Friday, November 22, 2013

Creating Life

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

When George Lucas first conceived of the Force, he was drawing heavily from eastern philosophy, especially the concept of Chi or Qi. However, he added a bit of a twist: a biological component.

This was for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t want to turn into another L. Ron Hubbard and wanted to head off people trying to make a legitimate Jedi religion by making sure everybody knew he knew those telekinetic feats of the Force were strictly fantasy. Secondly, and perhaps much more importantly, he became fascinated with the idea of mitochondria, how an entire separate species of bacteria not only resides in all eukaryotic cells but is essential to that cell working. Lucas thought, what if in the galaxy far, far away, a strain of mitochondria evolved that allowed people to channel their life force, THE Force, to magical effect?

Lucas would call this strain Midi-Chlorians.

"The reading's off the charts! Over 20,000! Not even 'Twilight' has a hater count that high!"

It may surprise a lot of the most vehement bashers that Midi-Chlorians were part of the Star Wars universe since at least 1977, though they were never named until Phantom Menace and were only hinted at in material up to that point. Of course, like everything else, the concept evolved over the years.

The one consistent was that they reside in everyone’s cells. They allow the Force to flow freely in and out of a body, and to remove the Midi-Chlorians would be to remove life itself. This was true in 77, and it’s true today. However, what changed is the nature of how people used Midi-Chlorians to tap into the Force.

In the original concept of Star Wars, and what New Hope was operating under, was the idea that since everyone had Midi-Chlorians, anyone could potentially become a Jedi if they had the time and discipline needed to train, just like any martial art. However, even then it was clear that something was different about Luke Skywalker. Lucas held the original concept tight through Empire Strikes Back and even into early meetings for Return of the Jedi, but with the way the storyline was going he needed to explain how people like the Skywalker family could tap into the Force with little training and how people like, say, Han Solo for instance, could never be a Jedi.

"No. Just...No."

The answer that came to him was rather ingenious, and underlined the mystical property of the Force. The Force is stronger with certain people than with others, so what if the will of the Force causes the Midi-Chlorians in those people’s cells to multiply to absurd rates, thereby allowing larger conduit for the Force to manifest physically – with time and training, of course. 

So while life creates and grows the Force, the Force can also create and grow life. All through the Midi-Chlorians.

This is the payoff. This is the reason George Lucas decided to bring them up in the Phantom Menace. Why he established that they are symbiotic with life and why Anakin’s virgin birth symbolism was included.

So that it would all come together in Revenge of the Sith.

"Did you ever hear the tragedy of Anak - oh wait..."

Anakin Skywalker is an avatar of the Force. Like the light side, he has boundless love for people. However, like the dark side, this love often manifests in a possessive way, as he fears to lose those he loves. Fear of loss and anger at loss’ prevention has been the catalyst for all of Anakin’s dark acts up to this point. But the question remained: once Palpatine showed his true colors, what would prevent Anakin’s head from clearing enough to commit his atrocities and his final fall?

The chance for homeostasis through the Force.

"You die in childbirth..."

Seeing the vision of Padmé’s death set his entire attitude during Sith. It eats away at him, causing him to lash out when the Jedi inadvertently block him from his quest (like, for instance, denying him a mastership that would allow him to exhaustively search the restricted archives for a possible solution). So all Palpatine has to do is name-drop Darth Plagueis and his experiments to bore into Anakin’s mind that, maybe, the secret to saving his wife lies with Midi-Chlorian manipulation unheard of by the Jedi.

Of course, the real tragedy is that Anakin meets his destiny (or, rather, Padmé’s) on the road he takes to avoid it. But while watching the scene at the opera house, one of the most beautifully shot and acted “quiet” scenes in the Saga by the way, another question arises. If Darth Plagueis could influence the Midi-Chlorians to create life, and Anakin was conceived by the Midi-Chlorians…

…then did Darth Plagueis create Anakin?

"Are you my Mummy?"

