A repudiation of Lucas' de-mystified Force
Originally published at The Hub City Review
Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.”
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
In my youth I studied form of karate known as Isshin-ryū. At the time my primary interest was in martial applications, as is undoubtedly true of most individuals when they first resolve to master form of fighting. Some years later, a chance friendship with the son of my sensei’s sensei led me to study from him not the techniques but the underlying philosophy. He and his school were Christian mystics heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy. It was a blend of the occidental and oriental, of the contemplative and combative, not all too dissimilar from the Jedi themselves. He imparted in me a belief in Qi energy, itself a direct influence on the concept of the Force. As I continued my philosophical studies in college, grad school, and beyond, taking on more Modernist and methodological views, the absence of empirical evidence or a coherent metaphysical conception led me to reject the Qi hypothesis.
My own interest in and investigation into the Qi parallels with the evolution of Lucas’ formulation of the Force over the course of his films. Per Obi-Wan in Star Wars:
The Force 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.”
Like Qi, the Force in the Original Trilogy is both physical and metaphysical, and somehow neither. It is an energy field, which by definition means it can be converted to other types of energy and even matter. Such is demonstrated in that Force energy is seen being converted to kinetic energy (telekinesis) and a plasmic state of matter (lightning). And yet, Yoda likewise states we are “not this crude matter” but rather “luminous beings.” Such an apparent contradiction, such a seemingly irreconcilable paradox, is entirely emblematic of Eastern thought. It imparted the Star Wars series in general and the Jedi in particular with a distinctly oriental flavor.
Given that it was precisely this flavor which the fans had loved about the originals, Lucas’ more occidental approach to the Force in the Prequels generated predictable backlash. Per Qui-Gon Jinn:
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’ll hear them speaking to you.”
As should be obvious, midi-chlorians are inspired by mitochondria and chlorophyll, energy converting components of cellular biology. While the fanon notion that midi-chlorians generate the Force is a misconception, the existence of midi-chlorians nevertheless reframes the conversation about the Force around scientific concepts and thus away from mysticism. The difference separating our galaxy from the one Far, Far Away is that that there, the Force is empirically verifiable, whereas here Qi is empirically falsified; yet the point remains that they are both similarly subject to scientific scrutiny.
The character of Darth Vader under Kieron Gillen’s tenure on the eponymous series is a direct reaction to and repudiation of this de-mystifying of the Force. It is a constant point of contention between the Sith Lord and his alleged allies. Upon being introduced to his rivals for the first time, their designer Cylo-V stated, “The Force is obsolete. These are its successors.” When Vader later condemned the “abominations” as blasphemous and heretical, even his master Sidious rejected orthodoxy for a more progressive understanding of the great mystery. The latest challenge to Vader’s dogmatism comes in issue #18 from Triple-0:
The Force is indifferent to [droids]… ‘Life?’ Abstract nonsense. It’s not that we don’t have life. It’s that we don’t have blood.”
Given his conceptualization of the Force as a scientific theory, Triple-0 takes such a view to its logical conclusion in proposing a technological application for such, namely infusing blood into droids. Vader, himself more machine than man, is nevertheless zealously opposed to this proposal.
The series as a whole can be read as a validation of Vader’s view over and against those of his rivals. The reader, having knowledge of the films, is assured from the start that Vader perseveres over the likes of Karbin and the Astarte twins. That he wins in battle against them is therefore of less importance to the dramatic than that he wins the argument. The fact that he remains Palpatine’s apprentice by the start of Episode IV indicates he will have proven to his master the superiority one in a mystic relationship to the Force than those with a more reductive, materialist conception of the universe. He could just as easily declare to Cylo-V by series end that which he declares to Admiral Motti in A New Hope: “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. [It] is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” Likewise, Gillen is saying much of the same to Lucas: “Don’t be too proud of this technologically focused religion you’ve constructed. It is insignificant next to the imaginative power of a more mystical Force.” While I can’t say that I agree with such sentiment, it is absolutely true to the character of Vader and the spirit of Star Wars that fans first fell in love with.