In addition to Jar Jar, one of the more controversial aspects of THE PHANTOM MENACE (“controversial” here meaning a minority of vocal fanboys whining online) is Lucas’ introduction of midichlorians. According to the film, “Midichlorians are a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells. And we are symbionts with them. Without the midichlorians, life could not exist. And we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.”
Until 1999, the Force was “an energy field that surrounds all living things. It’s surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.” It was broadly defined and a bit vague, but still offered a slightly space age twist on God by defining it as an “energy field.” And for 22 years that was about all fans thought they needed to know.
Then TPM came along and “raped” some people’s childhoods.
The complaint is that the concept of midichlorians cheapens the concept of the Force by introducing a scientific element (apparently, “energy field” is sufficiently New Agey not to count as science). The Force is now just critters in the blood. The argument is also that they’re unnecessary. We don’t need to know the science behind why Jedi can use the Force and others cannot any more than we need to know why Harry Potter can use magic and a Muggle cannot. Some just have it and some don’t.
To be honest, I agree.
I’ve always thought one of great decisions Lucas made while conceiving STAR WARS was that not everything needed to be explained. We don’t need to know how hyperspace or a lightsaber or a spaceship work — they just do (until the story requires that they don’t). Lucas developed this idea in film school while watching foreign films, particularly Japanese samurai films. Outsiders watching those films don’t know the culture, the history or the symbolism that the characters take for granted and the film doesn’t pause to spell it out. That creates a sense of exotic realism at the heart of the Star Wars concept. The opening crawl takes the audience to a galaxy far, far away. After that, we’re on our own.
At the same time, the Force has never been as pure and broad and simple a concept as it first appeared. When Obi-Wan first gives Anakin’s lightsaber to Luke, the symbolic implication is that Luke’s path is a birthright. In EMPIRE, it seems clear that the path to using the Force is through training. Luke couldn’t pick up rocks and droids with his mind until Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him the trick.
At the end of EMPIRE, however, Luke makes telepathic contact with Leia through the Force to save his life. Could Luke have contacted anyone else, or was Leia the only option? Because if Luke could ONLY make contact with Leia, and Leia hasn’t had any training in the Force, then clearly sharing Luke’s biology had its privileges. Then in RETURN OF THE JEDI , Luke tells Leia, “The Force runs strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. And my sister has it.” Leia has never been trained. She’s an otherwise normal human being. Yet, by virtue of her birth, she can use the Force.
It’s in her blood.
Midichlorians only give a name to a concept that already existed. There is, and always was, a biological component to the Force. The fact that it could be detected by mechanical means and measured on a scale was something new. Apparently that was the line fanboys could not cross. The fact that the Force could be passed from father to son and daughter is okay – just don’t tell us how.
Could Lucas have told the same story without midichlorians?
Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt.
The comparison to Harry Potter is apt. We don’t need to know why some can use magic and others can’t. And we don’t need to know why Jedi can use the Force or why their children might inherit the ability. They just do. And I suspect Lucas knows this. He’s smart enough to know what he needs to explain and what he doesn’t. The whole Star Wars saga is based in this principle.
So why did Lucas go WAY out of his way to add something that doesn’t NEED to be added?
Actually, fanatics in general. Specifically, religious fanatics.
When ANH became an unexpected blockbuster in 1977, Lucas became a household name and a millionaire. He made an impact on culture and created a modern mythology. The film’s success, however, also brought out the crazies. Sci-fi fans have never been known for their social skills or subtlety, but Star Wars REALLY appeals to the unstable. One well-known story is that of the person who showed up at Lucasfilm’s L.A. office to insist HE actually wrote Star Wars. As proof, so the story goes, he claimed to have the Millennium Falcon parked in the parking lot. Other fans wrote Alec Guiness for advice about their lives and blessings from the Force.
No wonder Guiness was hesitant to even talk about Star Wars in later years.
I confess that I think about Star Wars way too much. But I also know it’s a movie and a hobby. It’s not my religion. Unfortunately, there are some who want it to be theirs.
Francis Coppola famously encouraged his friend, George, to actually make the Force a true religion. In some places around the world, some have even tried to do just that. In Australia, devotees petitioned the government to make “Jedi” an officially recognized theology. Since Lucas works in the film business, and lives in Marin County, one of the nation’s hot-spots for hippie-dippy spiritualism and New Age crapola, he is no doubt familiar with people who dabble in bizarre and alternative forms of spirituality.
Fortunately, Lucas rejected Coppola’s suggestion. He seems content to raise his family, make movies and pursue his own agenda. If he has a spiritual side, he keeps it mostly to himself. He’s thankfully not interested in setting that particular agenda for others. But he surely knows that others have been — and will continue to be — interested in turning the Force into a religion. And he only has one lifetime to nip it in the bud.
I’m convinced midichlorians now exist because George Lucas doesn’t want to become L. Ron Hubbard. He doesn’t want anyone, well-intentioned or not, turning the Force into a religion after his death. Religion is often used for good, but it can also be used to hurt. Religion often leads to rigid orthodoxy and power struggles. It becomes political. And Lucas wants no part of it.
Midichlorians are George Lucas’ way of clearly stating to the world: “STAR WARS is fiction. It’s not real. Don’t try to make it something it’s not. It’s a story.”
For that, Lucas should be congratulated, not condemned.