Monday, January 15, 2018

Materi-Chlorians-Part Two

So we have two--actually three--explanations of the Force. According to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977), "It's an energy field created by all living things." The Force "surrounds us and penetrates us," he says. "[I]t binds the galaxy together." In The Phantom Menace (1999), Qui-Gon Jinn is more vague, implying that the Force exists independently of living things and that we can come in contact with it or experience it only through an intermediary, the midi-chlorians that "reside within all living cells," without which "life could not exist," and without which "we would have no knowledge of the Force." (1) As you would expect, Han Solo's description in Star Wars is simplest and most direct of all: he calls the Force a "mystical energy field."

These three explanations have in common the idea that the Force may be partly mystical and partly material (or maybe, ultimately, wholly material). By Obi-Wan's explanation, the Force emanates from all living things. If it exists outside of us, it does so only by being created by all of us together, from bacteria to banthas, from butterflies to Boba Fett. That's a comforting idea, and it still allows for something greater than the Force to exist in or outside of the universe. Keep in mind that in Star Wars and its two immediate sequels, there is love, caring, and kindness among the main characters, while the Empire is demonstrably evil, in no greater way than when it destroys the planet Alderaan. The difference is stark. We know who is good and who is bad. Keep in mind, too, that only in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) does anyone say "I love you" with any deep or genuine feeling. Those facts may be significant, so keep them someplace close at hand.

Qui-Gon Jinn's explanation of the Force is far more vague than Obi-Wan's. If I had to guess, I would say that it's because George Lucas wasn't able to formulate a complete and satisfying system of belief for his second trilogy. I doubt that any person could formulate such a system, regardless of time and circumstance. Just look at the quotes by Joseph Campbell from my previous article. His ideas are fuzzy, imprecise, not well thought out, almost incomprehensible. Beyond that, there isn't any sound evidence in favor of them. We have seen this before, in every kind of cult and every crackpot religion or system of belief formulated by a single person or small group of people, in Theosophy, I AM Activity, the Shaver Mystery, Dianetics and Scientology, and the cult of flying saucers to name a few. (2) In contrast, well-established and enduring religions are worked out over the centuries, with the input and by the experience of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. Belief systems like the Force in either Joseph Campbell's or George Lucas' formulation are by comparison weak, short-lived, confused, even empty.

Ordinarily that might not be a problem, but in his second trilogy, George Lucas made the Force and all of its penumbrae central to his story. And so you get this nonsense about Anakin Skywalker's having a higher midi-chlorian count than anyone ever. Even worse, we know what that count is. Here is an exchange from The Phantom Menace:
Qui-Gon Jinn: I need a midi-chlorian count.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (after running the count): The reading is off the chart. Over 20,000. Even Master Yoda doesn't have a midi-chlorian count that high.
Qui-Gon Jinn: No Jedi has.
Obi-Wan: What does that mean?
Qui-Gon Jinn: I'm not sure.
Yeah, join the club.

The foregoing is actual dialogue from an actual movie. It may not be the worst dialogue ever written, but in the second trilogy, Anakin Skywalker's midi-chlorian count is a very important piece of information, and we as the audience are supposed to care about it. And not only care but be amazed at such a high reading--amazed at this person who is like no one who has ever before existed--amazed at a character played first by Adam Rich or Robbie Rist or whatever his name was, then by Hayden Christensen, neither of whom inspires anything at all except disgust and indifference. (3) In 1977, we could go along with the Force and feel a sense of wonder that such a thing might exist in this great universe. In 1999, we found out that the power of the Force is measurable by way of a blood test, like checking your insulin in the morning. Knowing Anakin Skywalker's midi-chlorian count is about exciting as knowing his credit score.

There is another way in which Anakin is different from anyone ever, for according to Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, he is "[b]elieved to have been conceived by the Force." In other words, his was a virgin birth, just like that other guy--what's his name? Oh, yeah, Jesus Christ. And like Christ, Anakin is a savior. In the Star Wars universe, he is the chosen one who will save the galaxy by restoring balance to the Force. (4) So if Anakin Skywalker is the Christ figure and the Force is his father, then is the Force simply a substitute for the Christian God? And if the Force is God, then what are the midi-chlorians? Are they the Holy Spirit? If so, then we have a trinity. Or do midi-chlorians instead take the place of the human soul in the theology of Star Wars? Whatever the case, if being in contact with and experiencing the Force is the only spiritual experience available to people in this universe, then only those with a sufficiently high midi-chlorian count will ever have such an experience. That leaves the vast majority bereft of spiritual experience and spiritual lives. It's no wonder, then, that human society in the Star Wars universe is essentially pre-Christian or stoic in nature. It's no wonder that people lead such grim lives.

