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Force Misconceptions: Midi-chlorians

All right. I’ve procrastinated on this one for a few years; that’s a long enough time for me to delay talking about this subject. So here we go. Let’s discuss everyone’s favorite aspect of the Force: midi-chlorians.

The concept of midi-chlorians is very unpopular with viewers of the films, and I actually associate that general unpopularity with the misunderstandings about them. This may be a bit of a hasty generalization on my part, but just speaking from my own observation on normal behavioral practices, when something or someone is looked at unfavorably by a person or group of people, it’s not uncommon for that something or someone to be misrepresented or have its character outright assassinated by those who disapprove of it/him/her. No, I’m not saying that any misconception that exists concerning midi-chlorians is always the product of people just intentionally misunderstanding it in order to justify their repudiation of the concept. However, there are some misconceptions that exist surrounding the nature of midi-chlorians, and how some of these misconceptions are even propagated is really inexplicable to me if the source material is being given an objective view. The only explanation I can gather as to why midi-chlorians are so misunderstood is incorrect hearsay being passed around and some aforementioned disparaging of the concept.

Having said that, this blog is not a critique of the idea of midi-chlorians or whether we as viewers should or should not like them. All this blog is is an informational post to clarify a few issues to interpret these ideas accurately and is only written because I just like analyzing these subjects. To begin let’s rewatch the scene from The Phantom Menace where Qui-Gon Jinn describes midi-chlorians to Anakin Skywalker.

From this scene, one of the most common misconceptions about midi-chlorians is (somehow) derived, which is the conclusion that midi-chlorians themselves are the Force. How on earth anyone arrived at that conclusion, I have no idea. Nowhere was it stated or even remotely hinted that midi-chlorians are the Force. What Qui-Gon describes to Anakin is that the midi-chlorians act as messengers for the Force and serve as the access-point by which living beings interact with the Force. This misconception is so prevalent that Daniel Wallace directly addressed it in the “Secrets of the Force” article in Star Wars Insider #123. He points out that the dialog elucidates on midi-chlorians at face value, defining them as a kind of go-between between living beings and the Force and in no way insinuates that midi-chlorians themselves are the Force.

No Caption Provided

I could probably just end this blog right there, because Wallace summarized this topic more succinctly than I could. But I will continue to add further supporting material to this picture of the midi-chlorians and also refute other misconceptions. For informational purposes, let me post just a little bit of biological information on midi-chlorians. Midi-chlorians are microscopic organisms who populate inside the cells of a living host and are colonized and synchronized through a collective hive-mind, uniting their consciousness.

Qui-Gon nodded. "A boy. His cells have the highest concentration of midi-chlorians I have ever seen in a life-form." He paused. "It is possible he was conceived by midi-chlorians."

There was a shocked silence this time. Qui-Gon Jinn was suggesting the impossible, that the boy was conceived not by human contact, but by the essence of all life, by the connectors to the Force itself, the midi-chlorians. Comprising collective consciousness and intelligence, the midi-chlorians formed the link between everything living and the Force.

--Taken from The Phantom Menace

“They also appear to possess a single unified consciousness linked via the pneuma and can be influenced by the host’s mental state. In particular, negative emotions such as the loss of hope can induce cellular necrosis.”

--Taken from Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side

As Qui-Gon said and The Phantom Menace novelization narrated, the midi-chlorians speak to living beings the will of the Force and join living beings to the Force. To supplement that, Darth Plagueis in his extensive research on midi-chlorians took to designating them as the Force’s intermediaries and interlocutors, using these terms to establish the mediating link and position the midi-chlorians occupy between living beings and the Force.

A common misconception held that midi-chlorians were Force-carrying particles, when in fact they functioned more as translators, interlocutors of the will of the Force.

They could have been torturers: Plagueis and 11-4D, leaning over an operating table on Aborah that supported Venamis, still in an induced coma and now anesthetized, as well; the droid's appendages holding bloodied scalpels, retractors, hemostats, and Plagueis, gowned and masked and with eyes closed, his shadow puddled on the floor by the theater lights, but in truth nowhere to be found in the mundane world. Folded deeply within the Force, instead, indifferent to the meticulous damage 11-4D had done to the Bith's internal organs, but focused on communicating his will directly to the Force's intermediaries, the droid monitoring cellular activity for signs that Plagueis's life-extending manipulations, his thought experiments, were having their intended effect.

