The Ally that is the Force: Examining the Moral and Religious Implications in Star Wars
Religion is a challenging topic to tackle in any setting, especially when it comes to relating to the vastly fictional universe of Star Wars. Yet, there exists a religion in Star Wars known as the Force. It demands certain behaviors of its followers, like most religions do, and carries great and destructive consequences if it is not adhered to; also like most religions. With this fairly applicable (but not all encompassing) definition in mind, the fact that an essence such as the Force can be present in a setting so far removed from ours as that of Star Wars, where faster-than-light travel not only exists but is ubiquitous to every spacefaring vessel in the galaxy, where meeting aliens is as commonplace as meeting a few friends at the nearest restaurant, and where a space station the size of a moon possesses a weapon capable of incinerating an entire planet is a logical occurrence, is truly unique. And, like with all fictional universes, every aspect interwoven into the fabric of its existence is crucial to the establishment of its identity. Without the Force, there can be no Star Wars. And so, analyzing the Force allows for study into what the mechanics and teachings of such a system have to say about the purpose of such a system, the condition of the Star Wars world itself, what it means for storytelling, as well as how the characters confront such a system and how they then shape the world around them.
First off, a little history must be given regarding how George Lucas’s conception of the Force originated, as well as to they bear resemblance to other systems of faith. George Lucas attended a speech by man named Joseph Campbell in 1984 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco (Seastrom). Campbell was a mythologist who identified several key tropes and themes that were widespread across literature from many different cultures (Seastrom). Prior to this encounter, Lucas, though he had long studied the teachings of Campbell, had never met the man face to face until after the original Star Wars Trilogy had been released. That being said, according to Seastrom, Campbell hypothesized that such a story as Star Wars originated from our “mythical imagination”: the ability to look far into the stars and imagine grand tales of heroes whose daring exploits and deeds reach across the cosmos. Such is the formation of Star Wars. Campbell, as Seastrom relates, believed that the idea of myth and all its trappings originated from a sort of inner-self present within the human mind. This need exists then to create this story as a way to explore and satisfy this mythic inner voice. And in relation to the Force’s function in the scheme of this idea, the Force determines the reasons as well as the outcomes of such a tale. The Force is described by Obi Wan-Kenobi in A New Hope as such: “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates, it binds the galaxy together”. The Force provides a connection for all living beings in the Star Wars Universe; it is all pervading, just as Kenobi described it.
Therefore, working from Campbell’s theories, the presence of the Force works as a sort of glue that allows the tropes of the inner myth to connect and mesh together. Consider the themes of fate present in the original trilogy. Darth Vader, once a Jedi himself as is revealed in The Return of the Jedi by the ghost-form of Kenobi, now must be slain by the only one capable of doing so: his own son, Luke. Furthermore, there is the frightening scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke enters the cave on Dagobah where he is confronted by the vision of fighting Darth Vader, only to win and find his own face behind the dreaded black mask. And there is also Darth Vader’s statement to Obi Wan Kenobi aboard the Death Star: “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.” The Force allows for such things to occur, and thus establish the mythical theme of fate, where the characters are meant to confront each other and overcome the challenges that they do. The Force serves a statement that the lives and actions of the characters may not always be in their control, or may even allude to a higher, more critical, and more impactful purpose. In addition, the Force serves to motivate the characters to understand the terrible consequences that will occur if the Force is not restored. Diverging to the prequels, Obi Wan Kenobi shouts to Anakin as he lay mortally wounded on the volcanic surface of Mustafar “You were the Chosen One! It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!” So, the Force also relays the fact that the powers of evil will only increase if the Force is not “balanced”. It will be left in darkness, and the galaxy and all its inhabitants along with it.
With this relationship the Force has to the universe of Star Wars now analyzed, how it affects the state of being for the universe can be explicated. What exactly are the consequences if the Force is not “balanced” as Obi Wan shouts to Anakin as he slides toward a river of molten magma? Well, the answer to this question is complex, and it cannot be answered in totality without delving into the Expanded Universe that belies the central movies (The Expanded Universe having been born from the stories in the many novels, comics, information books, as well as video games, that have accompanied this massive franchise), which is a daunting activity that this paper simply does not have the time for. So, again, for the sake of clarity, the arguments regarding the mechanics of the Force will be limited to the movies only. From what can be understood in the movies, the Jedi seem to stand on the right side of the Force throughout the story that is told. True, this seems contradictory considering both of Obi Wan’s statements regarding the nature of the Force: that it needs to “balanced” and that it is merely an energy field that “binds the galaxy together”. But the Jedi are the main characters in the story presented in the films, and Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi himself and later defeats the evil Sith, who are led by Darth Sidious, the Emperor, and Darth Vader. In fact, Lucasfilm even made a statement saying that the Jedi’s way was the preferred and natural state of the Force that was always to be maintained (Asher-Perrin). So, the consequences of not maintaining balance of the Force would lead to the darkness that Kenobi laments will befall the galaxy now that Anakin has fallen to the Dark Side.
