You Seek Knowledge: The Structure of the Force and How its Layers Work
Have you heard about this little thing called the Force? You know, the thing that gives a Jedi their power, the energy field created by all living things that surrounds and penetrates while binding the galaxy together with its mystical energy that drives the Star Wars saga? Throughout the films and television shows the Force is explained to us from “certain points of view” by different characters, specifically Jedi and Sith. There is never a moment when we have one single character sit down and explain to the audience how the Force actually works or how it is structured, because that would make for boring storytelling.
This week I’ll break down how the Force is structured so you will have a good foundation of knowledge to build upon as you continue to explore the Star Wars story. I’ll present the facts we have learned about the Force from different media (including a Dave Filoni interview) and try to make it as simple as possible to understand. Things like Force powers won’t be covered, but subjects like the Living Force, the Cosmic Force and midi-chlorians will be explained.
Let’s start off with a broad definition of the Force:
“The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy.”
All living things. All. The Force touches all things and is everywhere just like Obi-Wan told Luke in A New Hope. Yoda echos these statements in The Empire Strikes Back. It is important to note that neither of them say “The light side is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy” or “The dark side is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy.” This is because the Force itself encompasses everything. Ideas are derived from the Force as a whole, not the other way around.
Picture the Force as a family tree. The Force sits on the top and everything else branches out from underneath it. No matter what happens as you work down the family tree the Force is still the original seed from which everything grows. For us to gain a better understanding of how all the things on the Force family tree work together we must learn how communication with the Force is possible in the first place. This where midi-chlorians become involved. The definition for midi-chlorians on Wookieepedia states:
“Midi-chlorians [are] microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings. The Force [speaks] through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they [are] sensitive enough to its powers.”
Midi-chlorian counts, used to determine a being’s potential in the Force, could be tested by examining a subject’s blood. We know that Anakin Skywalker has the highest known midi-chlorian count—over 20,000—as we see Obi-Wan relate to Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace. Let’s set aside what Anakin’s high count means for the prophecy of the Chosen One (check back next week for more on that topic) so we can examine what having a high midi-chlorian count means for a Force user.
I believe there is no better way to understand this than to get an explanation straight from Dave Filoni who has been in charge of untangling this mystery into something we can understand. Following the season 2 finale of Rebels, Filoni did an interview with “Rebel Force Radio” in which he explained the midi-chlorians:
“Midi-chlorian are a real thing that commune between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force that can heighten your ability to use the Force. Some people have an inordinate amount of midi-chlorians like Anakin, which means that their connectivity to the Force comes easily. That they are innately more powerful. The same as a person who is born with exceptional athletic ability or exceptional artistic ability. They’re virtuosos.
But if they don’t train and they don’t practice they won’t maintain that ability, right? Once they’re young, then get older. It will fade from them. You’ll think ‘Oh, what a waste.’ Conversely somebody that’s born with an average amount of midi-chlorians that trains with dedication and opens up their mind and becomes educated could become greater and greater and more powerful. But they might never become as great and as powerful as the virtuoso like Anakin Skywalker.
So, these are the ways that, over the years, I’ve constructed these ideas that really make room for all these concepts. You say ‘Well the midi-chlorians, what do they mean?’ Well everybody in the Star Wars galaxy, everything that is alive has that in them. Everybody. Because the Force is something that surrounds all living things. Thus everyone has midi-chlorians. That doesn’t change anything that Obi-Wan said [in A New Hope].”
I believe this clears up the confusion as to what the midi-chlorians do and why they are important. They in no way change what the Force is. It is still the mystical concept we first learned about in 1977, only now we have the knowledge of how sentient beings are able to make a connection with it. Now that we know how the midi-chlorians communicate with the Force, let’s look at what they are communicating with within the Force itself.
The Force is made up of two parts: the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. In the episode Voices from season 6 of The Clone Wars we see Qui-Gon explain to Yoda how the Living and Cosmic Force use the midi-chlorians:
Yoda: How are you here?
