I got to thinking a while back, how does the Force actually work? I mean, how does it function. Ignore whatever we heard from the prequels because those were garbage through and through. But can we come up with a set of rules for the Force that make sense in the context of the original movies and make them worthy of good story telling for future possibilities? This is my attempt to do so. Think of it as a new 52 for just the Force. Basically a reboot of how the Force works and how we can use it in the future to tell good Star Wars stories.
So, what were the basics of the Force, and is there enough material from the original movies for us to infer what Force users were and what they were capable of? I think that’s possible. Obi Wan Kenobi defines the force as “…an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Later Master Yoda repeats and expands on this definition in a very important way. “Life creates it, makes it grow. It’s energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
Ignoring all the supplemental material published after the movies, we get the sense of why Master Yoda would choose to live on a swamp planet. Even without a sapient population (we’re never shown one way or another if Dagobah is inhabited by higher life forms), the swamps are teeming with life and would be a very force intensive place.
Yoda seemed to draw energy in from the life all around him, always closing his eyes and inhaling before he did anything, He would tilt his head up, as if he could hear the Force talking to him. Then something amazing would happen. I would posit that this is the way Force users first manifest an awareness of the Force around them. They become aware of the binding Force of the universe and begin to sense it internally. Later, as their knowledge and use of the Force grows, they begin to adapt and learn how to tap into the Force within their own bodies. This combination of awareness of the external Force (my definition) and the ability to tap into their own internal Force (also my definition) allows skilled Force users a wide array of powers and abilities.
We should pause for a moment and note the contrast here between Yoda and the Emperor, or Jedi and Sith. Darth Vader and the Emporer are surrounded by technology at all times. Vader, in a very literal way. The Emperor while not cybernetic certainly enjoyed his toys. He built his man cave on top of a giant space laser death ball. He rode atop the very symbol of his power (no not compensating at all, I’m sure). This contrast was intentional on Lucas’s part and it can help us as a guideline for how to explain the differences in Force abilities between the light and dark sides.
The Emperor and Darth Vader don’t appear to tap into the Force in the same way as Master Yoda and Obi Wan do. This is likely because their environments are so sterile and manufactured, there’s very little force energy for them to make use of around themselves. Though, some must always be present. It was an important point of Yoda’s to denote that even a rock has the Force flowing in it. While life creates it, even inorganic matter can carry it. So how is it that the Emperor and Darth Vader are such powerful force users without accessing a great deal of external Force energy? If there’s not a lot of external Force energy around them, then most of their power must come from inside themselves. It would make sense to speculate that manipulating the internal force inside of their bodies is the primary battery for where their power originates. Further, it would seem that intense emotions can add to this store inside of these Force users. Perhaps the dark side of the Force is the process by which Force users obtain the most mastery of this internal battery, by channeling their negative emotions into themselves as a form of power. This self-powering helps to fuel their path to the dark side and explains why it’s easier and quicker. Selfish emotions tend to push one towards the dark side and could make it easy to add power to that external battery.
The Emperor was literally summoning his own hatred and making it manifest in the real world when he electrocuted Luke with Force Lightening. It’s unlikely Vader knew this power existed or could have achieved it with his own body. This also explains why the Emperor didn’t carry a light saber. I’m sorry, were you going to block lightening with a laser sword? Yes, no. Come back to me when you can plausibly explain how someone can predict the random movements of arcing electricity in the air. The Emperor probably killed a lot of Jedi using Force lightening and there were probably few defenses against it. Not just from the difficulty of predicting a lightening strike but also the force of his own hatred being so strong as to overcome many a Jedi’s defenses.
So, if we assume there is an internal battery of power that Force users can access, and an external Force flow around them at all times, what kind of powers would that give a Force user? Dark side Force wielders are masters of this internal energy, but depending on an individuals’ internal battery size, the limits of their power are difficult to predict. It is likely intense emotions can add or even detract from this battery’s size, which is why the Emperor and Vader were always on about using fear and anger. The more intense the emotion, the more powerful they become. This would also provide a plausible explanation for why the Emperor’s body exploded when Vader threw it down the shaft into the Death Star.
