Study Guide

Star Wars: A New Hope The Force

The Force

The Force may be with you, but what exactly is the Force and why is it so clingy? Obi-Wan tells us a lot about it, yet it remains a mysterious part of the Star Wars mythos, meaning viewers are likely to have unique conceptions about what the Force symbolizes in Star Wars.

Given its ineffable nature, we may not be able to tell you what the Force represents, but we can share a few qualities we noticed to get the discussion going.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Speaking about the Force in a 1977 documentary, George Lucas says,

"It's sort of boiling down religion into a very basic concept. The fact that there is some deity or some power some… force that controls our destiny or works for good and also works for evil is always been very basic in mankind."

The quote suggests the Force represents religion broadly rather than a specific one—that it has boiled away the imagery, tenets, and hierarchies to focus on the core of religious beliefs. And it is true that the Force isn't a one-to-one analogy for a real world religion. For example, the Force isn't this universe's equivalent of Catholicism. There's no Space Pope. Nor does the Force correlate with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism. The force is religion, not a religion.

So in what ways does the Force symbolize religion? The Jedi for starters. As Grand Moff Tarkin says to Vader: "You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion." The implication is that the Jedi were a religion organized by a creed and not a movement of vagabond priests bound by a loose central philosophy.

We don't get a clear sense of the religion's structure, but Obi-Wan tells Luke, "the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic" (Star Wars). The line conjures images of crusading knights of yore, so we can easily picture a council of Jedi making decisions, warrior Jedi on the front lines, and squire Jedi learning the trade.

The prequel films fill in this hierarchy, but for our purposes, we understand that the Jedi aren't masterless warriors just doing their thing: they're an organization dedicated to fighting evil and studying the Force—after all, it's difficult to defend peace and justice when everyone isn't on the same page.

You Gotta Have Faith

The reason that we say "study" and not "worship" because it remains unclear whether the Jedi worship the Force. The Jedi's relationship with the energy field seems a bit more equitable than that. Obi-Wan tells Luke that the Force "obeys your commands," making it something he can use like a talent or tool.

Yet Obi-Wan also puts his faith in the Force. He believes that it'll control his actions in a beneficial way and that the Light Side of the Force will ultimately lead Luke to his proper destiny.

Speaking of faith—that's another quality the Force shares with religion. Many people in Star Wars don't believe in the Force. Han Solo begins the film as pretty dang skeptical:

"I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense."

Obviously Han Solo is mistaken; how else would Darth Vader be able to choke someone from across the room? Yet belief in the Force remains a faith-based proposition. Those who don't believe can't sense the Force—in much the same way those who don't believe in religion aren't prone to having religious experiences. Luke doesn't seem able to use the Force until he's told about it by Obi-Wan, and he personally chooses to believe his mentor's words. Only then can he access this special energy field. There are no agnostic Jedi.

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