To go further, if the Force is the highest force in the universe--in other words, if there is an impersonal and scattered Force but no personal God--then its people must lack souls, unless midi-chlorians act as their souls. But if midi-chlorians act as souls, then only those people who have sufficiently high midi-chlorian counts in their blood (or hemolymph or protoplasm or ichor or whatever fluid fills them) have anything like a soul. Even then, the Force is seemingly not a force for good but something else. Even if you're in contact with the Force, you are still cut off from any moral action. You can be bad or good and nobody cares, least of all the midi-chlorians. All human efforts, then, must lack a moral dimension. The conflict in which people in the Star Wars universe are engaged is reduced not to one of good versus evil but to a simple vying for power. Yes, the Empire blows up planets, but the Jedi, and by extension the Republic, countenances human slavery.

It's clear that in Star Wars (1977) the conflict is between good and evil. It's clear also that the main characters love and care about each other and that they're capable of joy, excitement, grief, and other very real human emotions. By the time the second trilogy begins, things aren't as clear. Again, there is the issue of slavery. More than that, though, the Jedi are shown to be more nearly political animals than some high religious order guided by a sense of morality. Love, joy, pleasure, humor--all seem to have been banished from the universe. By the time of The Phantom Menace (1999), it has become a grim and faintly unpleasant place. Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca have way more fun in Star Wars, even when they're running around on the Death Star. They're like the Dukes of Hazzard in outer space.

In the original movie, one side of the Force is exemplified in Luke--Luke as in light or light-giving--the other in Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and practitioner of the Dark Side of the Force. One wears white (or off-white). The other of course is garbed in black. (5) Again, the conflict is clearly between good and evil, whereas in the second trilogy, there doesn't seem to be a clear distinction between the two. In fact, there may not be any such things as good and evil, precisely because the Force has been reduced to a material phenomenon by the introduction of midi-chlorians. In any case, in the real world we have seen a battle between the powers of light and darkness before, in a dualistic religion called Manichaeism, founded by a Persian guy named Mani. (Not Ani, Mani.) Manichaeism took ideas and beliefs from various religions and thrived for centuries in the Middle East and Far East. It didn't last, though, presumably because it was inadequate as a belief system. Are you paying attention, George Lucas? (6)

Anyway, if there is no God, then slavery cannot be morally wrong, hence there can be no moral objection to it, by the Jedi or anyone else. And if slavery isn't morally wrong, what is? What can be? The enslaved lack souls, just like everyone else. They have no claim to any rights or freedom, for those are granted by a creative and loving God, not by the Force, not by midi-chlorians, least of all by the State, whether it be a Republic or an Empire. Slaves also have the misfortune of lacking a sufficient number of midi-chlorians in their blood, all, that is, but young, already obnoxious Anakin Skywalker, the moppet of Tatooine. His gazillions of midi-chlorians earn him a ticket out of slavery and off the backwater planet he calls home. Never mind the mother who gave him birth. We'll just take her son from her and throw her to the wolves, good Jedi that we are.

Here's my real point, though. A few paragraphs back, I mentioned love in the Star Wars universe. This should make for a short discussion for the reason that there isn't any, or very little anyway. How can there be when everyone lives a life devoid of spiritual experience and no one possesses a soul? In the original Star Wars, there is love, caring, and kindness among the main characters. In The Empire Strikes Back (1980), love between a man and a woman blossoms. Princess Leia even says to Han Solo, "I love you" (to a famously funny reply). They are presumably still in love in Return of the Jedi (1983). But those are the most human of the Star Wars movies, especially the original from 1977. As far as I remember, overt acts of love don't reappear until The Last Jedi (2017), when Rose grieves at the death of her sister, moreover when she saves Finn from sacrificing himself in the last battle on the salt planet and subsequently confesses her love for him. In the meantime, midi-chlorians appear and the Star Wars universe suffers through a lack of love. In the second trilogy, it is a grim, loveless, and humorless place. Significantly, midi-chlorians are not mentioned in The Last Jedi, and I don't think they're mentioned in The Force Awakens. Maybe the series is finally emerging from its materialist fog.