So, what are some practical applications of this internal Force power? These are abilities that we only see Dark side Force users do. The ability to unleash a force storm, a telekinetic field that rips up the environment around the target and uses the debris as a weapon against it. This power is arguably different from the regular telekinesis we saw both Light and Dark siders using, in that it probably draws more from the Force user’s internal Force to destroy the environment around the target. The ability to stop laser fire dead in it’s tracks, literally willing it away. This was likely the Force user exerting his will against the attack. Finally, we have the ultimate ability to direct strong emotions physically at a target as lightening. These are powers that we see only Dark side Force users use. They are likely the result of usage of the internal battery of Force every Force user cultivates and specifically the Dark side Force users seem to focus on.
While dark side users get associated with anger, hatred, and fear, they celebrate these emotions for providing focus. It should be noted that grim determination, the survival instinct, or a strong desire to protect might also bring about the same levels of focus for a Jedi or other light side user to master their internal batteries and produce lightening (or whatever emotional equivalent ) powers themselves. Assuming that the “dark path” is the only way to truly master anything and the notion that Jedi don’t become bad asses until they’re angry is faulty and should be discouraged.
Specific powers only seen used by Light side Force users are harder to notice. It would seem that by simply focusing on the external Force they just perform better generally, aside from powers that specifically come from an internal Force focus. Most light side Force users have great physical prowess. Among the 3 Light Siders we see in the movies, Obi Wan was a robust and healthy old man, capable of going toe to toe with a death cyborg in a light saber duel (Okay, yes I’m taking a few liberties with what was actually filmed, shoot me). Luke was a free spirited youth who’s focus and skill with blaster and starship were legendary by the end of the first movie. He was nearly super-powered by the third movie, able to produce acrobatic leaps across great chasms, and reflexes so good he could slice apart an Imperial Speeder moving at high speeds.
And Yoda, while old and frail and small, “…judge me by my size, do you…” was 900 years old. It would seem that focusing one’s energies on learning the intricacies of the external Force make one very healthy indeed. Meanwhile the emperor was old and frail and small. Shriveled and hobbling, his form served to hide the power hidden within him. Vader himself was broken and dead, propped up only by the machines keeping him alive. It would seem that the dark side and an internal focus on the force has a very negative effect on a subjects physicality, though it’s unknown how long one must practice the dark arts before they become a walking prune.
While it’s unlikely that this aspect of the Force was confined to light siders only (especially given the moral implications of the power to begin with), light siders could use the force to bend the minds of the weak-willed. Likely through the external force altering the senses of those weak-willed. This power was used only by Obi-Wan and Luke in the first and third movies which is interesting from a moral standpoint. While it’s likely dark siders have access to this power, given the fear they generate, they likely never needed it.
So, what powers do Light and Dark side Force users share? What’s common among all Force users? We know that force users could sense each other from very far away. It would seem that all it takes to “feel” each other is to come into planetary orbit together. Yoda’s powers were so great, he was actually able to spy on Luke as he grew up, all the way from Dagobah. “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.” Those aren’t observations you make from a passing glance, or an obscure vision. Yoda was one hell of an intergalactic voyeur.
At the same time, this helps illustrate why Yoda would never need a light saber either. His mastery of the force, and the force around him would have made it impossible for an assassin to strike him, let alone even approach him. He was aware of Luke as soon as Luke hit Dagobah’s orbit (and probably sooner). It’s likely that Yoda was aware of every living thing in the Dagobah system. His power gave him complete immunity from any kind of stealth or long range attack. Only a very very VERY powerful dark sider could have stood a chance against him.
But back to Force user’s senses. Force Users can see things before they happen, and predict movement. “Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” This ability to predict movements worked directly towards their use of light sabers, making any saber battle more of a high speed chess game then an actual sword fight. This combined with the physical mastery that Jedi displayed would make them master swordsmen and intensely strategic and capable assets on a battlefield.