--Taken from Darth Plagueis

This further distinguishes midi-chlorians from the Force, as they exist to stimulate a line of rapport between the will of the Force and the will of living beings, and nothing more. As it stands, midi-chlorians are simply a species of microscopic organisms who have a unique connection to the Force which they then share with any and all beings they come into contact with. So how do we apply this concept of midi-chlorians with Qui-Gon’s statement, that without midi-chlorians life could not exist, and how exactly do midi-chlorians function as a kind of conduit for the Force to be transferred to living beings? Plagueis expounded on this principle in his journal by contrasting the energy of midi-chlorians with the energy emitted by any other standard organelle.

“Of considerable interest is the fact that, while most cellular organelles generate chemical energy, midi-chlorians generate Force energy.”

“Typical blood concentration is around 2,500 midi-chlorians per cell. Cutting this concentration in half will usually induce death. I conclude that Force energy is required for life and that midi-chlorians are its biological vector.”

--Taken from Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side

“Midi-chlorians generate Force energy.” An important discovery, but it needs to be read with Plagueis’ knowledge of the subject as a whole. While it is true that the midi-chlorians generate Force energy, as Plagueis mused to himself, “A common misconception held that midi-chlorians were Force-carrying particles,” and he rejected this idea in favor of perceiving midi-chlorians as intermediaries. Read in juxtaposition, we can surmise that the Force flows through the midi-chlorians, not from them. This further cements the role of midi-chlorians as channels through which the Force manifests itself, and this does away with the idea that the Force is somehow limited by or to midi-chlorians.

Although many people think because of the dialog in The Phantom Menace that the Force is limited to the midi-chlorians instead of pervading the universe at large, as was previously implied by the original trilogy, the totality of the Force is not contained in these microscopic organisms; these microscopic organisms are simply a transmitter for it. Anything that lives requires the Force to live, and midi-chlorians open a funnel to the Force in order for that being to continue living. Sabla-Mandibu wrote the following analogy for a proper understanding of the purpose of midi-chlorians with respects to the Force as a whole:

Master Bowspritz will teach you of the midi-chlorians in our cells that channel the Force’s energy. I urge you not to think too much on this necessary biological symbiosis but to instead cast your focus wider. After all, we do not drink the bowl but the soup contained in it.

--Taken from The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force

The idea of midi-chlorians being the vessel and the Force being the substance is one of the simplest bits of exposition on midi-chlorians that can be found. It also underlines the necessity of midi-chlorians but not to the point of undermining the greater necessity of the Force. Just as a person needs to eat to survive, living beings need the Force to live as well. A container for food is important because it affords a means to eat, but the container is not the food itself. It just creates a way to more easily access food.

Sabla-Mandibu’s comment about not overly-prioritizing midi-chlorians has been a common mindset towards the subject of midi-chlorians among Jedi. Luke was of a similar persuasion to Master Mandibu and commented on midi-chlorians in Plagueis’ recovered journal. He pointed out that the very existence of midi-chlorians in a way serves as a lesson to humble a Jedi. By paying attention to the most minuscule creature, a Jedi can glean a more vast scope of the Force. He also underlines the fact that symbiosis, a trait intrinsic to the Force, is echoed in the operation of midi-chlorians as well. The Jedi know that the Force and life are interrelated. Each is equally dependent on the other. Midi-chlorians highlight this truth.

“The entire focus on midi-chlorians is misguided. They are a natural lesson in symbiosis. When we listen to the smallest creatures, they open us to the expanse of the Force. Only a Sith would seek to dismantle a relationship that benefits both parties.”


