This was originally a sample chapter that was included in a book proposal. The proposal was ultimately rejected but a lot of what’s mentioned has a unique perspective on the subject.
When Obi-Wan tells Luke for the first time in the original 1977 movie “Star Wars“ (it would later be retitled “A New Hope” when the prequels were developed) “May the force be with you,” the audience had never heard of ‘The Force’ before, and didn’t have a frame of reference for what “The Force” was or what it was supposed to be. So, throughout the movie and the entire saga Lucas needed to explain what ‘The Force’ was without it sounding didactic or preachy. As the “Star Wars” universe expanded, the audience wanted to know more about the nature of ‘The Force’ and what powers and abilities it entailed. With each movie the powers of the Jedi and the Sith were expanded and explained.
What we know of ‘The Force’ is from what the characters in the movies tell us, as well as what the Jedi and the Sith demonstrate. There are also some powers of the force that have never been stated but we can make inferences about if we read between the lines of the actions and interactions of the Jedi Knights and the Sith Lords.
How George Lucas Created The Force
George Lucas has cited various religious, philosophical anthropological, and even films as being the source or model for his idea of ‘The Force,’ but those ideas are from the adult filmmaker searching for philosophical ideas to explain his idea of ‘The Force’ to the press and audience at large. But ‘The Force’ in its earliest incarnation came from Lucas’ own powerful personal experience, a car crash when he was 17 years old that almost cost him his life, but instead altered his outlook on life.
The young George Lucas by all accounts was at best an average student. Instead of school, Lucas’ interest lay in cars and cruising the main drag of his home town Modesto, California. In order to graduate with his high school class Lucas had to pass all of his final exams. He spent a Tuesday afternoon at the library cramming for his final exams so he could graduate on Friday. The seventeen year old Lucas was returning home from the library when he crashed his car, a Fiat Bianchina, into a tree. The velocity of the car was so fast that it moved the tree a couple of feet and threw Lucas from the car. As Lucas recuperated from the accident in his hospital bed he had a chance to assess his life and his place in the universe, trying to make sense of the accident, trying to find the meaning behind the accident and the reason for his survival. He thought there must be some meaning and connection in the universe, that some force or power must connect everything. It was from this search for meaning that was the nascent impetus and idea behind what would become ‘The Force.’
What is The Force?
The Force as described in the Star Wars saga is an all enveloping power that binds the universe together, and those that are adept in the nature of the force can manipulate it to their own wills either for good or evil purposes. In Episode IV, “A New Hope,” the audience learns about the nature of The Force along with Luke as he discovers it through Obi-Wan Kenobi’s teachings, “It’s an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
In a momentary deviation from the all encompassing field that permeates everything in “The Phantom Menace” Lucas links The Force to biology, that people had knowledge of the force and could manipulate it based on the amount of a symbiotic life form, midi-chlorians that are present in the body. Qui-Gon explains that midi-chlorians are an intelligent microscopic life form that live inside all living things and if they’re present in sufficient numbers enable the host to tap into and manipulate The Force. The main purpose of the ill-conceived midi-Chlorians as explained in “The Phantom Menace” seems to be only as a device to quantify the young Anakin Skywalker as being a powerful force sensitive and “the chosen one who will bring balance to The Force” because his midi-chlorian count is “almost as high as Master Yoda’s.” Midi-chlorians also support a minor theme in “The Phantom Menace” of there being a symbiosis between life forms which is awkwardly developed throughout the movie. Having served their purpose, midi-chlorians aren’t developed any further in any of the “Star Wars” movies.
The Jedi and the Sith
In the Star Wars saga The Force is accessed by two groups of practioners, force sensitive users who manipulate the force for either good or evil purposes, the light or dark side, they are the Jedi and the Sith. They both have some powers and abilities in common, as well as having force abilities unique to their sects. Both the Jedi and the Sith approach the use of the force as a priestly vocation but with very different methods and goals in the use of the force. The Jedi use their powers and abilities to bring peace and justice throughout the galaxy, while the Sith use the force for acquiring greater and greater power in order to rule the universe. While the movies don’t delve much into the history of either the Jedi or the Sith, they do give us tantalizing glimpses of their past.
The most information we’re given on the history of the Jedi comes from Obi-Wan when he tells Luke “for over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old republic, before the dark times.”
The one extended history of the Sith in the Star Wars saga comes from Senator Palpatine as he tells Anakin the legend of Darth Plagueis and how he was such a powerful Sith Lord in the use of the dark side that he was able to keep those he loved alive until he was killed by his apprentice. Palpatine tells Anakin the story with such gusto and apparent relish in the fate of Plagueis, one has to wonder whether what Palpatine was telling Anakin was a memory and he was the apprentice that killed Darth Plagueis.