So, the Force then is the scale by which the fate of the universe is weighed: if evil, the Dark Side, is allowed to take a greater presence on the scale, then the universe of Star Wars will fall to its power, and vice versa for the Light Side. This bears resemblance to the ideals of Manicheanism, which is system of faith defined as on in which “a divine realm of Light opposes a realm of Darkness. It is, therefore, a purely dualistic world view” (“Manicheism”). But the Force takes things farther than this. As mentioned before, the Light Side is the preferred aspect of the Force by the which the must abide. Therefore, the Force is essential to maintaining the safety and peace of the galaxy, and if it is not recognized as so, nor kept in balance, the Dark Side will prevail. That is why Han Solo’s comment upon the Force bears such impact “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side” (A New Hope) Solo is ignorant of the Force’s importance to the wellbeing of the Galaxy. He does not realize that if the Force is left to become unbalanced, it will spell doom for the galaxy. Such is the state of being that the Force creates for Star Wars universe: it is constantly in a state of conflict between the forces of Light and Dark, with vying to tip the scale in their favor.
So, what does this mean for the characters who inhabit this galaxy far, far away? With the Force being so imperative to the security of the Galaxy, it means that every conflict, especially those that take part on an epic-scale, concern the Force and whoever can control it. And yet, it also provides a necessary moral compass to the story that is set in a galaxy all to itself. Joel Hodge states that “Lucas’s stated aim was to create a mythology that could provide moral guidance within the context of a renewed sense of spirituality and transcendence.” So, basically, the Force constructs this goal of moral purity for the characters of Star Wars. If the Force can stay balanced and maintain its leaning toward the Light Side, then the Galaxy will remain peaceful and under order. Such is the point of the Star Wars story. To achieve this moral glory. This is iterated through the films as creating a bond with the Force and allow it to guide and empower the characters as they try to utilize it. Yoda reflects on this in The Empire Strikes Back: “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” By allying themselves with the true nature of the Force, rather than the warped and distorted teachings of the Dark Side, the Jedi allow themselves to make the Force their power, not their slave. It links them to the morality of the galaxy, and enables them to maintain this balance. Maintaining the balance of the Force serves as the goal they strive to achieve. It takes, as George Lucas stated, “all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct”. The Force boils down to a religious ideal of enforcing good in the Star Wars universe, which is how it stands with the Jedi.
The Force carries many meanings that are important factors for the inhabitants of Star Wars. It provides consequences that end in either peace or destruction, and in doing so creates a moral compass that leaves its universe in a constant struggle for balance. And in finding these things out, the meaning of the Force has become clearer to me as a necessary and vital component for the Star Wars story. And this bears special weight to me, since Star Wars is a favorite of mine, and is also a minor and rather humorous source of contention in my household, with my mother having once had a crush on Luke Skywalker (with emphasis on the fact that she did not have on Han Solo [portrayed by Harrison Ford[) and with my father thinking it is not worth the tape it was captured on, to say with some hyperbole. And with this disagreement in mind, along with I have discovered about the story of Star Wars and the Force, it only goes to show that every aspect of a fictional world constructed within the confines of any story bears especial and pivotal significance.
Asher-Perrin, Emily. “The “True Nature of the Force” is Way More Complicated Than You Think.” tor.com, 12 Sept. 2012. https://www.tor.com/2012/09/12/the-qtrue-nature-of-the-force-is-way-more-complicated-than-you-think/. Accessed 14 December 2017.
Hodge, Joel. “How ‘Star Wars’ Answers Our Biggest Religious Questions” The Washington Post, 21 April 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/04/21/how-star-wars-answers-our-biggest-religious-questions/?utm_term=.2b7f03171a37. Accessed 14 December 2017.
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