Once you start down the path of asking the big Star Wars questions, forever will it dominate your destiny.
When George Lucas’ epic space fantasy was born in 1977, viewers left the theater with all sorts of plot questions bubbling in their heads — questions that now look quaint to our eyes. Did Darth Vader survive the Death Star explosion? Why did Obi-Wan vanish when Vader killed him? What were those Clone Wars Luke asked about? Who would Leia end up with, Han or Luke? Who was Luke’s dad, really, and why did Vader kill him?
Which was all well and good; those questions set us up for some of the greatest plot twists in the history of cinema. But there were also, from the beginning, some Star Wars questions that were better left unanswered. Questions like: Why is there sound in space, or why did Han say he did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs when that’s a unit of distance? (Answer: Lucas said he wanted to “ignore science” and write a fantasy instead.)
The Star Wars franchise thrives, and has always thrived, on mystery. Some mysteries keep us coming back for the next adventure; some are to be left well alone. Pick them apart too much and our disbelief is no longer suspended. In the four decades since 1977, Star Wars media has struggled with figuring out which is which, and often erred on the side of explaining too much.
To keep us all on the same page in the future, then, here’s our definitive list of the big Star Wars questions that really don’t need a more in-depth answer than the subtle ambiguities we’ve already seen on screen.
1. How does the Force work?
In the original movie, Obi-Wan gives one simple, succinct explanation of the Force: It gives a Jedi power because “it surrounds us, penetrates us, binds the galaxy together.” Otherwise, the old General opted to show, not tell, what the Force could do (bamboozle Stormtroopers, mostly). Yoda did much the same in Empire Strikes Back, moving rocks and adding a touch of spiritual poetry: “luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
Then came The Phantom Menace, where Lucas unveiled the concept of midichlorians — tiny cellular creatures that are present in large quantities in the blood of the Force-sensitive. Fans feared that a deeply spiritual concept was now being given a biological explanation. Lucasfilm tried to explain that midichlorians are markers of the Force, not the cause of it, but the damage was done. (Lucas never cared about the backlash, and his plans for the sequel trilogy, shelved by Disney after he sold the company, delved even deeper into the microbial world.)
It’s safest, then, when Star Wars sticks to examples of the Force being used rather than how it works. Every movie has introduced us to at least one new Force power, such as Force lightning (Return of the Jedi), Force visions (The Force Awakens) and Force projections (The Last Jedi). Some are more controversial than others. But at least the franchise hasn’t stopped to explain the science of how these mystical powers work, and that is most definitely for the best.
Midichlorians aside, the prequel movies were actually a pretty good example of why even the Jedi themselves shouldn’t ask too many questions about the source of their power. Jedi masters seem to spend many interminable meetings asking themselves what the “will of the Force” is, as if such a thing were knowable. They also debate an ancient prophecy about a “Chosen One” who will “bring balance to the Force.” Such scriptural debates blind them to the elaborate Sith plot that destroys the entire Jedi order and ushers in the Empire.
2. Where did Anakin Skywalker come from?
Speaking of Phantom Menace, the movie left us with another dubious dangling plot thread. According to his mother Shmi, young Anakin Skywalker was a virgin birth. Fans were left scratching their heads when this curious fact remained unexplained right through the final prequel, Revenge of the Sith.
What they didn’t know is that an early draft of Sith had Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) explaining to his soon-to-be-apprentice that he had “manipulated the midichlorians” to bring about Shmi’s pregnancy. Palpatine then compounded that bizarre twist with a groan-worthy reference to Empire Strikes Back: “You might say I’m your father.”
Luckily Lucas opted to cut this dialogue, leaving Anakin’s parentage a mystery that we all get to answer with our own headcanon. Was it midichlorians? Was it the will of the Force? Or was there a simpler explanation that Shmi simply wouldn’t admit? It depends, as Obi-Wan once said, on your point of view.
3. What’s the deal with Yoda’s species?
Another Phantom Menace mistake: The movie added a second member of Yoda’s species, the female Jedi master Yaddle, albeit as a background character. Prior to that, Lucas had insisted that not the slightest details on Yoda’s background, nor the name of his species, would ever be revealed. The 900-year-old green guru carries with him an air of mystery and wonder, and it’s best kept that way.
So for all our excitement over The Child in The Mandalorian, the creature unofficially known as Baby Yoda, there remains some concern among fans that the show will reveal too much about the species and their extreme Force sensitivity. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger says The Child has a name, and even that may be a step in the wrong direction. The Mandalorian works so well because the protagonist knows nothing about his foundling; if the showrunners are tempted towards explanations in Season 2, the show could easily run aground.
4. Why are all planets one biome?
Tatooine is desert. Hoth is ice. Dagobah is swamp. Coruscant is all city. Mustufar is all volcanoes and lava. Jakku is desert, again, with a sprinkling of old Star Destroyers. The forest moon of Endor even boasts about its single biome in its name.
This isn’t how living planets work, of course. Varying conditions at different latitudes create wildly different ecological zones. But it’s convenient shorthand in Star Wars to associate planets with a single biome, in part because it helps clearly explain where the characters have gone, especially when cutting between locations. Make each world’s climate too complex and we’d forget where we are.
5. How come the technology doesn’t get updated?
Star Wars, to its credit, has boldly stuck with the look of the 1977 movie. Even in the sequel trilogy, screens are pixelated, holograms are monochrome and standard-definition like an old TV, consoles are full of blinking buttons, and nobody seems to have even thought of inventing the smartphone.
While designs and fashions change across the movie series to suggest the passage of time (witness the Flash Gordon style of the prequels and the cleaner, more modern Stormtrooper helmet design of the sequels), Lucasfilm is doggedly committed to the old-school tech seen in every film. Why? Because changing it now would require too much explanation. Just go with it.
6. Are droids sentient?
One kind of Star Wars technology remains more mysterious than others, and that’s the droids. They walk (or roll) and talk (or beep) in a pretty human fashion, but are they self-aware like humans? Answering that question will take you down a deep, dark, philosophical rabbit hole.
If they’re sentient, and toil for their masters for no reward, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that droids are slaves, and that even the mighty Luke Skywalker is a slave owner.
Solo pretty much went there with L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a character whose fight for “droid rights” was one of the more intriguing parts of an uneven film. L3 dies liberating droids and her brain is uploaded to the Millennium Falcon. Which in turn gives us the even more uncomfortable image of L3’s consciousness being trapped in the ship, forever, like something out of a Black Mirror episode.
Even before L3, however, we had to consider the fact that Threepio gets his memory wiped at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Isn’t that droid abuse, at the very least?
7. Who is telling the story of Star Wars, anyway?
Notably, Threepio’s constant companion R2-D2 doesn’t get his memory wiped. He’s the only character in all nine movies of the Skywalker Saga who sees and remembers all. Which gives credence to something George Lucas told his crew on the set of Revenge of the Sith. The entire story of Star Wars, he said, “is being narrated by Artoo, to the keeper of the Journal of the Whills, a hundred years later.”
Now that has never been officially confirmed in Star Wars media, but it does make you see the whole series rather differently. You start to notice the number of times Artoo saves the day. You realize that at no time does he put a tripod foot wrong, while his pal Threepio messes up constantly.
Does that mean everything we’ve been watching since 1977 is skewed, a piece of propaganda from a sassy little trashcan droid with a giant ego? Is this whole story being told via an unreliable narrator? Best not to think of such things. Just keep repeating the essential mantra: All is as the Force wills it.
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