The only other look we get into how the Sith operate in the Star Wars universe is at the end of “The Phantom Menace” when Yoda mentions the “rule of two” that there are only two Sith practioners at a time, but he doesn’t mention why. In fact, this is an idea Lucas may have taken the idea from the Star Wars expanded universe. In the early history of the Sith there were lots of Sith lords, but in their pursuit of power it caused the Sith sect to be in a constant state of chaos, so they adopted “the rule of two’ that there can only be two Sith lords at any one time so they can work together towards a common goal of overthrowing the Jedi, rather than fighting each other in the pursuit of greater power. More in depth histories of both the Jedi and the Sith can be found in the expanded universe resources that are available in Lucasfilm approved novels, comics, cartoons, and video games.
Powers and Abilities of The Force
Jedi Mind Trick
Manipulating the weak minded is one of the first discerned powers of the Jedi that Obi-wan not only explains, but demonstrates to Luke in Mos Eisley. When Luke’s speeder is stopped by stormtroopers looking for R2D2 and C3P0, Obi-Wan is able to tell the troopers that “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and the stormtroopers numbly repeat what Obi-Wan has said, and they are allowed to pass through the check point unscathed. Obi-wan tells Luke, “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded.”
But the Jedi’s mind manipulation isn’t always successful. Jabba the Hutt’s reaction to Luke’s trying to use the Jedi mind trick is to laughs at Luke and his attempts to manipulate his thoughts in “Return of the Jedi,” the simple reason is, that because you’re on the opposite side of good doesn’t necessarily make you weak minded and easily manipulated. In “The Phantom Menace” the Jedi mind trick is played for laughs as Qui-Gon waves his hand in front of Watto while trying to influence him to come down on his price for a hyper drive. As a matter of fact Watto mocks Qui-Gon when he says “What’re you waving your hand around like that for? You think you’re some kind of Jedi?” Qui-Gon can’t influence Watto because his love of money is a firm conviction that can’t be swayed or altered.
Interestingly enough, the Sith, who are adherents of the dark side, and have the ability to influence the minds of others, as well as the Jedi. It would seem to be a power they would embrace, but in the entire Star Wars saga not once do Darth Vader, Maul, Tyrannous or the Emperor use the mind trick, and it’s only referred to as a “Jedi mind trick” even in the films! It’s only the Jedi who use the power to influence the weak minded, the Sith seem to be proponents of free will.
Telekinesis is one the powers of The Force shared by the Jedi and the Sith. Telekinesis as a power in the Star Wars universe is never explained, it’s demonstrated, and often. We first see Luke use Telekinesis when he’s hung upside down in the Wampa’s cave with his lightsaber just out of reach, Luke reaches out with his mind and causes the lightsaber to jump into his hand just as the creature moves in on him. Later in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Vader uses telekinesis to trigger the carbon freezing chamber when he thinks Luke has been trapped in it. In the prequels with the advance of filmmaking technology and computer generated effects (CGI) objects really start jumping and flying around the screen; in the climatic battle in “The Phantom Menace” between Darth Maul and Gui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Maul psychically throws objects with his mind at doors to open them as the climatic fight moves from room to room.
Another shared power of the Jedi and the Sith, it is one of the best known of the Jedi powers, even to the people who live in the Star Wars universe. In “A New Hope” as General Tagge dresses down Darth Vader clairvoyance is enumerated as a Jedi/Sith power when he says, “don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerers ways Lord Vader, your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels hidden fortress,” right before Vader “finds his lack of faith disturbing,” and introduces Tagge and the audience to the power of the force with a force choke (see below).
It isn’t until “The Empire Strikes Back” that clairvoyance is not only demonstrated as a Jedi power but the entire plot turns on Luke discovering the power. While undergoing Yoda’s Jedi training, Luke has visions of Han, Leia, and Chewbaca being tortured on Bespin, that later causes him to impulsively go off to rescue them. We can see an echo of this in “Attack of the Clones” when Anakin is having dreams of his mother being tortured by Tusken Raiders that impels him back to Tatoonie to murder the desert denizens that captured and tortured his mother. In the saga’s chronology, Luke is the echo and the scenes are meant to mirror each other in Anakin’s and Luke’s stories as both are drawn to the dark side and the choices they inevitably make.
It would be remiss not to mention Yoda’s clairvoyance in “Attack of the Clones” and “The Revenge of the Sith”. Yoda is shown at various times peering into Anakin’s future. Of course, Emperor Palpatine’s assessment of events in “Attack of the Clones” and “The Revenge of the Sith,” “everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.”
