What Is The Force?


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Six minutes into the first movie of the Star Wars series, we see the villainous Darth Vader lifting Rebel Captain Antilles by the throat, two feet off the ground. Vader’s gloved hand is choking the life out of him with unfathomable strength. Later, it’s Imperial Admiral Motti who gets choked – hands-free this time – because he dared mock Vader’s devotion to “The Force.”

What is The Force? The Force is a mysterious energy field that is generated by all life forms in the Star Wars universe. It’s everywhere at once, it can do amazing things, and it’s quite revealing and illuminating to those who are sensitive to its stirrings. (Not all are.)

The Force permeates life as it draws strength from life. It has opposing influences. It can manipulate and can be manipulated. It can expose, and it can conceal. It can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. One could make a case for The Force actually being the star of the Star Wars franchise, as it is essential to virtually every sequence and every plot twist in the story.

Where Does The Force Come From?

The Force comes from life – all of life – from the simplest organisms inhabiting swamps and dismal caves to the most supreme life forms in all of their complex majesty. They are all connected to The Force. The Force has likely existed from the beginning of time but wasn’t written about or spoken of until about 25,000 years prior to the timeline that makes up the Star Wars saga.

It wasn’t always called The Force. Ancient cultures had different names for it. It was called The Ashla by the Lasats, simply “It” by the dianoga Omi, Life Current by the ancient Mustafarians, Sight by the Chiss, and The Wind by the Zeffo.

Like contemporary, real-world religions, devotees based their religions on the power of The Force. There was the Church of The Force, the Guardians of the Whills, the Order of the Jedi, and the Order of the Siths.

Application of The Force differed from group to group, as Star Wars fans are keenly aware. The Jedi existed on the so-called light side of The Force, and the Sith lords preferred the dark side.

Balance in The Force

Having chosen opposing sides of The Force, the ultimate clash between The Jedi and The Sith was inevitable. Centuries of conflict between these two factions formed the basis for much of the history of the galaxy.

It was written in ancient Jedi scripture that there would come a “Chosen One” who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to The Force. Those who didn’t understand how The Force worked took that as meaning the light side would prevail over the dark side. But balance means balance. Balance means equality.

The real-life premise that every action has an equal and opposite reaction is exhibited in the manifestation of The Force in the Star Wars saga. For there to be a balance in The Force, there has to be equality. As far as The Force is concerned, there can be no winner or loser, because The Force is neither good nor evil.

That’s not to say that a political system can’t prevail over another, that the good guys dressed in white robes can’t defeat the bad guys wearing black tunics. They can, and do. But The Force doesn’t care which side wins, and in fact, doesn’t even address the concept of victory or defeat. As long as The Force has balance, it’s happy.

Force Sensitivity

All of the major characters in the Star Wars episode had one thing in common – they were Force-sensitive, meaning they were more apt to feel the presence of The Force, to use it and to understand it.

The Skywalker family was possibly the most Force-sensitive family in the history of the galaxy. Father (Anikan – later to be known as Darth Vader), son (Luke), and daughter (Leia) possessed a profound attachment to The Force. They could sense it in each other, even from great distances. They didn’t always know what to do with The Force, and sometimes it betrayed them, but The Force was definitely strong with the Skywalkers.

The Force weaved its thread through the lives of numerous characters who were sensitive to it. Important characters like Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui Gon Jinn, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Kylo Ren, Snoke, Rey, and others interacted with one another in an invisible envelope created by The Force.

It’s a Trick

Then there were those in the galaxy who were having none of it. After the defeat of the Jedi Order, the surviving Jedi went into hiding, taking their affection for The Force with them. Much of the citizenry of the galaxy dismissed The Force as a superstition. They were, of course, wrong about The Force’s demise. Just ask Admiral Motti. The swashbuckling smuggler Han Solo had no time for The Force and lived his life in disbelief, despite seeing some amazing things that couldn’t otherwise be explained.

Why Was The Force Developed as a Story Element?

Star Wars creator George Lucas said he introduced the concept of The Force as a way to explain the different ways his characters developed their particular traits. He also said he wanted to “awaken a certain kind of spirituality” in young audiences that he felt had become cynical in the social climate of the times (1970s).

