The Force

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The Force is a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy created by George Lucas. Mentioned in the first film in the series, it is integral to all subsequent incarnations of Star Wars, including the expanded universe of comic books, novels, and video games. Within the franchise, it is the object of the Jedi and Sith monastic orders. Lucas has attributed the origins of ‘The Force’ to a 1963 abstract film by Arthur Lipsett, called ’21-87,’ which sampled from many sources. One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX.

In the face of McCulloch’s arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: ‘Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.’ When asked if this was the source of ‘the Force,’ Lucas confirms that his use of the term in ‘Star Wars’ was ‘an echo of that phrase in ’21-87.’ The idea behind it, however, was universal: ‘Similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years to describe the ‘life force,” he says.

In the original ‘Star Wars’ film, the Force is first described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together. Throughout the series, characters exhibit various powers that rely on the Force. The Force has a’Dark side,’ which feeds off emotions such as anger, jealousy, fear, and hate, but the Jedi use the Force only for peaceful purposes. The series’ villains, the Sith, embrace the dark side in order to seize power. The Jedi’s compassionate and selfless use of the Force has come to be known by inference as ‘the light side,’ although that term is not used in the films.

The Force can enhance natural physical and mental abilities, including strength (such as during a ‘Force jump’ or to slow a fall from an otherwise dangerous height) and accuracy (as when Luke Skywalker was able to launch proton torpedoes into a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port on the Death Star in ‘A New Hope’). A number of other Force powers are demonstrated in the film series including telekinesis, telepathy, levitation, deep hypnosis, enhanced empathy, heightened reflexes, precognition, and enhanced speed. The Jedi were also able to influence and control the minds of others by making use of the Jedi mind trick. The Sith use an ability called Force Lightning which is a lightning-like manifestation of the dark side of the Force that can be used either in combat or as an instrument of excruciating torture. The Force also gives enhanced skills in lightsaber combat.

Those who possess the discipline and subtlety of mind to sense The Force often refer to disturbances in the Force. Since the Force is ‘an energy field created by all living things,’ a disturbance can be felt when there is death or suffering on a massive scale. A disturbance (or ‘tremor’) may also be felt in the presence of a powerful Jedi or Sith. When the planet Alderaan is destroyed in ‘A New Hope,’ Obi-Wan senses ‘a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.’ Also, in ‘A New Hope,’ Darth Vader remarks to Grand Moff Tarkin that he felt a ‘tremor in the Force’ that he had not felt since in the presence of his old master.

Force-sensitivity is a condition in the ‘Star Wars’ universe where a life form possesses a natural connection to the Force. Though the Force flows through all life, with only rare exceptions (such as the Yuuzhan Vong), outright sensitivity to it is a more uncommon trait. While potential for Force-sensitivity is established at birth, awareness, experience and training are necessary to harness the power of the Force. Yoda implies that this training is most effective in early childhood. It is established in ‘The Phantom Menace’ to be biological, the product of midi-chlorians. They are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force. They are symbionts with all other living things and without them life could not exist. The Jedi have learned how to listen to and coordinate the midi-chlorians. While every living being thus has a connection to the Force, one must have a high enough concentration of midi-chlorians in one’s cells in order to be a Jedi or a Sith. Creator George Lucas says that the midi-chlorians are based on the endosymbiotic theory.

An ancient prophecy foretold the appearance of a chosen one imbued with a high concentration of midi-chlorians, strong with the Force, and destined to alter it forever. Anakin Skywalker was believed by many to be the chosen one. He had the highest concentration of midi-chlorians the Jedi Council had ever seen. He was possibly conceived by the midi-chlorians (parthenogenesis). Lucas has said in interviews that Luke Skywalker had the same total midi-chlorian count that Anakin did at birth, though this does not necessarily make him the chosen one because Anakin did exactly what the prophecy foretold by coming back from the Dark Side and destroying Emperor Palpatine.

The first instance of a dead character communicating with a living character occurs soon after Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker hears Obi-Wan’s voice saying, ‘Run, Luke, run!’ The first visual appearance of a Force Ghost (or Force Spirit) is in ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ when Obi-Wan’s ghost appears to Luke on Hoth, and again to Luke and Yoda on Dagobah. In ‘Return of the Jedi,’ Luke converses with the ghost on Dagobah after Yoda’s death, then sees their two spirits alongside that of Anakin Skywalker during the celebration on Endor at the end of the film. While Yoda and Obi-Wan are seen to vanish upon death, leaving behind only their physical clothing, Darth Vader’s body does not disappear or dissolve onscreen. Luke Skywalker is later seen burning Vader’s armor, including his helmet and faceplate, but it is unclear whether the armor still contains Vader’s body, though the novelization to the film says that Vader’s body did disappear and that the armor was empty.

Questions arose after the release of ‘The Phantom Menace,’ when Qui-Gon Jinn’s body did not vanish after his death fighting Darth Maul and, perhaps more importantly, none of the other characters expected it to. Qui-Gon’s remains were burned on a Jedi funeral pyre on Naboo. In the film’s DVD commentary Lucas indicated that this apparent discontinuity was a plot point that would be revisited. In ‘Revenge of the Sith’ it is revealed that the ability to return as a Force Spirit is a recently discovered and complex discipline unknown to most Jedi. Yoda informs Obi-Wan that the late Qui-Gon Jinn discovered ‘..the path to immortality,’ the secret of how to retain his identity after death and absorption into the Force, and that his spirit would instruct Obi-Wan in this discipline during his exile on Tatooine. Also in the novels following the movie, Luke discovered the discipline of the force spirit. George Lucas has since indicated that the appearance of Vader’s former self, Anakin Skywalker, as a Force Spirit at the end of Episode VI is due to a combination of Anakin’s own latent Force ability, his achievement of a moment of unconditional compassion at his death and redemption, and Yoda and Obi-Wan’s spirits helping him extend his identity out of The Force.

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