But what about the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala? Isn't that love? You tell me. Look at them together and tell me they love each other. The scenes they share are too excruciating to watch. There isn't any chemistry--no feeling, no life, no soul, no humanity in any of it. The words George Lucas (a champion of bad dialogue) puts into their mouths are embarrassing and ridiculous. I think it more accurate to say that the relationship between Anakin and Padmé is a plot device expanded for purposes of driving not only the second trilogy but the entire Star Wars saga, for who else is at its center than Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader? His whole story has to be told. And because of that, George Lucas was faced with a serious problem when he began writing the second trilogy, a problem that dates to The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader became Anakin Skywalker. Mr. Lucas had to ask himself, How do I make Anakin Skywalker turn? He has to become Darth Vader. How can that be done? His simplistic solution was not for Anakin to arrive at Darth Vader by being naturally inclined towards ruthlessness and cruelty, or to become that way by being brutalized as a child (like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, for example), or by turning because of some great existential or philosophical struggle within, or by acting simply as a kind of mercenary and suppressing any moral objections he might have to performing his duties. It wasn't even by being seduced by the power of the Dark Side. Instead it was for love and the fear of the loss of love, the one crisis that everyone in the audience has experienced and with which everyone might sympathize. That might have worked under different circumstances. We have seen great love and great loss on the big screen before. Unfortunately, George Lucas wasn't able to pull it off. And so we have a failed attempt to depict love in the second trilogy, an attempt not for the sake of telling a great love story but for getting cute, revolting little Ani into the dark guise of Darth Vader. And in that, George Lucas failed, too. I for one was never convinced that Anikan Skywalker as portrayed in the second trilogy was the same person as the Darth Vader of the original Star Wars. The larger problem of course is that if people don't have souls, are incapable of having any spiritual experience, and have as their god "a mystical energy field," how can there be love? We might ask ourselves the same question about the real world in which we live. (7)

To be continued . . 

(1) If all living cells have midi-chlorians within them, and midi-chlorians are living cells, then are there midi-chlorians within midi-chlorians within midi-chlorians, ad infinitum?
(2) These, along with a belief in the Force, are among the religions of either pseudoscience or pseudoscientific fiction, aka science fiction. Be aware that there is now a real-world belief called Jediism. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, once people stop believing in God, they'll believe in anything.
(3) Note the irony in his surname, Christensen. There is irony also in Luke Skywalker's Christian name--oops, given name--which he shares with the author of one of the Gospels of Jesus Christ and which means light or light-givingLuke is of course a nickname for Lucas, as in George Lucas. And while we're on names, consider that Qui-Gon Jinn's surname is another word for a demon or spirit.
(4) Is it any wonder that in 2008 Americans would choose as our president a man whom some called a "lightworker" and "the one" or "the chosen one"? They must have been primed for such a thing by watching the second Star Wars trilogy in the years 1999-2005.
(5) Not yet Luke's sister, Princess Leia also wears white--pure, immaculate white--at least until she falls into the depths of the Death Star, where her garments are stained and tainted.
(6) I'm not the first to link Star Wars to Manichaeism. See "Manichaeism: A Dualistic Cosmology" by Jenny Northrup at the following URL:

(7) I read not long ago that the current moviemakers are planning to introduce homosexuality into the Star Wars universe. My initial question on reading this was Shouldn't there be heterosexuality first? The people in this universe are pretty rambunctious, yet hardly anybody is interested in the opposite sex. Where do they all come from? Currently, the series appears to be aimed at children who are in the latent stages of their development. The story can be told without any kind of sexuality at all. Why bother with homosexuality? Better yet for the bottom line (no pun intended): If you think hardcore (no pun intended) fans hated The Last Jedi for all of its perceived transgressions, just wait until you show Poe holding hands with one of his buddies.

In the Manichaean struggle between darkness and light, Darth Vader easily fills the role of the powers of darkness. Given his name, Luke Skywalker would seem to exemplify the powers of light. But who else wears the pure, white vestments of those same powers but Princess Leia?

I wrote the other day about the roles women now play in movies, roles in which physical beauty is discounted and may even be considered undesirable. Now women only have to be as tough, as strong, and as in control as men. That wasn't the case in 1977 when Star Wars was released. Carrie Fisher was beautiful and played the traditional role of the damsel in distress. She was the princess who had to be rescued from the dungeon of a great castle called the Death Star. But when it came down to it, she was tough and strong. She could handle herself and a weapon. Hers was slender and dainty, though, the Virginia Slims of blasters. It's just too bad that moviemakers and audiences have decided that actresses and the women they portray should no longer be beautiful--that masculinity in a woman is a far more desirable trait. You haven't come a long way, baby.

By the way, the term blaster, originally spelled blastor, first appeared in the magazine Weird Tales, in Nictzin Dyalhis' story "When the Green Star Waned" from April 1925. I will soon have more to say about Weird Tales and Star Wars. When? Soon. How soon? Very soon.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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