After The Force is established as a powerful concept that the audience needs to pay close attention to, Lucas uses the element to develop character. Flaws – like Luke’s impatience and Anakin’s anger – are exposed. Clairvoyance – like Darth Vader’s gut feeling about Luke (“The Force is strong with this one.”) is readily understood when The Force is in the moviegoers’ minds.

The Emperor’s throne room scene, where Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader both meet their doom, is The Force’s shining moment in the Star Wars series. Here we see the lethal power, and the gravitational pull of emotions within The Force. The Emperor and Vader tried to recruit Luke to the darkside. Luke tried to recruit his father to the lightside, and none were successful.

It’s ironic that the subtle stirrings of The Force – which we’re told to honor – failed, while the violent explosion of The Force in the form of lightning bolts, succeeded. But The Force didn’t care how that scene ended. It was just seeking balance.

What Was The Force Based On?

The connection of The Force to real-world concepts about God cannot be denied. However, Lucas was careful not to make the connection to any identifiable religion. There are elements of Christianity, Buddhism, New Age, Islam, Hinduism, and Shinto in the Star Wars story, and debates of which one predominates – if any – will continue long after the Star Wars tale has been told.

Or, you could simply boil down the manifestations of The Force to the simple notion of good versus bad.

Another element of The Force is the suggestion that all beings in nature should be one with nature. The theory has it that once you are successful in communing with nature on a personal level, you commune with nature on a global level, or even on a universal nature, including physical and spiritual realms.

C3PO and R2D2 Didn’t Have The Force

Only living organisms could feel The Force (with one exception, which we’ll get to later). Droids, like our friends C3PO and R2D2, have no living cells and are constructed of metals, ceramics, plastics, and glass (or the Star Wars version of such). They couldn’t feel the Force, and they couldn’t be persuaded by The Force, which sometimes made it advantageous to use droids in certain situations.

A good example of this is at the beginning of A New Hope when Leia downloads secret plans into the memory banks of R2D2. The droid couldn’t betray his secret because he had no idea what it was. Furthermore, when he and C3PO blasted away from the Rebel destroyer in an escape pod, none of the Imperial stormtroopers or Darth Vader could detect life forms onboard.

Still, the movie suggested that Darth Vader knew something was up. He had the pod followed to Tatooine.

Darth Vader, of course, was extremely Force-sensitive, but in the Vader phase of his life, he wasn’t fully life form-based. He was a cyborg, a combination of human and robot parts working together as one. If his mechanical parts detracted from his Force-sensitivity, you couldn’t tell.

Kyber Crystals – The Force is With Them

A kyber crystal is not your ordinary crystal. Even though it is primarily an inanimate object, it has the power of The Force within it. They are the only non-life forms to possess a connection to The Force. The Jedi were very diligent in keeping the extraordinary capabilities of the kyber crystals secret, and few outside of their order fully understood what they were dealing with.

Kyber crystals focus energy to ramp up its intensity, and they’re practically living organisms, responsive to The Force. They are considered “force attuned” and can communicate with one another and force-sensitive persons. Kyber crystals respond only to living organisms and not inanimate objects and respond only to the light side of The Force in their natural state.

While crystals could be found on virtually any planet in the galaxy, kyber crystals, the most pure and the most force-attuned crystals, existed on the snow-covered planet of Ilum, located in the 7G sector of the mysterious Unknown Regions.

Force-Enhanced Weaponry

Kyber crystals were like nuclear reactors in pretty colors. The strong possession of Force energy within kyber crystals made them valuable in the construction of weapons. Jedi trainees learned how to build lightsabers with a kyber crystal at their core. Various blasters and laser-like weapons used kyber crystals.

But it was the big, rare crystals that were the most frightening. A gigantic kyber crystal was a part of the beam that was fired from the first Death Star to destroy the planet of Alderaan. But this was not the first such weapon of mass destruction. The ancient Sith built a similar weapon on the planet Malachor centuries earlier.

Following the loss of the first Death Star, the Empire set out to build a second one, and it was equipped with an even bigger crystal and an even more powerful weapon. Fortunately, that one never got the chance to blow away the forest moon of the planet Endor, with the Rebel base and all those adorable Ewoks.

