The Force is a metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the Star Wars fictional universe. It is wielded by characters throughout the franchise: heroes like the Jedi use the "light side" of the Force, while the Sith and other villians exploit the "dark side". The Force has been compared to aspects of several world religions, and the phrase "May the Force be with you" has become part of the popular culture vernacular.
George Lucas created the concept of the Force to address character and plot developments in Star Wars (1977). He also wanted to "awaken a certain kind of spirituality" in young audiences, suggesting a belief in God without endorsing any specific religion. He developed the Force as a nondenominational religious concept, "distill[ed from] the essence of all religions", premised on the existence of God and distinct ideas of good and evil. Lucas said that there is a conscious choice between good and bad, and "the world works better if you're on the good side". In 1970s San Francisco, where Lucas lived when he wrote the drafts that became Star Wars, New Age ideas that incorporated the concept of qi and other notions of a mystical life-force were "in the air" and widely embraced.
Lucas used the term the Force to "echo" its use by cinematographer Roman Kroitor in 21-87 (1963), in which Kroitor says, "Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God". Although Lucas had Kroitor's line in mind specifically, Lucas said the underlying sentiment is universal and that "similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years".
The first draft of Star Wars makes two references to "the Force of Others" and does not explain the concept: King Kayos utters the blessing "May the Force of Others be with you all", and he later says "I feel the Force also". The power of the Force of Others is kept secret by the Jedi Bendu of the Ashla, an "aristocratic cult" in the second draft. The second draft offers a lengthy explanation of the Force of Others and introduces its Ashla light side and Bogan dark side. The Ashla and Bogan are mentioned 10 and 31 times, respectively, and the Force of Others plays a more prominent role in the story. In this draft, Luke Starkiller's mission is to retrieve the Kiber Crystal, which can intensify either the Ashla or Bogan powers. The film's shorter third draft has no references to the Ashla, but it mentions the Bogan eight times and Luke is still driven to recover the Kiber Crystal.
Lucas finished the fourth and near-final draft on January 1, 1976. This version trims "the Force of Others" to "the Force", makes a single reference to the Force's seductive "dark side", distills an explanation of the Force to 28 words, and eliminates the Kiber Crystal. Producer Gary Kurtz, who studied comparative religion in college, had long discussions with Lucas about religion and philosophy throughout the writing process. Kurtz told Lucas he was unhappy with drafts in which the Force was connected with the Kiber Crystal, and he was also dissatisfied with the early Ashla and Bogan concepts.
Lucas and screenwriter Leigh Brackett decided that the Force and the Emperor would be the main concerns in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The focus on the Emperor was later shifted to the third film, Return of the Jedi (1983), and the dark side of the Force was treated as The Empire Strikes Back's main villain.
The Phantom Menace (1999) introduces midi-chlorians to explain some characters' Force sensitivity, although Lucas discussed the idea of microscopic creatures connecting characters to the Force as early as August 1977. Lucas based the concept on symbiogenesis, calling midi-chlorians a "loose depiction" of mitochondria. He further said:
[Mitochondria] probably had something – which will come out someday – to do with the beginnings of life and how one cell decided to become two cells with a little help from this other little creature who came in, without whom life couldn't exist. And it's really a way of saying we have hundreds of little creatures who live on us, and without them, we all would die. There wouldn't be any life. They are necessary for us; we are necessary for them. Using them in the metaphor, saying society is the same way, says we all must get along with each other.
After selling Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, Lucas said his biggest concern about the franchise's future was the Force being "muddled into a bunch of gobbledegook". When writing The Force Awakens (2015) with Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams respected that Lucas had established midi-chlorians' effect on some characters' ability to use the Force. As a child, though, he interpreted Obi-Wan Kenobi's explanation of the Force in Star Wars to mean that any character could use its power, and that the Force was more grounded in spirituality than science. Abrams retained the idea of the Force having a light and a dark side, and some characters' seduction by the dark side helps create conflict for the story. Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm Story Group gave his "blessing" to writer-director Rian Johnson to introduce a new Force power in The Last Jedi (2017) "if the story required it and if it felt like it stretches into new territory but doesn’t break the idea of what the Force can do". Johnson observed that every Star Wars movie introduces new Force powers to meet that film's story needs.