It’s all left relatively ambiguous, even in Darth Plagueis’ very own expanded universe novel. There, it is implied that Plagueis’ experiments had some direct effect on Anakin’s creation, but to what end? Did Plagueis succeed in creating life, or was the Force so offended at his attempts that it created the Chosen One in retaliation? There’s enough circumstantial evidence to support either theory, and Anakin eventually fulfilled both groups’ prophecies, so in the end it’s up to which point of view gives you as a viewer the most meaning.

As for me, I like to think that Anakin is the Chosen One after all. From what I know of George Lucas, I’d wager he’d have the same preference because it reinforces that sense of fairy-tale hope. The powerful feeling that no matter how dark things get, a single light can shine through.

Or, as a character in a completely difference franchise would put it:

Life finds a way.

"The Chosen Ones...are breeding!"


  1. I prefer to go with the second theory that the Force created the Chosen One in order to destroy the Sith. It adds I think another interesting layer to the Force, making you think of the Force as being a personal deity to some extent.

    1. I agree, but the fact that it's ambiguous is fascinating.

  2. It's weird to me how so many SW fans seemed to have missed what George was trying to say with the Midi-Chlorians.

    I was a total SW Virgin when TPM came out and knew nothing about SW Lore and the Force... but I instantly understood what Qui-Gon was saying when he told Anakin about the Midi-Chlorians and why some people could access the force and others could not.

    It made total sense to me, but then so many people seemed to think that the Midi-Chlorians ARE the Force, and where in the world they got that idea I don't know.

    But the idea of Force Sensitive Bloodlines has been established all the way back since ANH! I mean right from the first movie we knew Luke was special because his father was special...I mean Obi-Wan pretty much says so outright.

    But if EVERYONE could use the force then Luke should be no more special then anyone else, it shouldn't matter who his father is because EVERYONE could use the force with the right training...but we know as far back as a ANH that is not the case.

    In fact I always thought that was the main reason it mattered WHO Luke's daddy was...because if his father was just Joe Schmo, Luke couldn't have been the hero the Alliance needed. The Skywalker Bloodline and it's force sensitivity is such an IMPORTANT element in the OT I would think SW Fans would have been thrilled to finally understand WHY that is. WHY is the force 'strong in this one', why as Luke said is the force 'strong in my family'?

    There would have to be some biological element to explain it, but all the Midi-Chlorian haters seem to have totally missed all of this in the OT.

    1. "I mean right from the first movie we knew Luke was special because his father was special...I mean Obi-Wan pretty much says so outright."

      Luke is special because of what he does. His lineage in the original context of the films serves more as a motive than any kind of "special" label. It's his actions and decisions that define him through the film.

      And there's so much that's ethically troubling to me with a lot of the notions in this comment and this article...I can't really go into it now (busy weekend and all)...but I honestly may write a response article. We'll see.

    2. I don't think there's anything ethically wrong with the fact that some people have more potential in a certain area than others due to genetics. It's a fact of life. Doesn't mean they'll always meet that potential or that they're intrinsically better than someone with a different predisposition.

      If you're worried about Force-sensitive nobility and "ruling"bloodlines, well so were the Jedi. It's one of the reasons the tenant of no romantic attachment is so particularly enforced (though some have argued that the occasional one-night-stand would have been acceptable for stress reasons). They don't necessarily want to turn into a nobility so they rely on niggle-borns, to turn a phrase.

    3. The Jedi ARE special!

      If you are born with Force Sensitivity (High Midi-Chlorian Count etc) then you are special or should I use the more PC term...different.

      You are set apart from the rest of sentient life by your powers/abilities sort of like you would be if you were a musical prodigy, or a mathematical prodigy in our universe.

      You're born with a gift that others can only dream of.

      BUT what makes you great is how you USE your gift.

      So yeah Luke is special, he was born special... BUT what made him a hero is how he CHOOSES to use his powers. He chose the path of good, whereas Anakin ended up choosing the path of evil.

