This document is intended to collect discussion about the nature of the Force wielders shown in The Phantom Menace. Wholly new aspects of the Jedi and Sith were exposed in this first prequel. Since the Jedi are at their height, we can assume that their missions and their concerns in Episode I reflect their normal condition, which is quite different from their desperate outlaw status and the anxieties of the Jedi survivors in the later trilogy.
The Force by its very nature is intended to be mysterious, so it would be an unpardonable conceit to attempt to derive a comprehensive physical explanation for it. That is not the purpose of this commentary. Instead, this commentary is "technical" insofar as it applies qualitative standards of consistency to the abilities and phenomena associated with the Force. Attempts will also be made to bridge some of the discontinuities between Episode I and the spin-off literature, that would appear to emerge from simplistic but in some cases common interpretations. In that respect, this page is an exercise in nitpicking that attempts to be generous to both the canon and the subordinate official literature.
Thanks are due to, in alphabetic order:
The Phantom Menace reveals several new and interesting aspects of the Force, or at least a previously unheard representation of the Force favoured by the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. This topic deserves inspection, but it also deserves great caution. The Force is a vast mystery to the inhabitants of the STAR WARS universe. We as a movie audience should not be hasty in assigning mechanistic interpretations to it on the basis of just a handful of lines of dialogue, especially when there are at least two further episodes due which may contribute as much new information as The Phantom Menace.
The first mention of midi-chlorians was when Qui-Gon Jinn transmitted a scan of Anakin Skywalker's blood to Obi-Wan Kenobi, requesting a midi-chlorian count. (Jinn used his comlink to scan the blood sample, but it seems likely that more practially-shaped dedicated scanning devices should exist, like the mysterious hand-held devices used by Imperial Jedi hunters and rediscovered in the novel Jedi Search.) The result was higher than reasonable expectations, and Jinn indicated that this fact is noteworthy but he was uncertain of its meaning.
Secondly, when facing the Jedi Council on Coruscant, Jinn cited Anakin's unusual midi-chlorian concentration as part of his argument for the boy's training as a Jedi. He even offered speculation about possible involvement of midi-chlorians in Skywalker's conception. Individuals with high concentrations of these entities in their bodies are thought to have high potential for Jedi training. However the disgruntlement and perplexity shown on the faces of some of the Jedi Councilors may indicate that things are not so simple, or perhaps they were merely reacting to Jinn's personal slant on the topic.
The third mention of midi-chlorians was when Qui-Gon responded to Anakin's questions, immediately prior to their departure from Coruscant. He explained that midi-chlorians are present within all living cells, that without them life would not exist and the Jedi would have no knowledge of the Force. His explanation is brief and may contain some poetic simplifications for the benefit of the child listener.
The presence of midi-chlorians within living cells is a clear idea, but what about life-forms that are not cellular or not carbon-based with water as the solvent? If the midi-chlorians are also present in very alien forms of life, such as the known silicon-based organisms (eg. space slugs and mynocks) then they must be extremely rudimentary, versatile and robust. Of course, "midi-chlorians" may simply be a generic name for types of entities with different origins but which perform the same role in higher life-forms using completely different chemistries. For instance, midi-chlorians are often compared to or identified with mitochondria, which could not exist in the same form within the bodies of mynocks. It also seems likely that the midi-chlorians may be totally absent from organisms that are themselves bacteria-sized.
Jinn asserts that the midi-chlorians are a prerequisite for the origin of [higher] life, but their role in attaining "knowledge of the Force" is less clear. Perhaps he means that if higher life did not exist, then higher organisms could not know the Force, which is self-evident. Perhaps he means that the discovery of the Force in the distant prehistory of the Jedi was due to scientific and philosophical contemplation of midi-chlorians. Or perhaps he means that the presence of midi-chlorians is essential to every individual Jedi who learns about the Force.
Many observers assume that midi-chlorians are the cause of the Force or else the exclusive means by which sapient beings interact with the Force. This is not necessarily true. They provide one kind of objective test for Force-sensitivity, but correlation does not imply causation. It may be that certain people with strong potential to use the Force tend to attract midi-chlorians, rather than the midi-chlorians being responsible for the talent. (This attraction may be medical and heritable, or a direct manifestation of Force power.) Alternatively, the talent and the midi-chlorian concentration may be symptoms of some other, deeper cause.