Star Wars Rebels producer Dave Filoni cites several influences on how the Force is used in the show. The character Bendu — named in homage to the term Lucas originally associated with the Jedi — does not align with the franchise's normal dark-or-light duality, and this role is an extension of Filoni's conversations with Lucas about the nature of the Force. Filoni credits the prequel films for better developing the concept of the Force, particularly the idea of a balance between the light and dark sides.
Obi-Wan Kenobi describes the Force as "an energy field created by all living things" in Star Wars. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn says microscopic lifeforms called midi-chlorians, which exist inside all living cells, allow some characters to be Force-sensitive; characters must have a high enough midi-chlorian count to feel and use the Force.
In 1981, Lucas compared using the Force to yoga, saying any character can use its power. Dave Filoni said in 2015 that all Star Wars characters are "Force intuitive": some characters, like Luke Skywalker, are aware of their connection to the Force, while characters such as Han Solo draw upon the Force unconsciously. Filoni said the most potent Force users are characters with a natural affinity for using the Force, as indicated by their midi-chlorian count, who undertake intense training and discipline. Rogue One (2016) portrays the Force more as a religion "than simply a way to manipulate objects and people". In the years following the Great Jedi Purge depicted in the prequel trilogy, some characters have lost faith in the Force, and the Galactic Empire hunts down surviving Jedi and other Force-sensitive characters. By the time of the events in The Force Awakens, some characters think the Jedi and the Force are myths.
Some Force-sensitive characters can derive special, psychic abilities from it, such as telekinesis, mind control, and extrasensory perception. The Force is sometimes referred to in terms of "dark" and "light" sides, with villains like the Sith drawing on the dark side to act aggressively while the Jedi use the light side for defense and peace. According to Filoni, Lucas believed a character's intentions when using the Force — their "willingness or will to be selfless or selfish" — is what distinguishes light and dark sides. The Force is also used by characters who are neither Jedi nor Sith, such as Leia Organa and Kylo Ren. Characters throughout the franchise use their Force powers in myriad ways, including Obi-Wan using a "mind trick" to undermine a stormtrooper's will, Darth Vader choking subordinates without touching them, Luke Skywalker having a vision of the future, and Kylo Ren stopping blaster fire mid-air. The Force allows "ghosts" of some deceased characters to interact with the living, and Obi-Wan's ghost provides Luke Skywalker with guidance at "critical moments" in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Film and television use of the Force is sometimes accompanied by a sound effect, such as a "deep rumble" associated with the dark side or a more high-pitched sound associated with benevolent use.
The Force plays an important role in several Star Wars plot lines. Anakin Skywalker's rise as a light-side Jedi, descent into becoming the Sith Lord Darth Vader, and ultimate redemption to the light side of the Force is the main story arc for the first six Star Wars films. Yoda's arc in the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–2014) depicts him exploring "bigger questions" about the Force and taking various inspirations from the franchise's expanded universe. In The Force Awakens, Finn's exposure to the Force helps make him question his upbringing. writer Rian Johnson used the Force to allow Rey and Kylo Ren to communicate in The Last Jedi, developing the characters' relationship.
Chris Taylor called the Force "largely a mystery" in Star Wars. Taylor ascribes the "more poetic, more spiritual ... and more demonstrative" descriptions of the Force in The Empire Strikes Back to Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the film, but says the film does little to expand audiences' understanding of it. In 1997, Lucas said that the more detail he articulated about the Force and how it works, the more it took away from its core meaning. Kotaku suggests Johnson depicted more nuance in the Force in The Last Jedi than Lucas did in his films. According to Rob Weinert-Kendt, the "Force theme" in John Williams' score represents the power and responsibility of wielding the Force.