Empathy is almost simultaneously explained and a demonstrated ability of the Jedi or the Sith. In “A New Hope” Obi-Wan urges Luke to “stretch out with your feelings” in learning how to use the lightsaber with the remote on their way to Alderaan. It’s also in this scene that Obi-Wan suddenly feels faint and when Luke asks him if he’s okay. Obi-Wan says, “I felt a great disturbance in the force as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror at once and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” Soon after the band discover the empire has destroyed Alderaan with the Death Star.
Both the Sith and the Jedi place great emphasis on empathy as a tool to their purposes, a common question or request to others is to “search your feelings.” In Luke’s confrontation with Vader on Bespin after Vader tells Luke he is his father, Vader implores Luke to “search your feelings, you know it to be true.”
The most pronounced use of empathy is when Vader brings Luke before the Emperor to turn him to the dark side and the Emperor feels Luke’s anger and hatred, much as he felt Anakin’s emotions in his first attempt to turn Anakin to the dark side. Palpatine says, “I can feel your anger, it gives you focus and makes you stronger.” This is another echo or mirroring of the stories in Anakin’s and Luke’s journeys.
To a minor degree other characters, at times, demonstrate a limited ability for empathy, especially after it’s revealed there’s another hope for the Jedi if Luke is destroyed by Vader. At various times throughout the films characters say “I have a bad feeling about this,” including Han, Leia and even C3P0.
This is the first ability of The Force demonstrated in Star Wars “A New Hope” and seems to be Vader’s favored punishment for those who oppose or fail his plans. The force choke is used by Vader with increasing degrees of skill and elegance as the series progresses. In “A New Hope” Vader holds out two fingers together and General Tagge is choked for his “lack of faith” (see clairvoyance), before Tarkin orders Vader to release him. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Vader chokes Admiral Ozzel from his quarters and gives Captain Piet the field promotion to Admiral.
In “Rogue One” Vader is shown using the force choke in it’s most elegant execution as he warns Director Krennic not to be too ambitious.
Psychometery is the ability to feel the presence or feelings of others. This proximity sense is an extension of reaching out with your feelings and both the Jedi and the Sith demonstrate this power.
In “A New Hope” Vader is able to feel the presence of Obi-Wan on the Death Star and reports to Grand Moff Tarkin that he knows Obi-Wan Kenobi is there because he’s felt “a tremor in the force. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.” Right before Obi-wan confronts Vader on the Death Star he feels Vader’s presence and takes out his lightsaber before Vader enters the hallway to block his escape to the Millennium Falcon. In “The Return of The Jedi” Vader is able to feel Luke’s presence on Endor from the distance of his super-star destroyer and reports this to the Emperor.
There may be some limits to the ability to perceive another’s presence from a distance. Both the Sith and the Jedi feel the presence of others from a distance but there must be some proximity limit of The Force users to one another, or Vader and/or the Emperor could have simply felt Yoda’s presence on Dagobah and sent a detachment of stormtroopers there to eliminate him.
In the opening battle of “A New Hope” which takes place in orbit over Tatoonie, Vader doesn’t feel Obi-Wan’s presence on the planet below while he can feel Luke’s presence on Endor from his Star Destroyer. Although the Emperor is unable to feel Luke’s presence on the planet maybe it isn’t only a question of proximity but also of empathy or emotional connection to a Force user that enables them to perceive that Force user from a distance.
In “The Empire Strikes Back” Vader tries to use this power to lure Luke to the dark side of The Force by reaching out to the fleeing Luke on the Millenium Falcon and we know Luke hears the thoughts of Vader because he responds in agitation saying “father?“ before being soothed by the thought of Obi-Wan.
It’s a power that is demonstrated exclusively by the Sith, and only the most powerful Sith at that. Vader is never shown to use force lightning. Force lightning isn’t revealed as a power until “Return of the Jedi” when the Emperor literally shocks Luke and the audience with it when Luke refuses to turn to the dark side. The Emperor strikes Luke with bolt after bolt of lightning flying from his fingertips.
When the trilogy of the prequels were released, chronology was messed with in that the events of the prequels precede the events of what becomes the second trilogy but if the Star Wars movies are watched in chronological order of the universe they fictionally occur in. We learn in “Revenge of the Sith” that Senator Palpatine is the Dark Lord (a revelation that has been telegraphed in the films since “The Phantom Menace“), he uses force lightning in his battle with Mace Windu to great effect sending him plummeting to his death out of a window.
Although force lightning is a powerful tool in the Sith’s use of The Force, it is by no means infallible. In “Attack of the Clones” Count Dooku/Lord Tyrannus unleashes it in his climatic battle with Yoda, but Yoda a powerful Jedi contrary to his diminutive stature, is able to stave off the bolts and safely collect them and fire the energy ball back at Dooku. Yoda also does this in his initial confrontation with the Emperor.