There are powerful arguments against the theory that midi-chlorians are the exclusive cause of Anakin's messianic potential. Midi-chlorians are supposed to be something like mitochondria, therefore they should be carried through human reproduction in a similar manner. Due to the small capacity of the male human reproductive cells, a father contributes virtually nothing other than nuclear DNA to his offspring. Mitochondria and their DNA are inherited in a basically matrilineal fashion, via the ovum. Sometimes through sheer luck one or two paternal mitochondria can be carried to conception, but they are greatly outnumbered by the sixty or so maternal mitochondria. The paternal mitochondria remain outnumbered by this same ratio in the body of the growing child. However it is not the mere presence or absence of midi-chlorians (special mitochondria) that indicates Force potential; it is their abundance. Thus if Anakin's gift was passed on by any means other than nuclear DNA his children would have no more than a miniscule fraction of his talent, if any. Since Luke and Leia actually do share Anakin's trait, and Palpatine considered the prospect of any Skywalker offspring to be a definite (rather than statistical) threat, the talent of Anakin Skywalker is probably based in the ordinary genetics of nuclear DNA.
The role of the midi-chlorians and the nature of the heredity of Force sensitivity is constrained by the effectiveness of human cloning in the official comics and novels. In Dark Empire, the Emperor is revealed to have a set of clones of himself in storage, each of which believes himself to carry the transferred consciousness of the original Palpatine. Objectively, the clones do carry the same Force-derived capabilities. Luke Skywalker also faced Force-capable clones of himself and the deceased Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth. Whatever ultimately causes these talents must have been carried across in the cloning process. On Earth, cloning generally involves a transfer of nuclear genetic material alone, and not mitochondria. This is not a tight constraint however, because the techniques used in STAR WARS could easily be more extensive than ours.
The mere presence of midi-chlorians cannot be the only condition for Force sensitivity. Otherwise the Jedi or the Sith could cultivate midi-chlorians and then simply infuse them into the bodies of ordinary volunteers to create countless initiates with arbitrarily high potential.
Some speculations about the nature of the midi-chlorians have practical implications for the use of the Force. If midi-chlorians were responsible for the existence of the Force, or at least for the exercise of Force powers, then some Jedi abilities would vary depending on whether they are used on a life-bearing planet or in deep space. Does it matter what the density of midi-chlorians is in the vicinity of a Jedi, or is the presence of midi-chlorians within the body of the Jedi sufficient? Do the midi-chlorians interact with the Force in a way that is impossible for other natural or artificial objects, or is any object that interacts with the Force called a midi-chlorian by definition? How can the presence of midi-chlorians in all living things be reconciled with the damping of Force usage by the ysalamiri creatures of Heir to the Empire? Do the midi-chlorians simply provide insight, or are they more directly involved in the amazing inter-coupling between a Jedi's perception, will and reality? In any case, the Force cannot be entirely biological because large-scale feats such as telekinesis and instantaneous perception over interstellar distances require explanations in deep and eerie realms of physics.
The practices and beliefs of the Jedi must be taken into account in any discussion of the midi-chlorians. The STAR WARS civilisation is ancient and technologically static; scientific tools exist, but scientific practice appears to be finished and absent. It appears to be a society that depends on artisan engineers and mystics only. The "midi-chlorians" may in part be invented Jedi jargon. So far as we've seen, they serve only to provide an objective measurement of Anakin's messianic potential. Or at least the Jedi read it objectively according to their superstitions — there's no reason why the midi-chlorian count must be any more "real" than the use of tarot cards.
Jedi from different schools of thought might disagree about the significance or reality of the midi-chlorians. In The Phantom Menace novel, Qui-Gon Jinn admits a bias towards a "living Force" interpretation, at the expense of knowledge of the "unifying Force". Perhaps this means that he is sensitive to biological interpretations of the Force to the point where he regards the midi-chlorians as a cause rather than an effect. Perhaps he drives his analogies too far. This may partly explain the consternation of some of the members of the Jedi Council. Perhaps to them he seems to have eccentric biases or holes in his understanding, making him a frustrating dissident whose practical skills compensate for his weakness in some theoretical areas.