--Taken from Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side

The reality of midi-chlorians’ symbiont relationship with life is a universal truth. Both Jedi and Sith have agreed that much regarding the topic. Since we learned from Plagueis’ journal that although the Force doesn’t originate with midi-chlorians but instead passes through them, living beings rely on midi-chlorians to connect to their source of life, which is the Force. If a being is cut off from their midi-chlorians, they die. Conversely, if the host that the midi-chlorians live in dies, the midi-chlorians themselves also die. This once again punctuates the symbiotic relationship between living beings and midi-chlorians, as well as the Force by consequence.

“Midi-chlorians are endosymbionts. They die when their host dies, and no host can live if completely purged of midi-chlorians.”

--Taken from Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side

At this point, since we’ve defined many of the fundamental properties of midi-chlorians, we should ask ourselves what exactly their job is and how they perform it. We know that they speak the will of the Force to those receptive to hear it, but what else do they do? To give an example in order to answer that question, I will point out that the symbiosis between life and midi-chlorians and the integral service midi-chlorians provide to the Force has effects on the characteristics of different life-forms. Since life is drawn from the Force and the Force instills itself into living beings through midi-chlorians, all of these three components, the Force, the midi-chlorians, and the life-form itself, can influence one another. One of these influences is the way that the Force can affect the make-up of a living being or even an entire species.

When a species suffers a large predatory attack that may cause its extinction, it naturally adapts to the problem in order to survive. Since life springs from the Force, the Force itself can engineer certain evolutionary adaptions. But that begs the question, how precisely does the Force go about in changing a species’ biological make-up? Through midi-chlorians, who act in accordance with the Force’s will to preserve that species. As a result of this, there are some species whose biological evolutions allow them to either voluntarily or involuntarily use the Force to negate its effects from predators. This shows how interlinked life, midi-chlorians, and the Force are and gives an example of the kinds of tasks the midi-chlorians fulfill to serve the will of the Force.

My specialty is alien biology, and as a Jedi I recognize that the fundamental unifier of all life is the Force. It is fascinating how the Force inspires such a variety of change and adaption, even allowing species to develop barriers that redirect the Force’s natural flow. Because such evolution can be found among recognized sentient beings, you should be able to identify these species on sight if you wish to use your Jedi abilities to their fullest.

Hutts You and your Master will probably run across a Hutt’s thugs long before you meet an actual Hutt, but don’t use mind tricks if you’re brought before their boss! Hutts are notoriously difficult to influence or read through the Force. Their elusiveness has been a struggle for the Jedi since our forebears left Tython.

Toydarians These fascinating beings have lighter-than-air gases in their bellies that enable flight in standard or less-than-standard gravities. But remember that Toydarians are resistant to mind tricks, illusions, and telepathic suggestions. They are well aware of this fact and boast that they can easily outsmart a Jedi. Do not haggle with a Toydarian vendor!

--Taken from The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force

Damask concealed his astonishment. As rumored, the Yinchorri were apparently resistant to Force suggestion! But how was it possible that midi-chlorians in a being of relatively low intelligence could erect an impenetrable wall against the influence of a Sith? Was this some sort of survival mechanism—the midi-chlorians’ way of protecting the consciousness of their vessels by refusing to be manipulated? He would need to possess one of these beings to learn the secret.

A gift to Damask from the Council of Elders on the occasion of Yinchorr’s seating in the Senate, the towering reptilian condemned murderer shuffled to the center of the energy field that defined his cage on Aborah and, with confusion contorting the features of his beaked face, prostrated himself on the permacrete floor and mumbled in Basic: “I’m honored to be here and to perform whatever tasks you require of me.”

Standing at the field’s shimmering perimeter, 11-4D pivoted his head toward Plagueis. “Congratulations, Magister. At last he responds to your suggestion. You have undermined his resolve.”

That resolve, Plagueis had learned after more than two years of experimentation on the Yinchorri, was in fact a kind of Force bubble fashioned by the turtle-like alien’s limited number of unusually willful midi-chlorians. This suggested that the Yinchorri was actually strong in the Force, despite his pitifully low count. The discovery had come as a breakthrough, and Plagueis was still grappling with the implications.

