Thursday, March 19, 2015


As the rather clinical, biological explanation for the Force's mystical properties, the midi-chlorians -- widely disliked and derided by fans near and far -- actually serve as a key thematic underpinning to THE PHANTOM MENACE, in some sense serving, in micro-form, as a miniature represention of the societal machinations that are happening on higher levels of living. A close look at the dialogue and events of EPISODE ONE illustrate the manner in which the story depicts heretofore isolated races and beings strewn across the galaxy being forced to put aside their prejudices for the greater good of the whole, just as the mid-chlorians themselves work together in the body to maximize one's latent Jedi potential.

Throughout the course of the film, varying alien races cast disparaging words on 'outsiders' among them. Near the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a form of discrimination that will endure throughout all six films of the series -- the blatant disregard for droids and their fate. Worried about the  mortal consequences of engaging in physical combat with the pair of Jedi that have landed on their vessel, the Nemoidian alines, representatives of the Trade Federation, casually remark that they can just send in a droid -- which leads to a slightly startled response from the C-3PO-like robot overhearing these wrods. Droids, being little more than mechanical slaves, are disposable in the STAR WARS universe; you may recall how in A NEW HOPE they are banned from the cantina. Even young Anakin Skywalker, who has spent much of his young life assembling what will become C-3P0, sheds little tears when it comes time to say an emotional good-bye to his project. "I'll make sure Mum doesn't sell you or anything," he says -- words that are delivered with the flippant assurance only a child can possess.

(Tellingly, in this short scene, George Lucas shoots Anakin's good-bye from the POV of C3PO himself -- one of the few times in the entire series that the audience can witness such a 'personal' vantage point. We are literally inside a robot's head at this point, and the result is an oddly humanizing effect; the viewer can feel what it must be like to see the world through these manmade eyes. In a way, being inside his mind, such a gaze gives the droid a dignity that the other characters in the story themselves would never think to extend. Intriguingly, such a POV is repeated  near the end of EPISODE III, where we are suddenly plunged into the viewpoint of Anakin himself as his Darth Vader mask slowly descends and is molded to his face. We are witnessing, through Anakin's eyes, his last moments as 'human', before he too becomes a new form of machine. These POV's are such a rare form of visual and character intrusion in ther series that their mere presence has an emotional effect; in these brief interludes, we see the whole world through the eyes of another -- again, ironically 'humanzing', through C-3PO and Anakin, what is a literal robotic existence.)

Thus, right from the beginning of the film, we are given an example of a kind of casual prejudice. This notion is soon elaborated upon as each now form of alien life is introduced, to the audience and each other.

Jar Jar Binks, a member of the Gungan race of lifeforms from the underwater territories on the planet of Naboo, is initially tolerated, but barely, by Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Even C-3PO is clearly not impressed, at one point stating about Jar-Jar: "I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little odd.") They seem somewhat condescending to his odd gait and form of speaking.

Not that the Gungans are any more hospitable; Jar Jar warns the Jedi that his race doesn't like outsiders, so don't expect a warm welcome when they meet with the chief. Indeed, said leader, Rugor Nass, is quite suspicious not only of the Jedi, but also of the land-dwellers on Naboo; in his, shall we say, distinctive dialect, he mentions how they think that they are so big, while the Gungans are so small. In essence, his pride, and the pride of his people, is hurt by the people of Naboo's obvious disregrad for their race.

Here we have the Jedis (representing a spiritual sect), the Gungans (the plainspoken 'locals', or indigenous tribe of the planet) and the elite of Naboo (representing the royal family and government) all essentially existing as isolated sects of their own, occupying independent worlds that have not had the need to merge before now.

It is Obi-Wan Kenob who senses the need for a kind of communion.He highlights to Rugor Nass a vital theme of the film -- that 'you and Naboo form a symbiont circle'. In essence, in the midst of this trade war, each needs the other to survive, then prosper, and endure.

The word 'symbiont' is repeated when Qui Gon Jinn explains the concept of midi-chlorians to Anakin, who he strongly suspects has powers far beyond his young years. Isolated from the Federation on Tattooine, a desert planet in the Outer Rim of the galaxy, a slave boy, Anakin is the least likely person imaginable to a be a future Jedi master. And not just any Jedi, but the one who might even fulfill the prophecy of bringing balance to the Force. Yet it is within his blood that his destiny is foretold.