Soothing beasts is a power that is demonstrated only by Anakin in trying to escape the arena in “Attack of the Clones.” Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan have been captured by Count Dooku/Lord Tyrannus and the separatists and have been sentenced to death in a Roman Coliseum type arena by wild beasts. The three are tied to pillars and the beasts, an Acklay, Nexu and Reek are released to kill the Jedi and Padme. In the nick of time, Mace Windu and the clone army show up to rescue them and a chaotic fight ensues. In trying to make their way to safety Anakin is seen holding his hand in front of the Reek, a large bull like creature, and seems to be using his powers to soothe it. When the Reek has settled down, he and Padme are able to mount it and ride to safety.
In the Star Wars saga as already noted there is some mirroring or echoes of Anakin’s story in Luke’s. In “The Return of the Jedi,” we see one such example although Luke isn’t as fortunate in its use as Anakin was. When Luke is plunged into the chamber of the Rancor, Luke is unable to soothe the giant beast that Jabba the Hutt keeps in a cell under his throne room. When Jabba triggers the trap door that sends the unsuspecting Luke to his apparent doom in the jaws of the creature, Luke demonstrates no knowledge or Jedi skills in soothing the creature and has to kill it with his ingenuity. This possibly could show that while Luke is a powerful Jedi, that some times leaves even Yoda in awe, he may not be as powerful or skilled in the force as Anakin was.
Force Ghosts/Joining The Force
The corporeal survival of a Jedi after death is first seen in “A New Hope” when Vader slices Obi-Wan in half but when Vader checks Obi-Wan’s robes finds them devoid of Obi-Wan’s corporeal body. Almost immediately Luke starts hearing the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan urging him to escape. In the battle over the first Death Star, in a decisive moment Luke hears Obi-Wan’s voice to “use The Force” and Luke has to decide to trust technology or trust in The Force and himself. Luke turns off his targeting computer and he hits the thermal port with his torpedoes by trusting in The Force. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke and Yoda see the force ghost of Obi-Wan and easily converse with him and in “The Return of the Jedi” Yoda, after confirming Luke is a Jedi, dies and his body disappears in front of Luke. Obi-Wan reappears and assures Luke that “Yoda will always be with you.”
In the prequels the force ghost phenomena is hinted at more than explicitly stated. Qui-Gon who is killed by Darth Maul is heard as a disembodied voice by Yoda while meditating, yelling “Anakin no!“ when Anakin kills the village of Tusken Raiders. In “The Revenge of the Sith” as Yoda and Obi-Wan are leaving for their respective exiles, Yoda informs Obi-Wan of Qui-Gon being able to survive past death and join The Force without losing his individual identity, and in his exile Obi-Wan will learn how to join The Force upon his death.
Even though Palpatine tells Anakin of Darth Plagueis being able to master the power of life over death he doesn’t seem to be talking about becoming a force ghost as no Sith reappears in the films as a force ghost. In “The Return of the Jedi” after Darth Vader dies it is Anakin’s force ghost that appears to Luke. Perhaps this implies the Sith cannot survive corporeal death.
Does coming in contact with a stronger force user increase your powers?
This is a power or ability of the force that isn’t explicitedly mentioned or demonstrated in the Star Wars saga, but one we can infer that happens from the advances in the use of The Force Luke experiences from movie to movie. When we leave Luke at the end of “A New Hope” he’s only had one lesson from Obi-Wan on the trip to Alderaan, which could have only been a few hours of training. But in “The Empire Strikes Back” when we first see Luke in the ice cave he’s able to use The Force to cause his lightsaber to jump into his hand from its hold in a snowdrift. In “The Return of the Jedi” Luke announces himself to Jabba the Hutt as a Jedi, and demonstrates advanced use of The Force in manipulating the weak minded. Where has Luke been learning to use The Force and expand his powers? Was the force ghost of Obi-Wan training Luke? If so, it’s not mentioned in any of the movies, the only intervening event that we’re shown is Luke’s confrontation with Vader on Bespin at the end of “The Empire Strike’s Back.”
In each case of the exponential jump in Luke’s powers, Luke has been in the presence of a more powerful Force user Jedi. In the first instance he was with Obi-Wan, the second instance is, of course Luke’s battle with Vader on Bespin, and after each episode Luke demonstrates expanded powers and abilities. It can only be assumed that Luke is benefiting from some synergistic effect of being in the presence of a more powerful user, and may raise the question, did Luke‘s powers make the same exponential jump after his confrontation with Palpatine?