      THAT'S what I meant in my above comment T. Hartwell. Some people are born with special gifts, but some use their gifts to do evil and harm, while others use them to do great things.

      Star Wars is a universe where some people are born with Super Powers, and others are not...and thanks to the Prequels we now know it's because of the Midi-Chlorians.

    4. That was supposed to be Muggle-borns up there, by the way.

    5. It's a matter of privilege vs. acclimation. In the films being a Jedi isn't treated as just another occupation, it's one of *the* highest powers out there- they had a council with inordinate influence on the Galactic Senate, and are apparently so important that when nearly destroyed it was only a second rise that apparently restored 'balance' to the universe. They are in the logic of the film the most important people in the universe. Even within the story itself, the Jedi are *the* most important characters, by far.

      Even if that weren't the case, though, the fact is that being a Jedi is treated more as a *spiritual* thing than an occupational one. Training consists of mental clarity, focus, and peace- learning and studying to be one with the universe. It is completely treated as a greater form of life- not comparable to real-world professions like doctors or office workers, but rather philosophers and spiritual thinkers. So it's a much greater issue when people are refused to be able to gain that spiritual understanding because they don't have the right kind of blood.

      I mean, yes, you're right that it's not what you're born with, it's what you do with it that counts. But I can't help but think of the old kings and emperors who claimed to have pure and noble blood that made them fit to rule. I mean, sure, some of those kings were good people who did the best for their countries...but is that really a viewpoint to take just because *some* people happen to be good?

    6. Actually, at this point in history the Senate controls THEM, though they loathe to admit it and are the first to justify to themselves acting as a check and balance once Palpatine overstays his welcome. Apart from that, the whole point of I - III is that a large reason Palps was so successful was that the system for both Senate and Jedi were not working as they should have been. Too many Force-sensitives slipped through the cracks or were deemed unworthy for full knighthood. Too many knights were too arrogant for their title.

      Of course, we are dealing with full-blown superpowers here. And with great power must come great responsibility...and not everyone has that.

    7. "Not working as they should have been", though- that places the blame on these specific people just acting out of the ordinary rather than the fact that the system that places them in power (and yes, they do hold substantial power in the universe, even regardless of their connections with the Senate) is one that's ugly and prejudiced. Like I said with my comparison to the kings elected on bloodlines- yeah, we can say "well, some kings are good- it's what you do with what you're given that counts!", but it ignores the fact that placing a person in power and treating them as better than others based on their bloodlines is a *fundamentally wrong thing to do*.

    8. Indeed, which is why the Jedi Code is all about being selfless and using your power to help those less fortunate. Another reason why the Jedi as a whole had lost touch: they were serving the Senate's whims rather than going out and basically being The Doctor - that is travelling around and solving whatever problem happens to be there. Not everyone can be born a Time Lord either.

    9. That still skirts the point I'm making- the Code being about 'being selfless' is fundamentally undermined when it's part of a system that actively excludes people from mental and spiritual growth and maturity because of their bloodlines. Taking that and applying it to a code on helping others and being selfless just becomes White Man's Burden. In the end, it's still privileged people lording their powers over those deemed as lower-class.

    10. I mean, it's worth noting that Gallifrey explicitly has a lower-class and the Time Lords are repeatedly criticized for their beliefs and practices and how they lord their power over other supposedly "lesser" races.

    11. And why do you think public opinion of the Jedi was low enough that most people believed Palpatine's story?

    12. If public opinion was of the Jedi was really that low, they needed to show it to us outside of a scene that's pretty clearly intended to be an attack on politicians more than anything to do with the Jedi themselves.

      I mean, the issue here is that narratively, in terms of what the film shows us and what it does, the Jedi are important, enlightened individuals. If we were *really* supposed to view them as corrupted individuals whose views on genetics are as racist as they seem, then the film actually needed to show us those views. Instead, they're treated as cool masters to be looked up to, and are repeatedly left valorized and uncriticized by the films. If we were supposed to interpret their actions as fundamentally wrong, then the films frankly failed at doing that.

