Since everyone on the internet is talking about Star Wars now, and I am obsessed with being cool, I’ll join in on the fun. As of the writing of this article, I’m 1 hour away from when I first saw Episode 7, and things said and done in that movie have made my brain gears turn. This is in many ways a continuation of my first Star Wars article (well technically second), but in many more ways it’s its own topic. Yes, today I will not talk about game design and will instead geek out about what I believe is at the heart of the Star Wars mythos: The Force. The format of this article has been hard for me to figure out, so I’m just going to talk about each thing I want to rather than construct a flowing narrative. K? K.
Let’s get the boring real-world stuff out of the way first. The Force is based on Buddhism (with some Taoism thrown in for good measure), and reflects some of George Lucas’ Buddhist views. This is all well-documented and there’s not much that I can add beyond telling you a little story—the story of the Buddha. You see, Buddha was a man that gave up all materialism and pretty much anything else that could make you happy: yes, like that Simpson’s gag. After this life of 100% goodness brought him much suffering (like collapsing from lack of food), he determined it was the wrong path, and that you need a balance. Instead of giving up all worldy things, give up some, essentially. This is why Buudhism is about balance and being in the middle.
Now think about that for a moment and realize that the only reason he determined that 100% goodness wasn’t working was because of the world. A body needs nourishment, to live in a society you need to earn a wage etc. It’s not that completely depriving one’s self isn’t good, it’s that the world prevents one from being completely good, and this may come by way of you losing your home, or your body simply giving out. This is a crucial thing to remember as it applies to the Force, and I’ll come back to it later, so just keep it in your mind.
Time for the juicy in-universe stuff. I could go into so much detail about the different aspects of the force, like the Living and the Unifying, but that stuff isn’t really that concrete anymore with the canon reboot, so I’m just going to talk about the things that are.
Midi-chlorians are microbes found in all living cells that allow a living being to feel the Force around them and manipulate it. They’re essentially mystic mitochondria.
A lot of people think this is Lucas explaining the Force, and thus ruining the magic of it, but I’ve never subscribed to that train of thought. We know midi-chlorians allow you to use the Force, but what exactly does that say about the Force other than you need midi-chlorians to use it? Is magic in Harry Potter cheapened because you need wands to cast spells? That’s essentially what midi-chlorians are: just a wand that lets the wizards called the Jedi and Sith use their magic called the Force.
This is actually a brilliant concept to introduce to the verse. It limits the number of Force-sensitives that can be around and makes it conceivable that there’s not many alive by the time of A New Hope. If everyone could use the Force, and all it took was belief, then there’s no way that people would doubt the Force exists just because the Jedi were 19 years removed from the galaxy. However, with there only being a few thousand trained force-sensitives in a galaxy of trillions, and those sensitives have been unheard from for 2 decades, it suddenly becomes more logical that the Force became a myth, doesn’t it?
Bringing Balance to the Force
This is a core concept in the Star Wars universe that you hear echoed so many times you want to punch the person saying it in the face, but what does it actually mean? Well, let’s start from an in-universe place.
There it’s spelled out that the only way to bring balance to the Force is the elimination of the dark side. Not much more to add here, so let’s go to the out of universe explanation by George Lucas:
“[…] Which brings us up to the films 4, 5, and 6, in which Anakin’s offspring redeem him and allow him to fulfill the prophecy where he brings balance to the Force by doing away with the Sith and getting rid of evil in the universe…“
From The Mythology of Star Wars with George Lucas and Bill Moyers, Lucas compared the difference between the light and dark sides as being like the difference between a symbiotic relationship, where both parties benefit, and a cancer, where only one benefits and eventually leads to the death of both.
All of this brings me to The Force Awakens. The Force was not at all developed or even used much in this movie, but a line by Han took me out of the movie. “There’s a force that keeps the balance between good and evil.” Now you can just disregard that as Han not knowing much about the Force, but the fact that the movie kept using “light” and “dark” throughout the movie, usually in reference to Kylo Ren, I think this is just something I need to get out there.
The Force is not Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang is a Taoist philosophy that says conflicting natures are actually interconnected and complementary, feeding off and giving rise to the other. It says both are equally important and each needs the other to survive. It’s a cool concept, but not one for Star Wars. In Star Wars, there is only the Force, and the Dark Side of the Force. There is no “light side”. This might seem like arguing semantics, but it’s actually an important distinction. By not calling it a “light side,” you kill the idea that it’s complementary to the Dark Side.
Dooku: The truth. What if I told you that the Republic is now under the control of the Dark Lords of the Sith?
Kenobi: No, that’s not possible! The Jedi would be aware it!
Dooku: The Dark Side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend. Hundreds of senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious.
Kenobi: I don’t believe you.
The Force is all there is, and the dark side is the cancer that eats away at it and clouds the vision of those that subscribe to the Force. There is no balance if there is a Dark Side, and that’s something I hope the movies going forward will not forget, otherwise they’d be doing the one thing Lucas hopes they don’t: turn the Force into gobbledygook.
Now remember that bit about Buddha finding balance and how it was only because 100% goodness was impossible because of worldly constraints? Well in the world of Star Wars, 100% goodness isn’t a concept that’s limited, because 100% goodness in the force is defined as getting rid of the Sith. There is no need for a middle ground where both Jedi and Sith exist, because killing the evil of the Sith brings balance.
Look out for my fanboy review in the coming week after my colleague, Rob, gives a proper review of the movie. My article then will serve as a companion piece to this one, and will be rife with spoilers. See you then.