It’s probably no coincidence that the moon Endor is depicted as a lush forested sphere with an abundance of greenery. The concept of The Force and being one with nature is reinforced in this climactic scene in Return of the Jedi.

Midi-chlorians

Midi-chlorians were tiny life forms with brains. They’re almost like the seed of The Force, residing in the cells of every living organism, and communicating with their hosts, often in profound ways. It was believed that midi-chlorians not only existed within all life forms but made it possible. Life could not even exist without the presence of midi-chlorians.

Force-sensitive persons had an abundance of midi-chlorians in their bodies; it was believed. Blood tests were developed to test for the presence of midi-chlorians and thereby detect potential candidates for Jedi training. Anakin Skywalker, perhaps the most Force-sensitive individual ever to inhabit the galaxy, was found to have over 20,000 midi-chlorians in his body.

When a particularly Force-sensitive individual dies, the midi-chlorians within him preserve his consciousness, and if the individual trained exceedingly hard in the disciplines of The Force, he could continue to exist as a Force spirit (ghost). Several characters who were killed in various battles or duels re-emerged as Force spirits, either in the movies or TV series.

The Hundred-Year Darkness and the Origin of the Sith

In a galaxy far, far away and a long, long, super-long time ago, there was peace, order, and balance in The Force. But it all came crashing down. Thousands of years before the Clone Wars, a rogue Jedi created a tear in the fabric of the respected Jedi order. This rogue Jedi, who is not named in canonical text, felt that the Jedis’ predisposition toward calmness and passivity was restricting the ultimate power of The Force.

He felt the passion and firm action was the path to true power and enlightenment. He began preaching his philosophy to anyone who would listen, and when word got around to the Jedi High Council, they banished him from the order. When he left to go into exile, he took a small but vigorous band of followers with him, and thus, the Order of the Sith was established.

This period was known as the Hundred-year Darkness, where the schism between the Jedi and Sith festered. The Jedi philosophy was then regarded as the light side, and the Sith philosophy was regarded as the dark side.

The Force is With Us and Not the Other Guys

Try as they might – actually, they didn’t try very hard at all – the Jedi and the Sith just couldn’t get along, even with centuries to practice getting it right. During this time, both sides continued to study the ways of The Force and came up with new ways to use it – both peacefully and aggressively.

The Sith world of Moraband was particularly treacherous for Jedi. The dark and desolate planet held many death traps for Jedi, who hadn’t developed the clairvoyance power of The Force to sense the danger. The planet wasn’t too kind to the home team either, as many Sith perished in fierce combat with the Jedi. A particularly gruesome battle occurred at Malachor in which no one survived on either side, and the ground scorched beyond all hope of recovery.

The main weapon in those days was the lightsaber, a handheld example of The Force’s powers with kyber crystals supplying the arm-severing capability of compacted light. While the Jedi preferred the naturally occurring kyber crystals from the caves of the planet Ilum, the Sith manufactured their own synthetic crystals, which were unstable and held nearly as much danger for holder as it did for his opponent.

The Chosen One Will Bring Balance to the Force

Throughout the time of the Old Republic and the Clone Wars, Jedi watched with keen interest any child who presented signs of being particularly strong with The Force. They based their fervor on ancient manuscripts that spoke of a “chosen one.”

Reliable passages from the original Jedi text are difficult to come by, even from canonized books of the Star Wars realm. We do have these snippets, however:

  • “A chosen one shall come, born of no father, and through him will ultimate balance in The Force be restored.”
  • “In the time of greatest despair, a child shall be born who will destroy the Sith and bring balance to The Force.”
  • “When the shadow of the Bogan falls upon them, the Ashla will not desert them because, in the time of greatest despair, there shall come a savior; and he shall be known as the Son of the Suns.”

It is generally assumed – but not unilaterally agreed-upon – that Anakin Skywalker was The Chosen One. Born to an unmarried slave girl on the planet of Tatooine, Anakin spent his childhood without a father. He was discovered by Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn, and when tested, was found to have the greatest number of midi-chlorians ever recorded – over 20,000.

He was thrust, almost unwillingly, into Jedi training and proved to be an amazing pupil with innate skills far surpassing anything they had ever seen in a child.

But as the story goes, Anakin turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader.