In any case, the Force of STAR WARS remains mysterious, and it would be premature for anyone to claim a complete understanding of its role and that of the midi-chlorians.
Many commentators and observers suffer a misunderstanding about the age and status of Obi-Wan Kenobi during the events of The Phantom Menace. In interviews before the movie was completed, George Lucas stated that Kenobi is in his thirties in this film, yet some inattentive commentators believe that he is only in his twenties. This coincides roughly with the age of actor Ewan McGregor, who was in his late twenties during filming, but it does not necessarily reflect the film-makers' intentions. It is noteworthy that other characters such as Queen Amidala and Qui-Gon Jinn had ages different from their respective actors by as much as ten years. If the actors' ages are to be a consideration, then it must be noted that Sir Alec Guiness was born in 1914, making him about sixty-two years of age during the filming of A New Hope, which is approximately 32 years later than The Phantom Menace (according to Lucas' interviews). By this account, he would have been 28 or older in Episode I.
The true age of Obi-Wan Kenobi is implicitly indicated in two sources read in conjunction. The Phantom Menace novel p.249, states that the partnership between Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn lasted over twenty years. In the youth novel The Rising Force, Kenobi was four weeks younger than thirteen years old, at a time when he was still a stranger to Jinn and was not yet accepted as Jinn's apprentice. (Most of his prior life was spent in collective training under Yoda and other masters of the main Jedi Temple on Coruscant.) The arithmetic demands that Kenobi can not be less than about 33 years old in The Phantom Menace.
Another, generally consistent age was given on a timeline displayed at the STAR WARS Celebration at Denver [according to attendee John O'Brien]. This document stated his birth at sixty years before A New Hope, which would have made him 28 years old in The Phantom Menace. The discrepancy between this date and the age implied in the novels can probably be rationalised as the result of calendar conversions within the STAR WARS universe. This date matches that given in the STAR WARS Encyclopedia.
Supporters of theories of a younger Kenobi point to the published version of The Phantom Menace screenplay, which states that Qui-Gon Jinn was sixty years old and that Obi-Wan Kenobi was twenty-five. These figures would make Jinn substantially older (in Episode I) than Kenobi (in Episode IV). This nonsense is dissolved when it is noted that the published screenplay is an outdated version that does not correspond to the movie: several scenes have been added and removed, and at least one character has been renamed (ie. Bail Organa/Antilles; General Ceel). Jinn's introduction in the screenplay [Script Facsimile p.3] describes him as being white-haired, which is inconsistent with the final movie too. Jinn's age was revised before filming, as is stated explicitly and explained in The Making of Episode I, pp.43-44. Since the published screenplay's version of the Jinn and Kenobi ages predates the casting of the actors, it is easy to discount the inconsistent age of Kenobi as well. (The Episode I: Insider's Guide from LucasArts is not an independent source and has no implications for the debate; it copies data from the pre-filiming screenplay uncritically.)
In essence, the novels for The Phantom Menace and its spin-offs say three things:
Perhaps the best ways to resolve the apparent inconsistency would be to suppose that Jinn's counting of years and age was affected by his aesthetic judgement of Kenobi's unusually boyish face; or else he may have been using a local calendar that has a year that is longer than the galactic standard (368 days) by a few tens of percent.
Many commentators are concerned by the facts that Qui-Gon Jinn failed to vanish when he died, and by the fact that he has not yet been seen (as a spirit) since his death. These observations do raise interesting questions about the most mysterious of Jedi capabilities. Does the absence of these phenomena during Qui-Gon's demise indicate anything about the kind of Jedi Master that he was? Does it imply anything about his abilities, his preparation, his particular school of thought, or the manner of his death? Did the spectacular modes of death for accomplished users of the Force only come about when the Force became "balanced" as a result of Anakin's prophesied actions? (The fact that Darth Maul wasn't seen to explode is also interesting, but may be explained by the fact that he was too far away from camera when life actually did pass out of him, or else he lacked mastery.)