Plagueis hadn’t lost interest in Venamis by any means, but the Yinchorri’s immunity to Force suggestion—an immunity the species shared with Hutts, Toydarians, and others—had provided him with a new line of investigation. Unlike ysalamiri, which created a Force bubble in the presence of danger, the Yinchorri were in a perpetual state of involuntary immunity to Force suggestion. The fact that immunity was in a sense hardwired into them meant that the ability was an adaptation, prompted by a past threat to the survival of the species. To Plagueis, it meant that the Yinchorri’s midi-chlorians had evolved to provide protection to a species that was naturally strong in the Force. If that were indeed the case, then the Yinchorri were living proof that the Sith of the Bane line had been on the right path from the very start.

--Taken from Darth Plagueis

To give another example of the service of midi-chlorians to the Force, I will also mention briefly that the midi-chlorians were of course instrumental in the conception of the Force’s Chosen One, Anakin. When the Sith defied the Force’s will for balance by tipping the scale toward the dark side, the Force’s retaliation was its Chosen One, who would destroy those Sith and restore its balance. Anakin’s conception was accomplished by the midi-chlorians under the unwitting control of Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious. Midi-chlorians, being interpreters of the Force’s will, cooperated with the Sith’s influence in order to conceive the Chosen One without the Sith initially being aware that they caused it. Once again, the symbiotic relationship between the will of the Force, the midi-chlorians, and the will of living beings is demonstrated.

“Midi-chlorians are not easily persuaded to execute the dictates of one newly initiated in the mysteries. The Force needs to be won over, especially in work that involves the dark side. It must be reassured that a Sith is capable of accepting authority. Otherwise it will thwart one’s intentions. It will engineer misfortune. It will strike back.”

His election seven years earlier had been one of the signs Plagueis had been waiting for—the return to power of a Valorum—and had followed on the heels of a remarkable breakthrough Plagueis and Sidious had engineered in manipulating midi-chlorians. A breakthrough the Muun had described as “galactonic.” Both of them suspected that the Jedi had sensed it as well, light-years distant on Coruscant.

The Muun’s eyes narrowed. “One can’t be content to abide by the rules of the Jedi Order or the Force. Only by making the Force serve us have we prevailed. Eight years ago we shifted the galaxy, Darth Sidious, and that shift is now irreversible.”

All that mattered was that, almost a decade earlier, they had succeeded in willing the Force to shift and tip irrevocably to the dark side. Not a mere paradigm shift, but a tangible alteration that could be felt by anyone strong in the Force, and whether or not trained in the Sith or Jedi arts.

The shift had been the outcome of months of intense meditation, during which Plagueis and Sidious had sought to challenge the Force for sovereignty and suffuse the galaxy with the power of the dark side. Brazen and shameless, and at their own mortal peril, they had waged etheric war, anticipating that their own midi-chlorians, the Force’s proxy army, might marshal to boil their blood or stop the beating of their hearts. Risen out of themselves, discorporate and as a single entity, they had brought the power of their will to bear, asserting their sovereignty over the Force. No counterforce had risen against them. In what amounted to a state of rapture they knew that the Force had yielded, as if some deity had been tipped from its throne. On the fulcrum they had fashioned, the light side had dipped and the dark side had ascended.

“The Chosen One,” Dooku amended. “No. But Qui-Gon accepts it as fact, and the Council is willing to have him tested.”

“What is known about this Anakin?”

“Very little, except for the fact that he was born into slavery nine years ago and was, until recently, along with his mother, the property of Gardulla the Hutt, then a Toydarian junk dealer.” Dooku smirked. “Also that he won the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace.”

Palpatine had stopped listening.

Nine years old... Conceived by the Force... Is it possible...

Plagueis fell back a step, his thoughts reeling.

There was still a chance that the Council would decide that Anakin was too old to be trained as a Jedi. That way, assuming he was returned to Tatooine...

But if not... If Qui-Gon managed to sway the Council Masters, and they reneged on their own dictates...

Plagueis ran a hand over his forehead. Are we undone? he thought. Have you undone us?

--Taken from Darth Plagueis

One other common misconception is that midi-chlorians by themselves create the Force. The mistake here lies in thinking that if the Force is revealed through the agency of midi-chlorians, then the midi-chlorians themselves formed the Force, but this is untrue. We know from objective sources that the Force created life, all kinds of life including microorganisms, and other sources have told us plainly that the Force actually created the midi-chlorians to serve as its interpreters in order to communicate with the galaxy, not the other way around. Barriss Offee once commented on this truth, pointing out that the Force is not relegated to any one kind of organism.

