces a question: What the hell are midi-chlorians?
Qui-Gon thankfully answers our question. As he prepares to return to Naboo with the queen, he explains:
ANAKIN: Master, sir... I heard Yoda talking about midi-chlorians. I've been wondering, what are midi-chlorians?
QUI-GON: Midi-chlorians are a microcopic lifeform that reside within all living cells.
ANAKIN: They live inside of me?
QUI-GON: In your cells, yes... and we are symbionts with them.
QUI-GON: Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.
Oy vey. This is a gold-mine of information. First to note is that they are biological, a thing that lives in the physical universe, and reside within cells, of living things, presumably. What's curious is that Qui-Gon describes them of having a sort of sentience, beyond a meager cell-structure. We can't live without them, they communicate knowledge of the Force. What could this mean? My best answer is that midi-chlorians are the missing gap between the idea of a omnipresent energy field and physical things. We know the Force (specifically the Living aspect) is made of all living things, but how do they actually interact and connect? It appears these midi-chlorians are the answer.
It is a logical--even necessary--component to the nature of the Force. There must be a bridge between the physical reality and the "spiritual" aspect of the Force. Midi-chlorians possess a sort of dual-nature, with one foot in the physical realm, another in the spiritual. I would imagine that when Qui-Gon says they speak to us, he's really meaning that we can hear the living Force as explained earlier. The midi-chlorians are our way of connecting to other beings, and understanding what the current state of the Force is.
What's especially interesting is how Qui-Gon says they tell us the will of the Force. Only minds have a will. Is the Force some kind of god? I would guess no. I think Qui-Gon's use of the word "will" is intended to mean movement, flow, status. The Force is the combination of all living things. We can understand life and death and balance through listening to the very connection between those beings. In that sense, the Force has a will--where is reality currently going?
A final note on midi-chlorians: they help us explain Luke's connection to Vader. Vader was a powerful Force user. Genetically speaking, it would make sense for his son to possess a similar level of power. A major question though remains on this front: can the midi-chlorians deliberately concentrate themselves in certain beings over others? After all, Shmi has no Force power. And yet, the midi-chlorians, as Qui-Gon theorizes, conceived Anakin himself, forming him without a father. And what of all other Jedis without Force-genetic parentage? Is there a midi-chlorian gene that can be dormant? Or do midi-chlorians possess more sentience than thought? It's all very obscure.
What is known is that Anakin has them in abundance, and even without proper training, is very powerful. He can podrace, an event meant only for more advanced species. He can see things that are not visible, or have not even happened. It is a part of his very essence, his biology included. This might help explain why Luke could easily train in the time span of a year between Episodes V and VI--a higher midi-chlorian count enabled him to excel above and beyond a normal Jedi's abilities. But that is pure speculation; we actually have no idea if Luke is any more potent in midi-chlorians than his father.
A Prophecy Foretold
Qui-Gon is adamant to bring Anakin before the Jedi Council. He reveals that he believes Anakin is the so-called "Chosen One," a powerful being prophesied to bring balance to the Force. Here, I believe, is the actual first utterance of "balance" in reference to the Force. Before we unpack that idea, let me just note a few things. One, there is a Jedi Council, at a Jedi Temple, implying that the Jedi Order is a much more extensive, systematic religion we once thought. Obi-Wan refers to a code (that Qui-Gon breaks often). This is our explanation for why the Jedi in this episode seem so much faster and elegant than Luke. There is a dedicated religion and practice of Jedi arts, with who knows how long of tradition and knowledge. Two, the fact that a prophesy exists in the first place raises the question of a) how did the Jedi get this prophesy, and b) do they truly believe it as prophesy, or legend? Neither of which are revealed at this time.
The idea that a single being could balance the Force is interesting. As we have repeatedly said, the Force has a balance, a sort of tension between life and death. When Alderaan is destroyed, an excess of death, there is a disturbance felt by Ben. But, as said in the beginning of this post, we don't actually know the equilibrium balancing point of the Force. Is is good over evil (life over death), a prevention of an excess of evil? Or could it be the Jedi are stronger than the Sith? Or that there is no Jedi or Sith? Or could it even be the other way around, with evil over good, Sith over Jedi?! It is so unknown, and the Jedi don't seem to know either. But this prophesy says bring balance to the Force...as if it does not already have it. If that is true, that the prophesy is real, then it means whatever the current conditions of the Force are in Episode I, it is not balanced.
Promise Me You Will Train the Boy
As the Jedi Council tests Anakin, they are hesitant. He is passing with flying colors, but he is too old. Why does that matter? Recall Yoda had a similar problem with Luke in Episode V. I believe the reason lies in the fact that Anakin is afraid to lose his mother. Yoda once again, in a more concise format, gives us a classic warning about the path to the dark side: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. When we are older, we develop attachments, as Anakin has done with his mother. Attachments are not bad in and of themselves, but the fear of losing them is. That fear is what the Jedi stands against, and why they tell Qui-Gon that Anakin will not be trained.
In defiance, Qui-Gon attempts to take him on as his new Padawan learner. In the end, of course, we know this will not happen. In the confrontation with Darth Maul, Qui-Gon is killed. As a death-bed wish, he forces Obi-Wan to train Anakin. He feels so strongly that he is the Chosen One, meant to bring balance to the Force. Obi-Wan consents. We learn a little later that, according to Yoda, despite its better judgement on the future of the boy, the Council consents as well. Anakin will become a Jedi Knight.
This was one helluva post. I'm going to do a brief(er) tl;dr for you.
Beyond a dark side, the Force also appears to have a "living" aspect. It is the energy field that is made of all living things in the present moment.
Dark side users have their own systematic structure, a Sith rule of two practitioners only; a master and an apprentice.
Midi-chlorians are biological entities that bridge the gap between living beings and a spiritual Force. They are what make the living Force possible, and what make it possible to access the power within the Force.
The Jedi have a prophecy about a Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force.
We still don't know if the Jedi actually believe this beyond Qui-Gon, or where it came from.
We still do not have a proper definition of balance.
Jedi are trained from a very young age to avoid attachment, to avoid fear, which is the starting point of the dark side.
In the next series of the post we'll go over Episode II: Attack of the Clones, another excellent source of wealth that provides insight to the nature of the Force.