I wish to discuss something I have noticed for a long time now, however I have yet to take the time to write any of it down. The topic today, as many of you can probably tell, is Star Wars. The deep dive this time will be into the true meaning of the Force, namely how it changes between forms of media, and what through lines persist.
The films are probably the best place to begin with the concept of the Force and how it influences the story. Of course, when talking about the energy that binds us as it behaves in the Star Wars movies, it’s difficult not to break that down at least a small bit further. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go further than trilogy by trilogy – and I will be leaving out the anthology films for the time being.
Let’s begin with the original trilogy and work our way through our chronology. So what did the Force mean from 1977-’83 on the big screen? It meant the spirit. The Force did not necessarily represent the spirit of an individual – although that is a theme in these movies. The Force persists as the mystical aid, the galaxy’s spirit; this is the power that one must surrender to in order to work in synergy with a greater power. Wherein the context of superheroes, one’s power must be obtained and/or unlocked, the Force is a power that exists throughout the galaxy and one must get out of its way in order to work alongside the Force. Above all, in the original three films, the Force was a philosophy; and there was a right way to follow it, and a wrong way.
Now in 1999, this understanding shifted in certain key respects with the advent of midichlorians. There are certain corners of the industry and the internet that seem to think that Lucas had the idea of the Force working through tiny cells living in everything from way back in the ’70s. However, since he has not spoken on this subject, and he isn’t exactly answering fan mail anymore, we must take our knowledge from the available material. The prequel trilogy made the Force measurable and testable: it was less of a philosophical understanding and more of a practiced science. However, there was still a right and a wrong to this practice, which is something that was maintained from the original trilogy.
It’s time now to visit the most recent adventure of Star Wars films: the sequel trilogy, a journey that began in 2015 and just recently concluded in December 2019. A lot changed within the Force since both of the previous trilogies, and many things were forgotten. For instance, there is no mention of midichlorians in the sequel trilogy. To say whether or not this means a disagreement in story continuity, while an interesting query, is beside the point in this case. The main development that the sequel trilogy has brought to the Force is adjusting the right or wrong, black or white, binary view of things into an understanding that more closely resembles of spectrum. Another interesting deviation – or perhaps purposeful lack of thorough investigation – is that the sequel trilogy’s idea of the Force does not lean too far toward the spiritual or philosophical, just as it doesn’t lean too close to the practical scientific outlook.
In all three of these instances, it looks as though much of how the Force is portrayed is a veiled reflection of the times in which the films were made. The philosophy and spirituality of the original trilogy encapsulates a time through which America was struggling to find its soul once more. Fast forward to the turn of the century and the prequel trilogy when the world was looking to science and technology for all of the answers: the scientific midichlorians to convey the Force. Now, let us look at the most recent trilogy that just ended in an era of breaking traditional molds, overcoming binary definitions, and presenting things as more of a gamut with choices beyond this or that.
Ultimately, while the Force is presented on the surface as a steadfast feature of the Star Wars films, it is different in every era. Additionally, while we get a short glimpse at what the Force is and how it operates from the films, it is often the television shows, books, and comic series that give us the wider picture of what the Force is fundamentally capable of doing.