In his 1977 review of Star Wars, Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the Force "a mixture of what appears to be ESP and early Christian faith". The Magic of Myth compares the sharp distinction between the good "light side" and evil "dark side" of the Force to Zoroastrianism, which posits that "good and evil, like light and darkness, are contrary realities". The connectedness between the light and dark sides has been compared to the relationship between yin and yang in Taoism, although the balance between yin and yang lacks the element of evil associated with the dark side. Taylor identifies other similarities between the Force and a Navajo prayer, prana, and qi. It is a common plot device in jidaigeki films like The Hidden Fortress (1958), which inspired Star Wars, for samurai who master qi to achieve astonishing feats of swordsmanship. Taylor added that the lack of detail about the Force makes it "a religion for the secular age". According to Jennifer Porter, professor of religious studies at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, "the Force is a metaphor for godhood that resonates and inspires within [people] a deeper commitment to the godhood identified within their traditional faith".
Paranormal abilities like the Force are a common device in science fiction, and the Force has been compared to the role magic plays in the fantasy genre. The Star Wars films illustrate that characters not familiar with the particulars of the Force associate it with mysticism and magic, such as when an Imperial officer alludes to Darth Vader's "sorcerer's ways". Christina Flotmann distinguishes between the depiction of the Force in the Star Wars franchise and the depiction of magic in the Harry Potter fantasy series, and she describes the Force as a spiritual energy.
Eric Charles points out that the television films Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985), intended for children, are "fairy tales in a science fiction setting". These films feature magic and other fairy tale motifs rather than the Force and science fiction tropes. Mark Clark said the Ewok Adventure films depict "sorcery" that is completely different from the Force powers depicted in the original and prequel Star Wars films. The A.V. Club said The Last Jedi depicts the Force "closer to the sorcery of fairy tales and medieval romance than it’s ever been".
Astrophysicist Jeanne Cavelos says in The Science of Star Wars that the Force raises questions that scientists have long asked. She points out that the ancient Greeks explored the idea of a "fifth element" that permeated and connected everything in the universe, and that Isaac Newton proposed that the human brain might be able to trigger waves in the ether, giving humans psychic powers. Cavelos's sources are mostly skeptical about a "real world" explanation for the Force, but they explore ideas in areas such as quantum physics, parapsychology, and the notion of science so advanced that it appears magical. Explaining the Force is particularly difficult, Cavelos says, because "it does so many different things". Several scientists have said it is best not to try to explain how the Force works.
Cavelos says the Force "suggests a universe quite different than the one we think we're living in", and that some unknown fields or particles might explain the Force. Cavelos believes vacuum energy is one option to power physical Force feats, and she says a fifth force beyond the four fundamental interactions might account for the Force. Flavio Fenton of the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Physics suggests a fifth force would carry two types of charge — one for the light side and one for the dark — and that each would be carried by its own particle. Nepomuk Otte, also from Georgia Tech, cautions that Newton's third law of motion says telekinesis would apply a force back on the Force-wielding character. Force powers like precognition are challenging to explain because of the implied time travel of information, but Cavelos suggests tachyons traveling faster than light might carry such information. Cavelos explores the possibility of brain implants or sensors being used to detect users' intent and manipulate energy fields to control the Force. Michio Kaku says Luke Skywalker's Jedi training on Dagobah might involve learning to control brain waves, and Cavelos compares such discipline to contemporary patients learning to control prosthetics.
National Geographic compared the Higgs boson's role as "carrier" of the Higgs field to the way Jedi are "carriers" of the Force. A previsualization video highlighting the idea of "kicking someone's ass with the Force" steered LucasArts game designers toward producing The Force Unleashed (2008), which sold six million copies as of July 2009. In 2009, Uncle Milton Toys released a Force Trainer that used electroencephalography to read users' beta waves.