It seems that the only person who knows the answers to these problems is George Lucas, assuming that he has already decided the issue. In STAR WARS: The Annotated Screenplays Lucas indicated that the vanishing trick was a special ability that Yoda taught to Obi-Wan Kenobi sometime between the third and fourth episodes of the saga, and would probably remain a mystery. (This would help explain why Lord Vader seemed wary of by Kenobi's vanishing, if he had never heard about or witnessed the effect in his earlier career.) In more recent interviews, Lucas has said that the reasons for different Jedi having more or less mundane ways of passing into afterlife might be clearer in the later prequels. This may mean that Lucas has changed his intentions since The Annotated Screenplays was printed, or it may be the same truth presented from another point of view.
The uses of the Force will probably never be explained in sufficient detail to make technical judgements, but a cautious, qualitative examination of the subject may become possible when enough of the movie episodes are complete. In our preliminary considerations, we should be mindful of a few important points:
There are several instances of pre-death vanishing and visible spirits of deceased Force users in the spin-off literature. Neeja Halcyon (Corran Horn's grandfather) vanished when he died, as described in I, Jedi chapter 49, pp.466-468], which suggests that the phenomenon is not isolated to one branch of the Jedi tradition, since the Corellian Jedi are described as being different in several key ways. (Jinn's tradition may be even more different, or this event may be a clue that vanishing is affected by something other than a Jedi master's style or aptitudes.) When Anakin Skywalker visited his untrained daughter shortly after his death, he appeared unmasked even though she had probably never seen his face in life. (This incident suggests that the visibility of spirits may not always be entirely dependent on the skills and relationship of the viewer.) Luke Skywalker found the empty bisected robes of a Jedi master defeated by Lord Vader on Toola in The Courtship of Princess Leia. Several great Jedi masters vanished in the various Tales of the Jedi comics, and several of them reappeared to converse with or confront their successors and others. Likewise, several Dark Lords of the Sith and the lesser Sith warrior-mage Freedon Nadd returned after death, although they left dessicated corpses behind in tombs (perhaps as foci of their power) and Nadd was somehow exorcised from Exar Kun's presence. Other wielders of the dark side of the Force exploded with a voluntary or involuntary bright flash when they died, eg. Emperor Palpatine and his clones, the Sith-inspired opponents of Halcyon, and Joruus C'baoth.
The fact that Luke Skywalker received few visitations during most of the post-Return of the Jedi novels and comics is probably just an extrinsic artifice designed to avoid discussion of topics that ought to be well-known to the people of STAR WARS but which could not be treated in the licensed literature until after Episode III is complete. (Anakin's spirit could have provided Luke with plenty of useful advice and revelations, which inevitably would have involved prequel information unknown to the novel authors.) Alternatively, it may have something to do with a flaw in Skywalker's relationship with the Force, emerging after his assumption of Jedi knighthood and mastery. (Mara Jade and Corran Horn independently contend that there is such a flaw, in I, Jedi and Vision of the Future.)
On the other hand, the fact that the canonical Jedi spirits are only seen or sensed by people or droids who knew them in life is probably significant. The evidence of the films and Yoda's instructions to Luke strongly suggest that the ability to communicate with the deceased depends on the relationship between the viewer and the spirit. If this is true then Luke may never see the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, nor any non-Jedi relatives like Shmi (if we assume that she died before Luke completed his training). In the Thrawn Trilogy books, Luke speculated that Jedi spirits needed to attach themselves voluntarily to a living anchor and that Joruus C'baoth's madness resulted from a clutter of dead Jedi colleagues from the Outbound Flight project. However clone madness turned out to be the real explanation for C'baoth's condition, and furthermore the literature contains many examples of spirits appearing freely to strangers, eg. Sith like Freedon Nadd, Marka Ragnos and Exar Kun who mastered abilities to haunt the people of distant generations.
