As a kid, I always tried to use the Force. I’m sure you’ve tried it. Probably out of laziness. I would climb in bed, tired, after a long day of playing. I’d plop my head on the pillow and realize the light was still on. I’d say to myself, “You’ve got this. You’re a luminous being. Not crude matter!” (I’m not sure I knew what any of those words meant) And I would close my eyes and hold up my hand with my thumb out, like Luke attempting to raise his x-wing. I’d concentrate….and concentrate…and nothing. The damn light NEVER turned off. I swear I was doing and not trying. The light switch never so much as twitched. It was infuriating. My attempts weren’t just limited to moving objects. I tried to use the force to run and jump faster and higher. Never worked. I might have slipped a Jedi mind trick in here and there without success. I even stood backwards at the end of the high dive at the pool in an attempt to recreate Luke’s rescue of Han. Thankfully, I was not a brave enough kid to follow through. It would not have ended well.
So, the Force is this thing, that does cool stuff, and we all want it (like BB-8). The force has permeated our pop-culture psyche in such a profound way that it is referenced everywhere and known by everyone. But what is it exactly about it that captures our imagination? What is the Force? Not just in universe, but what is it to us non-force users in the real world? The answer has to be more than “it’s cool,” though that is certainly a big part of its appeal. From Yoda lifting an x-wing to Kylo Ren stopping a blaster bolt, the Force is, simply put, really “cool.” But there is a little more there. Something that speaks to us as a species. Star Wars, obviously, isn’t just a global adventure. It’s galactic. It’s complex. It’s diverse. Thus, it begs for something grander. Something to up the stakes and compete with hyperdrives, space stations and a litany of alien species. It is an extension of our imagination as kids. It is the Star Wars version of a superhero. The Force is entertaining, it is exciting and it is most definitely badass. It is wishful thinking. The nerd version of a record breaking night on the court or pitching a no-hitter in the World Series. The Force provides a way to vicariously be something more–to reach a level of ability and skill that we might not, metaphorically or literally, be able to reach as we are. Reaching for the light switch as a kid wasn’t just a silly attempt to copy a movie. I think there was belief there. Belief Luke didn’t have in his own abilities and thus failed to accomplish the impossible. His x-wing sinks. Only when he does believe is he able to harness his potential and be a Jedi.
I won’t go into all of Yoda’s lines in Empire, because I could just end up typing out all of the Dagobah scenes and many of us know it by heart anyway. Why is that? Why is Empire Yoda almost cliche? Because his lessons still resonate. The notion of being able to do what you thought was inconceivable is very fundamental to our civilization. It is what propels us forward; it is what drives humankind to do wondrous things. That ability to dream big and go for it. We’ve walked on the moon–such an inconceivable task that people still think it is as pretend as a Star Wars movie. As a parent, that’s what I want to teach my children. I have my own version of the Force at home that my older son calls “daddy magic.” Basically I’m a jerk and trick a 6-year-old, but he believes. When we lightsaber battle I think he believes that he can force push me away. His eyes light up when, through the force of blind luck, he blocks something with his lightsaber. In that moment, he believes. I hope he takes that belief with him for the rest of the life. I hope he never loses the Force.
And if my kids do grow up with the Force, how shall they wield their power? Much of the Force philosophy presented to us has been about light and dark. Pretty basic, if not ancient, stuff. Every Star Wars medium has explored how to avoid the dark side and the consequences of failing to do so. So what do we take away from that? Don’t be evil? Don’t give into fear and anger? You are at your best when you are at peace? All great lessons for sure. But the true nature of the Force will be revealed when things become more complex. My son will eventually decipher my “daddy magic” and realize that many of the truths we cling to depend on a certain point of view. He will be pushed and pulled in many different directions, and he will be challenged by people who don’t live by a code, or worse, live by the wrong one. He may have to live a little grey. He may have to walk that line. Dealing with absolutes and being a slave to dogma are kind of the same thing. With the original trilogy we saw the Sith fail. I think Lucas rightly showed the Jedi fail in the prequels. Light and dark; Jedi and Sith. They aren’t enough anymore. When doing the impossible and dreaming big we might need a new way. I’m excited to see Star Wars start to explore this notion. What is Kylo going to find in his struggle with the light side? Will he forever fight an internal battle to be something he is not or will he discover a different path? Kanan, Ezra, Maul, and, who knows, Ahsoka too, will be exploring new avenues in the Force and teaching us new lessons. Luke Skywalker has yet to speak. Surely he will have a voice in the matter. The Force perhaps will need to be more nimble and flexible. I can’t wait to find out.
Author’s Note: In the beginning of this essay I note that I tried using the Force as a kid. That is absurd. I still try.