The New Republic, Townhall, The Atlantic, and others have compared various political machinations to the "Jedi mind trick", a Force power used to undermine opponents' perceptions and willpower.
Practitioners of Jediism pray to and express gratitude to the Force. io9 described a kind message to a fan from Mark Hamill, who portrays Luke Skywalker, as an example of the light side of the Force.
And then there is that distressing thing called the Force, which is ... Lucas's tribute to something beyond science: imagination, the soul, God in man ... It appears in various contradictory and finally nonsensical guises, a facile and perfunctory bow to metaphysics. I wish that Lucas had had the courage of his materialistic convictions, instead dragging in a sop to a spiritual force the main thrust of the movie so cheerfully ignores.
Critic Tim Robley compared the Force to the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939), with both being entities that send the protagonist on a quest. In her 1980 Washington Post review of The Empire Strikes Back, Judith Martin described the Force as "a mishmash of current cultic fashions without any base in ideas. It doesn't seem to be connected with ethics or a code of decent behavior, either."
The introduction of midi-chlorians in The Phantom Menace was controversial, with Evan Narcisse of Time writing that the concept ruined Star Wars for him and a generation of fans because "the mechanisms of the Force became less spiritual and more scientific". Film historian Daniel Dinello argued, "Anathema to Star Wars fanatics who thought they reduced the Force to a kind of viral infection, midi-chlorians provide a biological interface, the link between physical bodies and spiritual energy." Referring to "midi-chlorians" became a screenwriting shorthand for over-explaining a concept. Although Chris Taylor suggested fans want less detail, not more, in explaining the Force, the introduction of midi-chlorians provided depth to the franchise and fomented engagement among fans and franchise writers. Religion expert John D. Caputo writes, "In the 'Gospel according to Lucas' a world is conjured up in which the intractable oppositions that have tormented religious thinkers for centuries are reconciled ... The gifts that the Jedi masters enjoy have a perfectly plausible scientific basis, even if its ways are mysterious".
Characters' faith in the Force reinforces the Rogue One's message of hope. The A.V. Club said Rian Johnson's depiction of the Force in The Last Jedi goes "beyond George Lucas’ original transcendental concept". Polygon said Johnson's film "democratize[s] the Force", depicting Force sensitivity in characters from outside a "Force-sensitive lineage" and suggesting that the Force can be used by anyone.
Several Star Wars characters say "May the Force be with you" (or derivatives of it) and the expression has become a popular catchphrase. In 2005, "May the Force be with you" was chosen as number 8 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list. May 4 is Star Wars Day, taken from the pun "May the Fourth be with you". The expression was intentionally similar to the Christian dominus vobiscum, "the Lord be with you".
President Ronald Reagan in 1985 said "the Force is with us", referring to the United States, to create the Strategic Defense Initiative to protect against Soviet ballistic missiles. Some weeks earlier, Reagan had compared the Soviets to the Galactic Empire. The Gospel According to Star Wars asserts that Reagan's invocation of the Force
was actually perverting [Star Wars]'s "self-dispossessing" (or other-focused) ethos. [The] blessing "May the Force be with you" is the expression of a hope for others ("May the Force be with you"), not for ourselves as with Reagan ("The Force is with us"). Moreover, the [Star Wars] blessing is precisely a request for hope for others ("May the Force be with you"), whereas Reagan's claim sounds like a possessive assertion ("The Force is with us").
The scripts for the prequel, which Lucas is finishing now, make it clear that Star Wars, taken as a whole story and viewed in chronological order, is not really the story of Luke at all but the story of Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, and how he, a Jedi Knight, was corrupted by the dark side of the Force and became Darth Vader. When I asked Lucas what Star Wars was ultimately about, he said, “Redemption.”
...perhaps there are some wonders in Star Wars that we don’t need to explain.
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