One movie ago, we knew that midichlorians were the apparent life blood of Force users. Did Episode 7 just reset all of that? Spoilers and trips down memory lane will ensue.
By Kenneth Shipp
***Warning!!! Potential Spoilers from The Force Awakens towards the end of this article***
There used to be a time where the Force was ambiguous enough to allow our own interpretation of it. The mystical energy that binds and surrounds us in the original trilogy, would amount to nothing more than a bunch of midichlorians in the prequels. There was a time where that was not the case. Let’s step back to a time where the Force was something left to our own imaginations.
When Obi-Wan gave us our first explanation of the Force in A New Hope, we were filled with wonder. That wonder would quickly turn to excitement as he gave us all a lesson in the Force firsthand, showing Luke how to operate a lightsaber, using a Jedi mind trick for the first time, Luke trusting in it enough to destroy the Death Star, and Obi-Wan’s ultimate sacrifice. The Force is not some small thread running through the original Star Wars films, it’s a central theme that continues to be explored and grown into as we head into episode V and VI.
Yoda’s guidance in Empire is equally as powerful as Obi-Wan’s example in IV. He expounds on the threads left open by Obi-Wan, giving Luke a greater sense of the Force’s capabilities and how it flows through him. His speech when Luke is unable to to lift his fighter out of the swamp resonates throughout the whole trilogy and is probably the best explanation for the Force, bar none:
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. 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. Even between the land and the ship.”
He then hammers this point home by lifting Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp
If you hadn’t thought about the possibilities of where the Force could take you, this scene got the ball rolling. Think about it: until this moment, we had only seen Force chokes, a Death Star trench run, and a Jedi ghost (We didn’t know they were Force ghosts yet). Once Yoda lifted the X-Wing out of the swamp, all bets were off. If the question had been what can you do with the Force, the answer was now infinite. This threads culminates in the refined skills Luke shows against Jabba The Hutt on Tatooine and aboard the Death Star resisting the Emperor’s pull to the dark side. Luke was now a fully realized Jedi knight. Because of how much the audience empathizes with Luke, it feels like our win as well. Every kid walking out of that theater felt like they had just beaten the Emperor themselves.
We may not have realized it right after our first viewing of The Phantom Menace, but the Force had changed. Look, a scientific explanation for how something works is completely fine. Even the idea that there’s a cell inside your body that acts as the conduit for this energy wasn’t horrible. However, how this is portrayed in Phantom Menace undermines the key aspect of Luke’s story that we all identify with. We want to be Luke, we all have wanted to go on those adventures, desired to do more than what was in front of us. Yoda’s speech on Dagobah was meant for everyone. It wasn’t aimed at the person with enough cells floating in their body. The Force was accessible to everyone unlike the cold and isolated way the prequels handled them.
No, the Prequel trilogy was never going to be the traditional hero’s journey like in Joseph Campbell’s Hero Of A Thousand Faces. It was meant to showcase the tragedy of Anakin and the corruption in the Senate and Jedi order. Changing the Force like they did in Menace and the subsequent films diminishes Yoda’s speech significantly. Now imagine the same speech, but with a bunch of caveats:
Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should cause I have a crap ton of midichlorians.
***Potential spoilers for the Force Awakens are below***
As I reflect on the events of Episode VII, one of the primary complaints lobbed at the film is the ease at which Rey picks up her powers. She is able to stand up to Kylo Ren and is naturally gifted at a wide variety of skills. Some of them make practical sense, like piloting the Falcon with little experience. She may have had a few moments to fly on Jakku because she is certainly confident in her ability. When Finn says they need a pilot, she didn’t hesitate to take the reins. Her ability to fix the Falcon is pointing to her history as a scavenger. She would probably have a good grasp of how parts work during her time fixing and scrounging for materials. She figures out how to execute a Jedi mind trick with no training whatsoever. That irks some folks, but I really don’t think it’s that far fetched. I mean, who taught the original force users? I don’t think the lack of a teacher should be an impediment or criticism. It’s more akin to a comic book hero figuring out their powers. Like Peter Parker figuring out he’s starting to change after the spider bite or any number of X-Men growing into their powers. Why is it so hard to fathom that she’s picking it up as she goes? (I will admit it looked like they may written themselves into a corner and needed a good way to get her out. I don’t think that invalidates the ability to figure that power out. It just seems convenient because we haven’t seen anyone else do it.)
Her journey of picking up the Force out of sheer necessity is excellent. Rey’s journey may also serve an additional purpose. As much as I dislike Episodes I-III, Rey’s understanding of the Force makes the prequel treatment more palatable. Unencumbered by tradition and rigid doctrines, Rey shines a light on the failings of the Jedi and what can happen if you are unwilling to change. The Force Awakens refused to take a bunch of risks and played most of the film rather safe. When it comes to the Force however, they have brought the series back to its roots and future films will greatly benefit from it. Or, at least I hope…