Obi Wan himself, was a master of stealth and misdirection, keeping Luke a secret from Vader for years. He used his powers to obfuscate, and confuse, and hide himself and others. An interesting side-note. Not once in “A New Hope” did I see Obi Wan use telekinesis. He went sneaking around the Death Star and disabled all of the tractor beam generators by hand. Even going so far as to climb out precariously on a catwalk and deactivate a generator by pulling down the lever rather then flick it with a bit of Force. Why? If he had telekinesis why do it that way? Is it possible he never trained the skill? Is it possible he never mastered this aspect of the force and was instead focused on the more martial and stealth based aspects of the Force? Given their conversation in the hut, it’s known that Yoda trained Obi-Wan. But what did he teach him? This gets into an interesting discussion of different disciplines within the force itself. It’s likely that the Jedi were much less of a full on academy, and school, and galactic organization, and much more like a conclave with groups of temples set up in different parts all over the galaxy. Each with different knowledge and ways of coming to the Force. This sets us up well for exploration of other disciplines besides what’s listed here and helps to explain why some powers were common to some Force users and some were not. Perhaps Yoda simply saw where Obi Wan’s strengths were, and never got around to discussing telekinesis with him.
There are other things to consider. How Jedi are able to mask their presence from each other, even if only temporary. In the throne room in Return of the Jedi, Luke spends a bit of timing hiding from Vader. Vader must actually goad Luke out to continue their battle. In A New Hope, Vader never senses Luke at all. It’s likely that Obi Wan masked him with his own presence somehow. This would also explain why Jedi could be generals in the Old Republic. Few were as good at detecting Sith as Jedi, and their skills would have been invaluable in a war. Though clearly, Obi Wan’s tactical skills were significant.
So, I think we have enough now to summarize a definition of the force such that we can apply it to future story telling in a consice and consistent manner with all that we’ve seen from the original 3 movies. Itallows for a much wider interpretation of what a Jedi and a Sith are and allows for greater story-telling possibilities, which is the entire purpose of this exercise.
So to summarize, external Force users get:
- The ability to enhance their own senses to the point that they can see the immediate future and possibly beyond.
- They can sense other Force users from planetary distances.
- They can speak with entities that have alreaedy joined the force in death.
- Their clarity of focus made them super fighters with light saber and gun (The likelyhood of Jedi universally sharing Obi-Wan’s disdain for guns is low. Especially given Luke’s use of a blaster pistol throughout the movies.)
- These skills extended into things like starship operation.
- The ability to affect the senses of the weak willed
- The ability to become invisible to all forms of detection, save other Force users.
- Telekinesis and the ability to affect objects in the real world with the mind alone.
Internal Force users get:
- Energy absorption capabilities
- Force storms (though this is likely just another use of telekinesis).
- The ability to manifest their emotions in the physical world as energy.
From our lists here, it would seem that internal Force users get the short end of the stick on this party. However, there’s no reason to believe, given the cross over in powers and skills that both jedi and sith possessed that there were certain powers only obtainable via the dark side and certain powers only obtainable via the light side. This seems anti-thetical to the nature of the Force itself as we’ve defined it. Given the abilities that Obi Wan displayed, it’s entirely plausable to believe that he was in fact a master infiltrator and assasin when he was in his prime. Sent to go behind enemy lines, ferret out his objective and then get what he was after with his sword skills before fading away into “obscurity” again while the enemy was in chaos. It’s also possible that Yoda, being close minded to the possibility of the redemption of Darth Vader, was a crazy old coot living in a swamp who’s mastery of the force was great but was blinded by a traumatic past event forever hardening his heart to the notion.
The important thing to note though, is that these stories aren’t set in stone and open to interpretation. And by expanding our horizons a bit we see an entirely new world open up to explore with just a few well defined rules in place. I hope you liked my Star Wars theory post. It was fun to write if a bit long.