The Concept of the Force in Star Wars is Unstable

The Force is said to be an energy field that pervades all things and is generated by them[1]. The wording is clearly meant to describe an impersonal thing.

But this construal of the Force collides with some other things said about it in Star Wars productions.

First, there is evidence against the impersonal reading of the Force. For example, Episode VII is called Tthe Force Awakens. Of course, only beings with consciousness can awake. You might reply that the Force ‘awakening’ is just a metaphor and that one should not read too much into it. I agree that it is a metaphor, since whatever it is, the Force is certainly no ordinary physical thing that can literally fall asleep and re-awake. But a metaphor is a metaphor for something; it conveys in physical terms invisible, abstract or spiritual truths. Suppose a young man says about a girl “Her eyes are diamonds”. He does not mean that her eyes are literal diamonds, but he does mean something that has to do with diamonds: for example, that her eyes twinkle like diamonds. Thus, the ‘awakening’ of the Force, even if metaphorical, must bear some resemblance to actual awakenings.
Still, filmmakers may not care about the right use of metaphors; they may just have chosen the title for its nice ring. But the film does embody, in the figure of Finn, what one would expect from the ‘awakening’ of a spiritual, transcendent entity. Stormtrooper Finn – completely innocent as regards any Jedi training nor showing any sign for prior Force sensitivity – suddenly awakes from the nightmare the First Order had drawn him into, refuses to kill innocent villagers and deserts his army. He also evinces abilities otherwise found only in Jedi (or Force-sensitive beings) like sensing the presence of another person. Finn’s awakening is plausibly read as the result of the ‘awakening’ of something larger that draws him into it.

A further indication of person-like traits in the Force is the famous formula ‘May the Force be with you’ – reminiscent of the Christian ‘May God/Christ be with you’. But if the Force is supposed to be ‘with’ someone in the way in which Christ is with people, then former must be as much a person as the latter. Or what would you think about someone who bid you farewell with the words “May gravitation be with you”?

Finally, different people throughout the Star Wars narratives seek guidance from the Force. No, this isn’t the Jedi using the Force through meditation to find out the whereabouts of children threatened by kidnapping[2], but actual guidance, like the guidance Christians believe God gives them when they ask. One is almost tempted to surmise that the Force had better be a God – if not the Judeo-Christian one, then at least like Aristotle’s ‘first mover’ or Plotinus’s ‘one’.

The other pillar on which my argument rests points not so much to a suggested alternative reading but to a straight incoherence. Famously, the Force is said to have a ‘dark side’ (interestingly, the term ‘light side’ is hardly ever used, though clearly implied – best as embodied by the Daughter on Mortis[3]). But ascribing moral or spiritual darkness to an impersonal force is nonsense. We would rightly cringe if someone claimed to detect ‘dark’ or ‘light’ sides in gravitation or electromagnetism! The only sensible way to apply the term ‘dark’ (in the relevant sense) is to the character of persons. And this is exactly what we witness throughout the Star Wars universe: what is dark about Palpatine is his unrestrained greed for power; what is light about Ahsoka Tano is her courage, compassion and faithfulness.
And don’t be fooled by the different Force manifestations the Sith and Jedi use respectively. The flashes of the Sith differ from the Force pushes of the Jedi no more than the use of poison gas differs from the use of artillery in warfare.

[1] A further distinction is made between ‘Living Force’ and the ‘Cosmic Force’ in episode 12 of season 6 of the Clone Wars series. The force field spanned by all living things seems to be the former.

[2] Episode 3, season 2 of Clone Wars

[3] Clone Wars, series 3, episodes 15-17

Image: Anakin has subjugated the Son (representing the ‘dark side’ of the Force) and the Daughter (representing the ‘light side’) on Mortis. Screenshot from episode 15 of the third series of Clone Wars.

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