Science fiction and fantasy seem to be divided by a pretty definitive line. Science fiction deals in advanced technology that either doesn’t exist yet, such as interplanetary travel on massive levels, or seems to be completely impossible given what we currently understand about science, like Stargates. We suspend our disbelief and for a brief period of time allow for the possibility of the seemingly impossible. Fantasy also requires our suspension of disbelief for another seemingly impossible matter, one that is generally more fantastical that scientific. On top of that, magic is normally an unexplainable construct within a universe, and its existence is usually simply accepted without any kind of reasoning as to why it’s there. That tends to be the purpose of the fantastical. We suspend our disbelief for it, and though we like to learn how it works, we don’t need its existence defined.
This distinction, however, is not always clear cut, and it has resulted in some debate over which category Star Wars falls into. On the one hand, though it takes place “a long time ago”, the setting is still a futuristic society with advanced technology and space travel. On the other hand, the story still utilizes some fantastical elements in how it presents its technology—lightsabers, the Death Star, etc.
But probably most fantastical is the Force. Because of this, I would classify Star Wars as science fantasy, since it has elements of both. I mean, let’s face it; the Force is essentially just magic.
The Force is a unique power—potentially a living, sentient entity—that resides within all living creatures in the Star Wars universe. Some people have a stronger connection to the Force than others, and those people are called Force-sensitives. These people are the ones who can jump really high, utilize telekinetic abilities that are otherwise impossible, see the future, sense emotions, and even read minds. It is also heavily implied in the prequels that it’s possible to use the Force to create life. Additionally, Force-sensitive people can also “cheat death” in a way by becoming ghosts.
Over the history of this universe, Force-sensitive people have formed different factions, the Jedi and the Sith being the two most prominent. Both these factions ended up being religious orders that had opposing beliefs. Magic itself is often neutral and can be used for good or bad—thus, the conflict between the more peaceful Jedi and the violent Sith ends up driving the main plot of plenty of Star Wars’s stories. Additionally, it makes perfect sense that religion would inevitably evolve around the Force, since the Force, known as the Way in ancient times, might actually be a living, omnipotent entity with an infallible will. Now, religion in Star Wars is a post for another time, but these different factions also go to show us that the Force can be used in different ways. The Sith made use of the dark side of the Force. Channeling their anger through it, they were actually able to create lightning. The Jedi, who followed the light side, focused more on serenity and calming emotions. Both sides here are shown to have their strengths and their weaknesses, and though some Jedi and Sith may think that one side is superior to the other, there’s actually nothing to indicate that within the universe itself.
What we know about the Force is that, regardless of whether it’s a sentient entity or not, it does not take sides when it comes to these two factions. It demands balance, and it doesn’t really care what happens in order to achieve that balance. For example, when the Sith are on the brink of destruction, the Force certainly didn’t care that Darth Sidious plotted to wipe out all the Jedi.
The Force’s neutrality only added to its fantasticalness. It’s not something physical, so it doesn’t care about the physical world—even the Jedi and Sith who cheat death do so by abandoning their physical bodies—and with the Force, a Force-sensitive person doesn’t need physical strength in order to be strong. This is why someone like Yoda, who is old, tiny, and frail, could be such a powerful master, or why someone like Darth Vader, who is stuck inside a mechanical suit, lacks all his limbs, and cannot breathe without medical help, could also be strong enough to destroy Darth Sidious.
However, then the prequels came out and the magical elements of the Force changed. Remember that a magical construct in a story doesn’t always need to be explained—or rather, it doesn’t necessarily need to be explained in realistic terms. A less realistic explanation lends to the fantasticalness of it. Wanting to know the rules of how it works is a far cry from wanting to know how it exists scientifically in the first place. Something magical like the Force—something that is not physical—doesn’t need a physical, scientific explanation, which is exactly what George Lucas gave us, and to this day, I still cannot understand what Star Wars had to gain by this.
In The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn explains to Anakin that the Force comes from microscopic organisms in their blood streams called midi-chlorians. Midi-chlorians themselves are kind of fantastical… kind of.
However, the big problem with midi-chlorians is that they are a complete contradiction and they only raise more questions instead of answering the question George Lucas wanted them to in the first place. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells us this about the Force:
The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
So then, what the hell are midi-chlorians? You see, I always thought that everyone had the potential to be a Jedi or become in tune with the Force, since it’s something that is created by all living creatures, and that some people were just better at it than others due to spiritual or mystical reasons. But now we’ve gone from “energy field created by all living things” to “microscopic science babble” that makes no sense. Excusing the fact that we are never given an explanation to marry these two concepts and I have no idea what these organisms have to do with an energy field binding life together—can the midi-chlorians in one person talk to the midi-chlorians in another?—the explanation is just terrible. Because of this, the Force is now something physical. There is a physical reason some people can interact with the Force while others cannot. While I wouldn’t have been opposed to learning more about the Force, the Force was always supposed to be something other than the physical and midi-chlorians change all that.
Furthermore, they also undermine the overall point of the prequels. Much like how the “Mortis” episodes in The Clone Wars went out of their way to confuse and destroy the prophecy surrounding the Chosen One—a Force-sensitive person who will “bring balance to the Force”/“destroy the Sith”/whatever George Lucas feels like making the Chosen One do—midi-chlorians also completely nullify the purpose of a Chosen One, which is what the entirety of the prequels is about. Would it not be possible to take midi-chlorians from one person, clone them, and give them to another person? The whole reason Anakin’s so special—having a unusually high midi-chlorian count—doesn’t exist anymore, because anyone could become the Chosen One.
It’s not wrong to want to explain the more fantastical elements in a story—Obi-Wan’s explanation was perfectly fine—but by giving a scientific explanation to something that shouldn’t be scientific, that was based on not being scientific, can easily ruin a story. Star Wars does fit into the science fiction genre just as much as it does the fantasy one, so I cannot blame George Lucas for wanting to give the Force a scientific explanation. The problem is, however, that the Force was never something scientific to begin with. It was always something magical and mysterious. But for better or for worse, midi-chlorians are what we were given, and I just don’t know how future stories are going to expand on that. I really just want to forget about midi-chlorians altogether.