The Monday Morning Copilot: Forcing The Issue
We need to have a talk about the Force. This may not be the most popular sentiment in the galaxy, but I think we have gone too far.
Growing up with the original trilogy our knowledge of the Force was limited. We knew five characters who used it, we understood it had a light and dark side, we saw that it granted superhuman powers to those who used it, and we had some basic rules for how Jedi should use it laid out by Obi-Wan and Yoda.
The beauty of George Lucas’ creation of the Force is that it does a couple of things simultaneously in the story. The inclusion of the concept of the Force pushes the storytelling away from science fiction and towards a more fantastic and mythological form. The Force also provides a flavor of religion and spirituality into the storytelling; this is important because it makes the Star Wars universe feel more complete and more real. It creates a mystery for both the viewers and the character of Luke Skywalker to discover and attempt to understand, as he explores the Force, he reveals more of it to us. The Force serves as the center of the Jedi Bushido that Obi-Wan and Yoda try to teach to Luke. Finally the Force allows for interesting storytelling moments that wouldn’t have the same import without it. Finally, it provides great story telling moments, characters sensing each other across space and even communicating, Obi-Wan disappearing, the X-wing lifting, Force lightning, these are all moments that capture the imagination.
There is a beauty in simplicity. Accepting that the Force exists in the Star Wars universe, exploring how impacts the characters, but not trying to explain its “origins” or every aspect of it.
I understand the instinct to expand and deepen storytelling regarding the Force. It is human nature, we are curious, we like to know more, we like to keep digging, we are searching for truth and proof. But perhaps Bendu is correct when he says, “Once a secret is known it cannot be unknown.”
Whether it is Nubbs, Jedi Scanners, Midi-chlorians, Mortis, the Lost Missions Yoda arc, The Force Unleashed, beyond shadows, Abeloth, and now Bendu, it seems to me that Star Wars veers off course when it delves too deep in trying to explain or justify the Force.
In one direction is the attempts to make the Force real by grounding it in-universe with fake science, crashing into science fiction. This cheapens the Force. The Force isn’t about biology; it is about philosophy. It isn’t what you are; it is what you do. This communicates a classic moral lesson that spans history and cultures. When Lucas and others delved deep into “science” it distracts from this simple truth. It also cuts short the childhood imaginings that anybody might be able to feel the Force and through training become a Jedi.
In the other direction is delving to deeply into the mythic aspects of the Force and pulling those aspects of the Force into the current reality. Star Wars is often talked about having a lived-in universe. There is a grounded nature to the universe despite the fantastic elements. If you push too far in this direction it breaks the narrative world. This manifests itself in a couple ways. Taking stories that take place in fantastical settings and with fantastical characters that don’t resemble “reality” in the Star Wars universe is problematic. The Mortis and Yoda arcs on The Clone Wars work fine if it is clear that they were visions or dreams, but once they are explicitly or implicitly taken as actually happening we have gone to far (Looking at you, Fate of the Jedi series). The other way this manifests is the inclusion of characters such as the Force Wielders on Mortis, Bendu and Starkiller who posses powers and abilities in the Force that verge on omnipotence. The overpowered nature of these characters takes Star Wars storytelling too far in the fantasy direction. These are figures best left to myth and in-universe legends.
It is between these two directions that storytelling regarding the Force in the Star Wars universe rings most true to me.
It occurs to me that it is always easier to craft a mystery than it is to create a satisfying answer, that often the tease is more thrilling than the full reveal, and sometimes in storytelling less is more. In the end it matters less to me what the Force is, and more that it is. Something that I hope creators involved in Star Wars think about going forward.