Live Your Best Life Through The Force

There are two basic manifestations of The Force – the physical side, which affects the physical properties of the things around us, and the intellectual side, which affects our thinking, our reasoning, and our emotions.

Many of the attributes of The Force are rooted in some pretty solid philosophy – good for the soul and good for the way we look at life. As we’ve already noted, the fictional depiction of The Force takes many building blocks from actual religions and applies them on a personal level to the various characters, building on the premise to a higher state of consciousness.

Here are some examples, as presented by Master Jedi Yoda:

Deal With the Present First, Then Consider the Future

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Backwards-speaking Yoda is trying to restrain a very head-strong Luke Skywalker to step back from anxiety and contend with his present set of circumstances. In that particular instance, Skywalker was trying to learn the ways of The Force while marooned (or so he thought) on the swampy planet Degobah.

We all try to attach meaning to a setback – or a triumph – and try to make the moment a beacon into the future when it actually means little beyond the setting of the sun that day.

The idea is very similar to the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the New Testament. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” Jesus said.

Be Mindful

Luke is worried about his friends, possibly being hunted down by Imperial forces while he was stuck on Dagobah, unable to help them. He was reprimanded by Yoda with these words: “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.”

Yoda goes on to say, almost to an unseen third party, “This one a long time I have watched. All his life, he has looked away to the future, to the horizon.” Then he addresses Luke directly, “Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.”

Concentration on the task at hand is essential. If the task at hand is delayed by a wayward thought, then its completion is equally delayed.

Mindfulness is a pillar of the Buddhist faith. It means to know the mind and to be aware of its capacity, creating a distraction-free state of “bare awareness.”

Avoid the Impulse Aisle

We’ve all been there. A sale item. A lane that seems to be moving faster than the one you’re in. An opportunity that, if not taken advantage of will be lost forever.

Luke abandoned his Jedi training to fly off to Cloud City to help his friends and ended up in a trap set by Darth Vader. It would cost him his hand and nearly cost him his life.

“Decide you must how to serve them best,” Yoda says. “If you leave now, help them you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”

Obi-Wan appears as a Force spirit and tries to keep Luke grounded but to no avail. After Luke has taken off, Yoda looks to Obi Wan’s ghost and says, “Now things are worse.”

Let it Go

No need for a song from Elsa here, but a reminder that we shouldn’t let the fear of loss consume us and change who we are in life. We should stay within ourselves and not be transformed by dread. It’s a state of mind that isn’t always readily achieved, however, because many of the things we fear losing are things that are rightfully very dear to us.

At a critical turning point in his life, Anakin Skywalker turned the wrong way. He had been driven by a fear of loss – an understandable fear, given what he had already lost. He had already lost his Jedi mentor, Qui Gon Jinn, and his mother, Shmi, and now he was beset by the fear of losing his wife, Padmé, after dreaming she would die in childbirth.

When Darth Sidious told Anakin he alone had the power to save Padmé if Anakin would join the dark side of The Force, the decision was fairly well made for him. Granted, Anakin had already been drifting away from the teachings of the Jedi, primarily due to a different undesirable trait – anger – but this was the moment when everything in his life depended upon his decision.

I Feel Your Hate

As Master Yoda astutely points out, there is a series of steps that lead to the kind of hate displayed by characters like Darth Vader. “Fear is the path to the dark side,” Yoda says. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

It’s not an abrupt transition, even though it may seem so to outside observers. Hate grows from an unresolved conflict within the mind. While the situation that caused the original conflict may not have gotten any worse, the angst has, and the slowly heating caldron begins to come to a boil.

While Anakin failed to control his anger and let it develop into full-blown rage and hate, his son, Luke succeeded, albeit with a struggle. In the scene where Luke and Darth Vader are engaged in an epic lightsaber duel in Emperor Palpatine’s throne room, Luke very nearly loses all restraint while beating down on Darth Vader, who is all but begging for mercy. It’s brutal.

This whole time, Palpatine was enjoying the show, even though his vice commander was getting the cosmic pixie dust beaten out of him. When he praises Luke for exhibiting the kind of hate he likes to see, Luke suddenly turns off his lightsaber and throws it away.

And that is the epitome of being one with The Force.

Brad

Sci-fi lover and Tech Nerd.

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