Qui-Gon Jinn: I am a manifestation of the Force, a Force that consists of two parts. Living beings generate the Living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the Cosmic Force.
Yoda: Show yourself, can you?
Qui-Gon Jinn: I cannot. My training was incomplete. All energy from the Living Force from all things that have ever lived, feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding everything and communicating to us through the midi-chlorians. Because of this I can speak to you now.
Let’s start by breaking down the difference between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. The Living Force is the active, current present of reality. Being mindful of the Living Force involves keeping concentration on the here and now, rather than letting anxieties about the future come at the expense of the present moment. Essentially it means that to be attuned with the Living Force a Force user must be aware to what he/she is feeling in the moment. The Living Force feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding all living things together. That includes the past, present, and future. The Cosmic Force is the entire history of Force. The people, places, things, and events that are touched by the Force are forever inscribed within it.
If this concept is still unclear, try looking at it with this computer analogy: The Force itself is one all-encompassing device in which everything happens within, the Living Force is what is actively running when you use the computer, and the Cosmic Force is the complete system’s log with a history you can never entirely delete.
More specifically, the Living Force is what you would use daily (Internet, word processing, Twitter, etc.) and as you use the computer everything that is done is written onto the history of the computer in the background. The history of the computer is equivalent to the Cosmic Force. Your past usage on the computer is already stored, your current activity is being added to it and, if someone were to look at your usage habits, he/she could potentially predict what you may do next (Force visions of the future).
Now to explain how the midi-chlorians fit into all of this. Not only do the they help a Force user connect to the Force, but with proper training he/she can learn how to use midi-chlorians keep his/her consciousness alive after death. It is the direct link between the midi-chlorians and the Force which allows the possibility for a Jedi to become a Force ghost. This can occur because the Living Force, the Cosmic Force, and midi-chlorians are all intertwined. Yoda discovers that he will be able to learn the secrets of how to use the midi-chlorians to create an “active link” after death between the Living Force and Cosmic Force.
Using the computer analogy again: Force users actively use the Living Force, mainly feeding information into the Cosmic Force, but it is possible to use the midi-chlorians to “write” a new “program” which allows the information to travel between the two more interactively. This is why Qui-Gon is able to affect the environment around Yoda when he first makes contact in The Clone Wars. Even though his memory and essence reside in the Cosmic Force, he is able to affect the Living Force because he has ”written the program” which allows him to pass between the two as more than just an echo or a memory.
The Living Force, the Cosmic Force, and the midi-chlorians are the most important “members” of the Force family tree. If you understand how they function as one unit you will be able to grasp how everything else falls into place below them.
When you start to look at things like the light side and dark side of the Force, the Jedi, the Sith, the Nightsisters and even the Bendu, you need to keep in mind they are all IDEAS within the concept of the Force. The light side is associated with calmness, being used for knowledge and defense, while the dark side focuses on accessing the Force through negative emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, and aggression. Neither side is inherently part of the Force itself. They are different philosophies in which users of the Force practice. The Bendu does not subscribe to either main philosophy. He is not in the light or the dark; he is connected to the Force itself without tapping into one specific emotion to channel it.
The Jedi and Sith are just a category under the ideas of the light and dark side. Both have a connection to the Force, but the Force would still exist even if they didn’t. The Force was around before someone decided to create the idea of the Jedi or Sith and it will be there long after they are all gone.
Now, let’s picture the top couple of Force family tree as one picture. The Jedi and Sith are branches that fall underneath the light side and dark side layer, which fall under the Living and Cosmic Force layer. The Force is the top layer in which everything else MUST grow from while connecting via the midi-chlorians. The only absolutes that never change within the concept of the Force are the midi-chlorians, the Living Force, and the Cosmic Force. Everything else is just an idea or dogma that has been created by someone at some point as a way to understand and teach the Force. How important these ideas are really just depends a person’s opinion from their “certain point of view.”
Hopefully that helps explain how the Force itself is structured. Being able to see how the Force works within itself will give you a solid foundation when exploring Force topics in the future.