    13. Wow, no.

      We are supposed to see that the Jedi are wise but flawed. Nothing about their views are racist or unethical, but their arrogance and self-righteous attitude (with few notable exceptions) unknowingly sour public perceptions of them.

      Granted, you're right about one thing - little of this is stated in the films, and that can count against it. However, you can just as easily call out IV - VI for the same thing. Yeah, we know the Rebels are in the right, but how are they seen by the public? They're kind of using terrorist tactics, aren't they?

    14. Except that the intent of the films are to show the Rebels in the right. Why would we need to see alternate opinions of them to showcase that view?

      According to what you're saying, the Jedi are meant to be seen as "wise but flawed", with very low public morale. And yet we never actually see that public morale, and though the council itself is generally portrayed as fairly impotent, half the time the Jedi are portrayed as typical sci-fi movie heroes, akin to Luke or Obi-Wan in the original films. Think about the tone of scenes where Jedi are fighting- be it Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Windu, or the Geonosis battle in AotC. Think about how you view and process those scenes, think about who you root for. It's entirely visceral stuff based on how you react to the way the scenes are filmed and edited, and it unequivocally ends up making you root for the Jedi. They are the good guys of the story, and are treated almost completely uncritically.

      And again- how exactly is excluding people from spiritual and mental enlightenment because of their bloodlines *not* racist or unethical?

    15. Um, the same reason it's not racist or unethical to make a blind person a sniper?

    16. To Not make them one. Jeez, I need to proofread these comments more, or at least stop doing them in a hurry.

    17. "Um, the same reason it's not racist or unethical to make a blind person a sniper?"

      That's a physical occupation, though. Being a sniper doesn't grant a person spiritual and mental enlightenment.

    18. Understand also, that it's not racist because race doesn't enter into it. The Jedi order is remarkably diverse.

      This is about skill and ability. You can teach skills only so far; to be truly great, you need an innate aptitude, which is completely physical. Not everyone can be a great athlete or writer no matter how much you train. It's in the way your muscles build, or how your brain is wired, whatever.

    19. It's perhaps more classist than racist, but the idea of midichlorians is rooted firmly in genetics which is rooted in discussions of race. Just a different kind of 'racism' than the more obvious.

      And once again, what the Jedi teach are entirely mental abilities having to do with a greater understanding of life and the world around them. It's a system built more on knowledge and teaching than physical abilities and skills. In this regard its closest real-life parallel is academia, and all the ugliness that comes with that particular subset of upper-class intellectuals. Fundamentally what the Jedi do is cutting out people from knowledge and understanding, based *purely* on what's in their blood.

      I mean, look at it this way- did you see Django Unchained? Do you remember the scene where DiCaprio's character tries to argue the inherent servility of the African race because of supposed dents in their skulls? Arguing that people can't become more attuned with the Force because of microscopic organisms in their blood isn't far off from the sci-fi version of that kind of thinking.

    20. It's completely different. You're vastly oversimplifying. (Also haven't seen Django yet, sadly).

      High Midi-Chlorian counts, while certainly passed through lineage as well, can manifest in anyone regardless of background. Just like magical ability in Harry Potter, mutation in X-Men, or a number of good or bad conditions in real life.

      You can follow Jedi tenants no matter who you are, but they are not going to waste their time with someone who cannot physically feel the Force to the capacity needed.

      I also feel I must once again stress that the Jedi do not want others serving them but ideally they serve the rest of the galaxy. The Sith on the other hand...they have a view more in line with what you're describing. Of course, they're the obvious villains.

  3. I think with enough training anyone could use the force. However a person with a low Midi-Chlorian Count would probably have to strain and concentrate so much more that there would be more worthwhile pursuits for them. People with poor coordination would have a harder time being a surgeon. Peoplewith poor eyesight would have a hard time being a marksman, etc. We all have our gifts and disadvantages. It's using those gifts wisely.