NB. There does not exist enough canonical or official information to attempt to decide this topic, nor is there any real-world counterpart of the Force which would allow comparison. In the absence of either kind of constraint, endless indiscriminable theories could be invented. However this section is not designed to entertain or recognise the entire present zoo of wanton speculations about the Force; it is simply stands in recognition of a few interesting observational facts.
- In an interview with EMPIRE magazine coinciding with the British release of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas indicated that the disappearance or non-disappearance of Jedi is a plot point that will be clarified in later movies.In Episode IV, R2D2 and C-3PO land on Tatooine and haven't got a clue where they are. Yet in The Phantom Menace, R2 travels to Tatooine and C-3PO was built there. How so?
How so? That will be coming up. (laughs) There's a lot of little things that'll be cleared up. The other one that gets asked a lot is why doesn't Qui-Gon disappear like everybody else. That's a plot point that centres around Obi-Wan saying to Vader/Anakin in the first one, "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." There is an issue about The Force and that will be revealed.
Does this sort of retro reading get on your nerves?
A lot of it is just nitpicky. Most people don't care about that stuff. There's a lot of things that will be explained more. Some of it is important plot stuff — the Qui-Gon one is, 3PO isn't.
- On p.269 of Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays there are two important quotations:Lawrence Kasdan: "You see, in my own philosophy or religion, such as it is, I believe there is so much more going on than we can see or perceive, that we're not alone in this space, that everything that has happened in this space is still there. So for me, Ben always related to this notion, to a Force that all humans contribute to. The Force is the combined vibrations of all living things."
George Lucas: "One of the things that will never get explained in the films is how Ben was able to retain his identity, because it happened somewhere in between the third and fourth movies. I set up that this is a discipline that he learned from Yoda; Yoda told him how to do that. We don't ever get to see how he does it, but the idea of retaining your identity after you've passed on is something that Ben learned as a Jedi."
Yoda faded over a few seconds, taking his clothes with him. Only the outer surface of his skin and clothes was visible during the fading, and not any part of his innards. In other words, although the surface of his body had some reflectivity, everything inside was perfectly transparent. It is as if he was somewhere else and only a superficial image was being turned off. It is also noteworthy that Yoda's blanket didn't collapse until he was completely invisible.
The Phantom Menace adds greatly to out knowledge of the Sith in the recent era of the galaxy. The Jedi believe that the Sith have been extinct for a millennium, however they have simply been in hiding. Two thousand years ago there was a Jedi schism with a powerful Jedi adopting Sith teachings. The Sith feuded amongst themselves, as well as being hunted by the Jedi, so they did not flourish until a doctrinal reorganisation by Darth Bane, who decreed that henceforth there would be only two Sith Lords at one time: a master and an apprentice. The order would be preserved in this direct linear succession.
This does not explicitly preclude the existence of Sith acolytes, monks, nuns, adepts or minor mages, but it does seem to mean that only two living individuals possess the highest levels of Sith wisdom. If any of Darth Maul's equipment (his cloakable starship, probe droids, speeder bike and holonet tracing gear) happens to be Sith-exclusive then the Sith must have hideouts with dedicated technicians and support staff, which are roles that could be served by unordained associates of the order.
We could consider alternative semantic interpretations of the statements about the twosome nature of the Sith order. Based on the information spoken in the movie alone, it could be that the exclusive master/apprentice rule only applies to each master and each apprentice. In other words there may be more than one master, each of whom has only one living apprentice during his own lifetime. Or perhaps it is something as general as the master-padawan relationship that prevented Jedi such as Qui-Gon Jinn from training two apprentices simultaneously. However it must be conceded that the wording of The Phantom Menace novel, especially from Sidious' introspections, is weighted against these liberal interpretations. Of course, George Lucas is totally at liberty to invoke or invent a different interpretation in his further movies; likewise the Sith practices may have changed during the span of the movie saga.
