She’s taking cover around the corner of the corridor. Bits of wall and sparks flash above her head as blaster fire erupts around her. Her heart pounds with adrenaline and she fights back both the fear and exhilaration of the battle. She has no idea how many stormtroopers are out there. Maybe more than she can handle. She takes a deep, calming breath…one more second…and, with no Force ability whatsoever, she steps out from cover and takes out three troopers with three quick blaster shots.
Characters with no Force powers are of course common in the Star Wars universe, and many of them are some of the most iconic and beloved. However, most of the main heroes and villains are Force users of some kind. Most of the narratives we become so engaged in are tied to the Force, or are bolstered by it. So the questions is: is the Force essential? What if there were no Force users at all? Would it still be Star Wars? Recently I have seen a few tweets suggesting that Star Wars should move away from familiar tropes, Jedi-centric stories being one of them. Expand its universe if you will. It’s an interesting concept: Star Wars with no Jedi. Can we strip out all Force philosophy, visions, levitations, flips, jumps, defections, mind tricks, chokes, and pushes? Take out lightsabers? Eliminate Yoda? Give Anakin a more traditional conception? Maybe. If we look at A New Hope, where the Force was at its simplest, and remove that from the story, what are we left with? That movie set in motion a pop cultural movement 40 years strong. Take the Force away and it becomes just a movie, right? Perhaps Lucas could have pulled it off. Without Jedi and their tricks the story still has its parts. The hero’s journey is there for Luke. Obi-Wan can still be a wise and seasoned mentor. The tyrannical Empire would still need to be defeated by the righteous underdogs. The princess would still need to be rescued (and get to do rescuing of her own). Luke could still make the one in a million shot. Movies and stories in general have characters that do extraordinary things without mystical and magical assistance. I have to believe, though, that Star Wars would not have had the same impact. It would lose one of its biggest qualities: being a story a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. The scene in Obi-Wan’s house, when Luke ignites his father’s lightsaber for the first time and hears the story of his father being a Jedi and destroyed by Vader, is a moment of transportation. When we go from a movie theater to a desert planet far from the bright center of the galaxy. Without it, audiences still would have loved the effects. They still would have been captured and awed by the opening shot and the trench run. Certainly the cantina scene is part of the magic. But I think it would have stopped there. A cool movie maybe, but not the cultural force that we have. It’s beyond sci-f and moves us towards fantasy. Obi-Wan tells Luke, “You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world.” That “larger world” is what makes Star Wars so fascinating. Remove it and you are left with an action movie.
Perhaps I’m taking it too far. I think the point of the tweets is that the Jedi and similar characters are crutches for storytelling. We need not forget the Force existed, but we don’t need it be the center of attention. We could tell other stories. There are many things that shape and define Star Wars: space travel to varied worlds, sentient beings of all shapes and sizes, starships and hyperdrive, and struggles between good and evil. Collectively, all of those things still add up to Star Wars, don’t they? I’m not so sure. Take away the Jedi, and the Force, and you lose two things. One, Jedi and Sith, or whatever they may be called in the future, are, simply put, pretty cool. But so are Han Solo, or Poe Dameron, or Hondo Ohnaka, or a myriad of other characters. So, we can scratch that one off. Coolness can be replaced. Second, the Jedi, or the Force, also give us a conflict. It gives us opposing forces. Jedi and Sith, light and dark, or permutations thereof, offer us a metaphor into the soul–an elemental view into how we function, alone and together, as a species. Too much? Maybe that is a little thick. But that is Star Wars. It’s more than good guy versus bad guy. How do you replace that? Rogue One is not supposed to feature Jedi, or at least not be centered on a Jedi story. Its plot gives us the struggle, I suppose. The ragtag group taking on the power structure. Throw in Saw Gerrera and his moral murkiness and maybe, just maybe, there is enough of that Star Wars essence there. The creatives, however, I guess just to be sure, give us Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe who seem to represent the believer and and the nonbeliever…in the Force. I guess they couldn’t resist. Maybe they needed a little more Star Wars in their Star Wars. It’s hard to not too.
Indeed, it’s difficult to come up with examples in the current universe that don’t feature, either explicitly or implicitly, the Jedi or Force in some way. I’m no Star Wars novice, nor am I an expert. But I guess that’s the point. One must travel further and further away from the films to find it. Legends has examples. Early books featuring tales of various background characters or even the x-wing books. The comics I’m sure had stories with no Jedi, though that’s an area I’m least familiar with. The new canon features stories that aren’t tied to the Force, like Lost Stars or Aftermath. Those books feature great storytelling and compelling characters, with little or no Force components (though this might have to do with the Story Group saving the Jedi stuff for later). Certainly they are well within the Star Wars universe. And the new “Han-thology” movie with definitely have more Han Solo luck than the Force. Well, maybe it’s not so hard after all, to realize non-Force narratives. It’s a big galaxy. I suppose there is plenty of room for other kinds of stories. Either way, it will be a lot of fun.
Fore more of my thoughts on the Force, check out my post “Easy to try, impossible to master.”