Moreso even than lightsabers, Jedi and the Millennium Falcon, one element of the Star Wars universe is synonymous with the franchise: The Force. This mysterious power has been featured in nearly every film in the series. It has been a cornerstone of the galaxy's mythology since the release of the original STAR WARS in 1977. By now, we’ve seen many of the amazing feats Force users can pull off… but what exactly is the Force?
Now that we've had a chance to fully consider the implications of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, we wanted to delve into the most powerful element in the STAR WARS galaxy. What is it, and what can it do? Let's break down how the Force works.
In STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, Obi-Wan Kenobi described the Force as an ever-present power. It is, he says, the energy that holds the galaxy together, created and hosted by every living being in the universe. To put it plainly, the Force is a giant energy field that produces and preserves life.
We got a slightly different perspective on things in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. Luke paraphrases his first lesson about the Force when he tells Rey that it is "the energy between all things, a tension, a balance that binds the universe together." More importantly, a tuned-in Rey finally sees that balance in action, describing "the islands, birds. Death and decay... that feeds new life. Warm, cold. Peace, violence." All of which suggests that the Force isn't just another layer of energy on top of everything in the universe — it is everything in the universe, period.
While the STAR WARS films typically focus on a small group of people able to use the Force — the Jedi and Sith, and a handful of others, such as the monk Chirrut Îmwe, from ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, or even Supreme Leader Snoke — technically, anyone can tap into that field of power. Doing so just requires a bit of sensitivity. In the Prequels, creator George Lucas attempted to define precisely how one person might be more Force-sensitive than another by introducing the midi-chlorians.
In STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn describes midi-chlorians as microscopic lifeforms that live inside the cells of every living creature. They create a mutually beneficial symbiosis, which, for some people, opens the door to the power of the Force. That doesn’t mean midi-chlorians are the same thing as the Force. They’re essentially conduits for it. As Qui-Gon explains, they help people understand the will of the Force. The Jedi had used blood tests to measure a person's midi-chlorian count. The higher the count, the greater that person’s connection to the Force.
Essentially, think of the Force as a locked vault filled with riches, and think of the midi-chlorians as the key that unlocks that vault — but only for a certain few. Whether or not you want to think about little Force conduit creatures in Luke Skywalker's bloodstream, the end effect is the same. Some people are more attuned to this universal energy field than others. Regardless of whether they become Jedi, those people can use the Force unconsciously (like the young boy seen at the end of THE LAST JEDI) and can deploy real powers with a bit of active training and effort.
The Force allows those with high midi-chlorian counts to do some pretty impressive stuff. One of the most powerful abilities at the disposal of Force-sensitive people is telekinesis, aka the ability to move things with their mind. This ranges from lifting common objects, like a piece of fruit, to moving massively heavy objects, like an X-Wing fighter sunk in a swamp.
There’s also the classic Jedi mind trick, which we’ve seen in action in A NEW HOPE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES and THE FORCE AWAKENS. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a reliable option during dire situations. Force users also have a sort of sixth sense that allows them to sense bad things happening to others, and in the case of people like Anakin Skywalker, even glimpse into the future.
The degree to which a person is Force-sensitive can also affect how powerful they eventually become. Rey is extremely sensitive, so her first encounters with the Force unlocked a level of power that more experienced users might never attain. As Luke's twin, Leia is certainly Force-sensitive, but we've never seen much evidence that she trained herself to harness her power — until she is pulled from the brink of death in THE LAST JEDI. Director Rian Johnson has said that feat was an instinctual act performed unconsciously, to protect herself in an extreme situation.
THE RISE OF SKYWALKER demonstrates that the Emperor had powers that went well beyond anything we have seen before. In the movie, we see that he indeed survived his supposed death at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI, and that he was able to create Supreme Leader Snoke as a clone puppet of sorts.
Furthermore, the film's official novelization reveals that the Emperor had prepared for an uprising by Darth Vader — all Sith masters are fated to be attacked by their apprentices, after all — by preparing the skill to project his consciousness into a distant vessel. In his case, that vessel was a clone of himself. (In fact, one of the Emperor's other test clones became Rey's father.) In the end the Emperor's power to transfer his consciousness did not save him, but it represents a development of other powers we've seen on the big screen.
Of course, being fiction, there are no precise rules as to how Force powers actually work. In truth, the stories are stronger that way. A little bit of wonder and mystery go a long way towards creating an enthralling fictional landscape — and keeps us guessing at how the filmmakers behind each new STAR WARS film will envision new uses for the Force.
All images courtesy of Lucasfilm & walt Disney Pictures.