Emperor Palpatine must have changed the doctrine at least once, because in the existing official literature he and Lord Vader trained many students during the time of the Galactic Empire. Vader's pupils included: Lord Hethrir, the Imperial Procurator of Justice [The Crystal Star]; Lord Flint and Lady Lumiya, two younger claimants to Vader's title after the Battle of Endor [Marvel STAR WARS series]; Rillao, who proved incompatible with Dark Jedi teaching [The Crystal Star]; High Inquisitor Tremayne [Galaxy Guide 9]. Palpatine's pupils included his "Hands" Mara Jade and Roganda Ismaren [Heir to the Empire; Children of the Jedi]; plus the Dark Adepts based on byss [Dark Empire and sequels].
The recent Sith history presented in The Phantom Menace does not acknowledge the history of Sith interactions with the Jedi dating back tens of thousands of years, including the events of the Tales of the Jedi comics. However this omission does not necessarily amount to a contradiction. Sansweet's STAR WARS Encyclopedia, which was informed by the Episode I screenplay, states that the Sith existed continually, although their order waxed and waned from time to time. The backstory of The Phantom Menace can be interpreted as saying that a powerful dissident Jedi joined and revitalised the Sith about two thousand years ago, but the Sith probably already existed in some modest form at that time, preserved in secret monastaries. The Tales of the Jedi series clearly leaves many Sith survivors, including Exar Kun's minions who were away from Yavin on assassination missions, the remaining Krath and the Naddists of Onderon. There could also have been other threads of Sith continuity lying dormant or hidden throughout the comics. The unnamed refounder of the Sith could have adopted any such continuing group.
- Some readers of comics such as Golden Age of the Sith and The Fall of the Sith Empire are confused about the status of the Sith five thousand years before the Palpatine era. At that time the Sith were isolated in a remote part of the galaxy; their Force-wielding magery was part of a culture that arose in parallel to but separate from the Jedi, hundreds of thousands of years prior to all of the comics. [STAR WARS Adventure Journal.] The Sith were eventually conquered by powerful exiled schismatic Jedi, who then formulated an integrated school of thought.
Many practioners and subjects of the GAOTS Sith regime shared distinctive racial features, including fleshy tufts on the chin, and red skin pigment. This is the point of common misunderstanding. The development of superficial racial features is a product of isolation. The notion that the Sith were aliens is untrue, as demonstrated by the fact that they interbred with races of humans from outside their realm (most notably the schismatic Jedi themselves). Interspecies breeding is by definition impossible. With broader definitions of "species" (with morphological or phylogenetic basis rather than entirely biological definition) breeding between species is possible, but only if they're very closely related, which necessarily means being in the same genus. Therefore the red-skinned Sith were humans. [See the Humans & Humanoids page.]
The Sith isolation was imperfect and eventually it ended altogether. Despite (or perhaps because of) Jedi persecution their cultural practices passed out into the wider galaxy. Baseline humans such as Freedon Nadd were inducted into Sith teachings. Members of non-human species may have become Sith as well. A terrestrial analogy would be the relationship between Kendo and the Japanese people: there was once a time when all Kendo sportsmen were Japanese, due to cultural isolation. However today not all Japanese practice Kendo, and not all Kendo practioners are Japanese.
CLARIFICATION: The notion of the Sith being "aliens" really isn't a matter of opinion. Interbreeding resulting in fertile offspring means that the parents belong to the same genus and most likely the same species. It's a simple matter of biological phylogeny; the Massassi Sith have a recent common ancestor with baseline humans. Saying "maybe it doesn't work that way in another universe" is just a rejection of the very notion of "species". Taking such a position is not a valid position in realistic technical interpretation of STAR WARS; it is a rejection of realism, in which case our entire exercise is defeated before it begins.
In times ancient to the relatively recent era of Odan Urr (five millennia before Anakin Skywalker's time) lightsabre-wielding schismatic Jedi were exiled and discovered the primitive and arcane Sith culture. Their combined legacy — including the the Dark Lords of the Sith — continued through the ages in various forms. [Golden Age of the Sith #0]
Shortly after the Battle of Endor, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to Luke with a warning about Lord Flint, a young Sith apprentice who apparently claimed succession to Lord Vader's title. [Marvel SW #92]
On a devastated world occupied by Imperial stormtroopers, Luke Skywalker confronts one of his father's recent Sith apprentices, Lord Flint. [Marvel SW #92]
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