A discussion that would have deserved to have been dead for at least 15 years has now recently resurfaced. Of course I am talking about the debate around Midichlorians and whether or not they are supposed to play a part in the Sequel Trilogy. Most of the discontent with Midichlorians is based upon ignorance or stupidity and not seldom a combination of both.
Do Midichlorians demystify The Force?
No! But I can understand where this worry originates. If Force powers were somehow contained in Midichlorians and if having many of them automatically meant being strong in the Force, then it might have been a reasonable worry. Qui-Gon’s interest in Anakin’s Midichlorian count is understood by many to mean this, but actually this interpretation is overly simplistic and makes no sense within the narrative of The Phantom Menace. After all, Anakin is at that moment still weak as a Force-user despite his high Midichlorian-count. So Midichlorians are evidently not little ‘vessels’ containing ‘Force-stuff’. This kind of demystification only exists in the minds of those who don’t care to actually listen to what is being said in these movies.
But doesn’t the ‘Midichlorian-idea’ imply that The Force is simply a bio-physical ‘thing’ rather than something mysterious and all-encompassing like what Yoda referred to? Again, no! Here I find it a little harder to understand why this made people so anxious. Yoda refers to the Force as “life creates it”. This statement is beautifully ambiguous due to Yoda-speak! Yoda could imply that the Force is an entity created by Life itself in some very mysterious and profound manner. But Yoda’s usual interchange of subject and object could also make this sentence mean that the Force is actually creating Life! But whatever your preferred reading of Yoda’s wisdom is, there is an undeniable connection between the Force and Life. My preferred reading of Yoda’s remarks is that it goes both ways.
The ‘Midichlorian-idea’ only reinforces and deepens what Yoda says. The connection between Life and the Force is not something cooked-up by humans (or other sentients in the Star Wars Universe) but it has been an ingredient in the whole evolution of all forms of life from Day One. Anchoring the relationship between the Force and Life at the microscopic and single-cell level (i.e. Midichlorians) makes the notion of the Force something universal across all species and life-forms. It deepens the mystery rather than taking away from it.
So what are Midichlorians?
This is actually the very first question about the Force that Anakin asks Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon recounts that it is a microscopic life form residing in all living cells, that any more complex life form is a symbiont with this microscopic life form and that they form the connection between these lifeforms and the Force. One of the nice aspects of Lucas’ Star Wars ideas was that they were never outlandish. The same holds true for the ‘Midichlorian-idea’. In the only form of life we actually know, life on Earth, there is a microscopic life form very similar to the elusive and speculative Midichlorians: Mythochondria.
Mythochondria reside is nearly all cells of all living complex organisms. They play a crucial role in the processes that sustain the life of a living cell and are sometimes known as a cell’s ‘factories’. One rather popular theory regarding the origin of the Mythochondria in life on Earth is that of the symbiosis of very early mythochondrial life with the early single-cell lifeforms. I think it is irrelevant whether George Lucas had this in mind when he decided to include the Midichlorians in the Star Wars canon. What is relevant is that the thought he put forward is not some loony idea of an ignoramus but something that meshes extremely well with what we know about the universe without taking away the mystery that should surround the narrative of the Force. Those who claim that the Midichlorian-idea degrades the mystery of The Force and thus reject it are really no different than those who refuse to contemplate Evolution or the Big Bang because these would degrade the divine nature of the God they believe in. In both cases it is an error of judgement made out of fear and possibly laziness.
Midichlorians in the Prequel Era
Midichlorians are mentioned in Episodes I and III, not in II as there they have no relevance to the story. The Qui-Gon scene in Episode I is the one which ignited the debate among the haters back in 1999. The scene which is just as important from The Revenge of the Sith is that in which Palpatine recalls the abillity of Darth Plagueis to manipulate the Midichlorians into creating life. Without the set-up in The Phantom Menace the future Emperor could have never swung this bait in front of Anakin’s face. The connection between the Force and Life is a crucial element in enabling Anakin’s fall. Only because Anakin knows these things, does he realize that possibly there could be a Force power that would enable him to achieve that goal he has stated so often: to keep people from dying.
Seeking this control over life and death is a very potent motive for Anakin and a narrative that crucially hinges on this deep yet concrete connection between the Force and Life.
The Midichlorians however figure in another crucial storyline set in the Prequel Era. I am of course referring to Yoda’s final arc in season 6 of The Clone Wars. When I ignore all the other important story-telling in that arc and focus exclusively on the Midichlorians then the episode in which Yoda visits the ‘birthplace of all life’ takes centre stage. It is also referred to as ‘the planet of the Midichlorians’ which probably is only meant to signify it is the centre of the universe of the living Force. The whole arc expands on the connections between the living Force, the cosmic Force and the future of the Jedi Order. But the Midichlorians form the organic anchor of the living Force, creating life and being created by it. Yoda learns the crucial lessons that transform the Prequel Trilogy-Yoda into the Original Trilogy-Yoda in this place. It is a place of deep mystery and profound wonder. It is a narrative that wholly relies on the Midichlorian-idea.
Midichlorians in the Original and Sequel Trilogies
So what does this all mean for the Original and the Sequel trilogies? Do they need to deal with the Midichlorian-idea? I would say again the answer is: No! On the one hand the presence of Midichlorians in the Star Wars Universe is about as unchangeable and as beyond discussion as the fact that humanoids breathe oxygen to survive. There is no need to address that as it is assumed evident. But in addition to that a lot of Jedi and Sith lore and knowledge will have been lost during the reign of the Empire. That is not to say that this knowledge is not available somewhere in secret vaults containing holocrons. But the wider public will have abandoned most of the stories regarding Sith and Jedi after the flame of the Jedi has gone out in the Galaxy. Even during the Republic times there were only so few Jedi that hardly any galactic citizen will ever have encountered one during his or her lifetime.
Does Luke know about Midichlorians? Or Leia? Probably not! On screen they never discussed it and neither did Yoda or Obi Wan with either of them. Han Solo is evidently completely oblivious to Midichlorians, probably for him they are just Mythochondria … little factories in the cell … no less and no more. The Midichlorians are of course still around, but the Jedi and the Sith who were so aware of them no longer are. Luke does not need to know about Midichlorians to grow in the Force just as little as Usain Bolt needs to know about Mythochondria in order to grow as an athlete. But there may be other areas where the knowledge would come in handy.
Just like the storyline in the Original Trilogy has no need for Midichlorians, there is no a priori reason why the storyline in the Sequel Trilogy would need to utelize the Midichlorian idea. Again, this would not say anything about whether or not Midichlorians exist because we know from the Prequel Era that they do as a fact. And The Prequel Trilogy as well as The Clone Wars are canon … period. If JJ Abrams or anyone else working on the Sequels wants to avoid Midichlorians then not only are they perfectly capable of doing so without any implications for the role played by Midichlorians in the Prequel era, I would even say they should only bring them in when there is a definite need for such in story-telling.
Midichlorians are a deep mystery within the Force. Sith and Jedi have sought to unravel the exact role and purpose of Midichlorians or, as Darth Plagueis, have sought to manipulate them. Scientists on Earth attempt to unravel the exact role and purpose of Mytochondria as well as their exact origin. The existence of Mythochondria does not depend on whether you believe them to exist, or whether you like their existence. But it would be outrageous to suggest that every good piece of literature should include explicit references to Mythochondria. In most storylines that would simply make no sense whatsoever. The same is true for the Midichlorians in the Star Wars Universe. But those storylines in which they do play a crucial role can be counted among the most important and impressive stories in the Saga. Such stories should only be told occasionally and with great care. There is no evident need for The Force Awakens to go near that terrain.