In addition, the Force is a living entity, generating life. The Force is a necessary and vital part of the universe. When running a Jedi campaign, think of the Force as more than merely a means by which the characters can gain extreme powers. It is a metaphor for the universal nature of life itself, vibrant, dynamic, and dangerous. All Jedi are permeated by the Force, just as all beings are, but the Jedi are most aware of it. Events in one region might affect another as if the galaxy were one interconnected being, with the Force as its blood and life.

--Taken from Power of the Jedi Sourcebook

“What is the Force? The Jedi say it is created by life. But I say the Force creates life. It is a simple deduction—an obvious conclusion when supported by structured experimentation.”

--Taken from Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side

The dispersal of midi-chlorians at the moment of physical death was, for lack of a better term, inexorable. Analogous to his fated confrontation with the Woebegone crew, the moment of death appeared to be somehow fixed in space and time. According to his Sith education, since Captain Lah and the others had been in some sense dead from the moment Plagueis's gaze had alighted on the freighter, it followed that the midi-chlorians that resided in alleged symbiosis with them must have been preparing to be subsumed into the reservoir of life energy that was the Force long before Plagueis had stowed away. His attempts to save them—to prolong that state of symbiosis—were comparable to using a sponge to dam a raging river.

"Let me explain what is happening to you," Plagueis said. "The cells that make up all living things contain within them organelles known as midi-chlorians. They are, in addition to being the basis for life, the elements that enable beings like me to perceive and use the Force. As the result of a lifetime of study, I have learned how to manipulate midi-chlorians, and I have instructed the limited number you possess to return to their source. In plain Basic, Veruna, I am killing you."

--Taken from Darth Plagueis

She nodded. "Actually, the Force may create midi-chlorians, sort of as its conduits into our continuum, rather than the other way around. They're isomorphic on every world that has life. The Force, it appears, truly pervades the galaxy, if not the entire universe.

"But, when all is said and done, the Jedi don't really know how it actually works and what it really is, either, We know how to connect to it, how to channel it, but in a lot of ways we're like primitives standing on the bank of a rushing river. We can put our hands in it, even wade in and try to swim, but we don't know where it comes from—only that it exists, and that it is bound to life and consciousness more deeply than the quantum level."

--Taken from MedStar II: Jedi Healer

A microscopic life-form that resided within all living cells and was capable of communicating with the Force. Symbionts found in all beings, midi-chlorians might be responsible for all life. They could reveal the will of the Force when one’s mind was quiet. Those beings with a high concentration of midi-chlorians in their blood could become Jedi. Anakin Skywalker may have been conceived by midi-chlorians, and his midi-chlorian count exceeded 20,000, which was more than that of Master Yoda. The Jedi Knights developed techniques that could detect high concentrations of midi-chlorians in infants. During the last years of the Old Republic, some Jedi began to wonder if the relationship between midi-chlorians and the Force might actually be the opposite of traditional thinking. They believed that the Force created the midi-chlorians as a way to reach out to life throughout the galaxy. In the wake of the Clone Wars, most information regarding midi-chlorians was erased from galactic computer banks by the handful of surviving Jedi Knights in an effort to prevent the Imperials from learning how to use cellular testing to identify other Jedi survivors.

--Taken from The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia

As the Encyclopedia states for us and as Plagueis mentions when he says that the source of midi-chlorians is the Force, the Force produced the midi-chlorians in order to establish a connection to living beings and make itself known. As an offset to that however, we know that life also subsists the Force, just as the Force subsists life. With that in mind, I don’t think we can altogether deny that midi-chlorians generate the Force, any more than we can deny that any other forms of life generate the Force. Once again, the matter of mutual symbiosis is at work. If we understand that the Force is a universal consciousness but is not by itself a conscious entity, what consciousness then does the Force unite if sentient life doesn’t exist? In this way, the dependence of the Force on life is known; as Yoda said, “Life creates it, makes it grow.” The Force needs life every bit as much as life needs the Force. So what Barriss Offee said was true, from a certain point of view.

Another misconception touching on the topic of midi-chlorians has to do with midi-chlorian count. Some people have submitted an array of random numbers of midi-chlorians for several movie characters, such as Yoda or Luke. Let me state very clearly that these numbers don’t exist in the source material. The only Jedi or Sith we have ever been told in quantifiable numbers a midi-chlorian count for is Anakin Skywalker, who according to multiple sources had a midi-chlorian count of over 20,000 midi-chlorians per cell (The Phantom Menace, Book of Sith, The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia). There have only ever been a couple other exact quantities of midi-chlorians per cell ever proposed in sources, such as in Plagueis’ journal, where he gives a mean figure for how many midi-chlorians inhabit the standard humanoid’s cells, which he averaged was about 2,500.

As a last thought, I want to discuss something more relative to the Force’s all-encompassing nature. It should be pointed out that the idea of midi-chlorians was first introduced to viewers through the dialog of Qui-Gon Jinn. Interestingly, Qui-Gon’s focus in his Jedi disciplines was on the Living Force, which is the organic and present flow of the Force as opposed to the grander picture of the Unifying Force. He made it his effort to follow the immediate leading of the Living Force in order to better serve the Force’s will in the here-and-now. What this has to do with midi-chlorians is the fact that, in one sense, they could be thought of as a physical representation of the Living Force.

As the Living Force is the Force as it appears on a smaller, more personal scale and permeates individual living things, the midi-chlorians can illustrate this mystery very precisely. On the one hand, the midi-chlorians are biological, living creatures. They find their origin in the Force, just as all life does. Prerequisite to midi-chlorians’ continued preservation is that they remain exposed to the Force as a source of life energy. The midi-chlorians form a collective consciousness and act as one. They have an interdependent relationship with living organisms. This is just my opinion as it only comes from my study into the subject and is not explicitly stated in any source to my knowledge, but in these ways, midi-chlorians could be said to be a kind of microcosm of the Living Force, having qualities of a united consciousness, speaking the will of the Force, adapting to organic matter, supplying life to individual beings.

In the comic Star Wars: Visionaries, there is a short story called “The Fourth Precept,” which has no narration or dialog and is drawn by Stephan Martiniére. The story, if you can call it that, is basically just a visual depiction of the nature of the Force. A basic interpretation of its art is that the light and dark side are out of balance (shown by the scale the two are on and how it leans more to one side than the other) and begin fighting with one another. The battle of the light and dark sides stretches across the galaxy, through space, amid strange creatures, in every kind of landscape (serene ocean floor, violent volcano), and it finally climaxes with a clash between the two. But instead of one or the other or both being destroyed, the light and dark sides are united again, in balance and without conflict. This is the last page of the story.

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What’s worth pointing out is the top and bottom panels. Just as the Force has a light and dark aspect, it also has, just as was previously mentioned, a Living and Unifying aspect. The top panel could be understood to be the Unifying Force, since it shows a cosmic burst of energy spanning across astronomic fields of space. The bottom panel could be understood to be the Living Force, since it shows what is most likely the midi-chlorians. This “big picture” perspective shown in contradistinction to the infinitesimal size of the midi-chlorians gives a diagram for the ubiquity of the Force and its various dualities. While the Force is the essence of timeless creation and entropy, it’s also a consciousness gathered from even microscopic living creatures. Midi-chlorians stress this particular attribute of the Force.

(Tangent: Let me take this opportunity to go on record and formally recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it to pick up Star Wars: Visionaries. It’s a great collection of stories with some great artwork. “The Fourth Precept” is one of my favorite Star Wars comic stories, for however little actual story there is in it. If you ever wondered what a visual portrayal of the Force would look like, “The Fourth Precept” is a fascinating glimpse at it. In total, it’s only six pages long, but each panel shows a picture you could cross-reference with a different part of the Force’s nature in a variety of interpretations. The other stories in the Visionaries volume are worth reading too, some of which are also especially good. Well worth reading if you have the chance.)