(Not that Anakin, either, is free from the distdain of those who care little about other forms of life. Learning of his existence, Obi-Wan quips: "Why do I sense we've picked up another pahetic life-form?" Alluding to the seeming uselessness of Jar Jar Binks, Obi-Wan is not exempt from his own facile prejudice. Ironically, Anakin himself harbors only positive thoughts, proclaiming at one point: "Nobody can kill a Jedi!" Every one has assumptions about the 'outsiders' among them.)

Qui-Gon recognizes the unlikeliness of a boy such as this one being worth much at all. He even remarks that had Anakin been born in the Republic, his talent would have been spotted much earlier. The implication is that Tattooine is a backwater, and that lifeforms on worlds such as this one, on the outer ridges of the universe have little contact with the more 'developed' worlds of the Republic. (This could possibly explain why Han Solo in EPISODE IV believes Jedi to be purely fictional beings; by that point in time, and at that point in space, the Jedi would have no historical relevance to creatures like himself from far-out points in the galaxy.)

Discovered 'by accident' (though Qui-Gon eventually believes he was fated to be found, and his mother admits that he was a 'virgin birth'), Anakin possesses an extraordinarily high midi-chlorian count. When asked what midi-chlorians actually are, Qui Gon explains that they are "symbiont life-forms living together for mutual advantage." This line serves as the key from which we can understand the frame of the film as a whole.

The Force, as explained by Qui-Gon, is thus composed of actively alive organisms within the body that must co-exist together in order to advance.  The higher the midi-chlorian count, the more cells that are engaged in a higher form of co-operation. Given that midi-chlorians help to predict one's potential as a Jedi, you could then argue that one's progression as a Jedi can be read as being able to meld with the 'other' -- essentially 'all living things' --  at a rate that others can't easily replicate.

Earlier in the film, Anakin's mother remarks upon how caring her son is -- that he thinks only of others, never himself. As a person, in society, he is thus embodying  the kind of communal reciprocity that the midi-chlorians in his body are also enacting on a microscopic level of existence.

The midi-chlorians, as a concept, are mentioned only briefly in the film, and, to many, their very presence robs the Force of its spiritual grandeur. Such a criticism is missing an essential point -- that these midi-chlorians (obviously named, I would think, to resemble human 'mitochondria') are actually the cellular emobodiment of the ultimate aim of the Force -- a oneness with everything, each entity benefiting from the other, thereby adding to the progress of everything around us. All creatures possess this capacity, on a biological level; elevating it to the powerful level which a Jedi must reach simply extends this notion into higher notions of physical and spiritual capacity.

Anakin, the boy who thought only of others, had a higher midi-chlorian rate than anyone had ever seen, which merely meant that his potential for mutual cooperation and assistance was hard-wired from the start. Yet it still had to be honed, controlled, nurtured. That is what this first trilogy is about -- Anakin's ultimately unsuccessful journey to actualize, in life, what the midi-chlorians are already enacting in his physical body.

 Lucas uses the midi-chlorians, as a biological reality, to also metaphorically examine how the very nature of societal existence depends on one's ability to co-exist with others for mutual satisfaction. The tragedy of the prequels is that Anakin cannot maintain the potential he exhibited so clearly as a child, that he wielded so effortlessly, that was in-built from the start. The struggle for this mutual co-existence is what will lend Anakin down a path on which his enormous potential and good intentiosn are manipulated and distorted by those who seek selfish control and the domination of others. The prequels' entire saga is thus nothing more than the tale of the disintegration of the very underpinning of the Force, the mid-chlorians writ large, gradually separated and scattered.

Yet, in THE PHANTOM MENACE, all is not yet lost, and it's this 'symbionic' notion of co-operation that threads the whole film together. The Jedis must learn to trust the Gungans; the higher-echelons soldiers and royalty of Naboo (in the form of Queen Amidala) must literally bow down before the Gungan leader and beg for his help; the Gungans must put aside their distrust of the people out-of-water and assert their own bravado.

STAR WARS: EPISODE ONE -- THE PHANTOM MENACE introduces various lifeforms that initially do not get along. The political and legalistic aspects of the story, so often dismissed as boring and superfluous, actually serve to anchor the spiritual journey each set of aliens undertake. The nominal story hinges on disputes over taxation and trade -- which may seem like a rather dry hat on which to hang the start of an epic space-saga, but in these prosaic matters of routine politics and enforcementt we are also examining the fundamental roots of pure greed and selfishness -- spiritual matters that the rest of the films in the series will delve into in depth. Taxation on trade routes, and the inability of one group of beings to want to share their bounty with another, and the steady means by which war is enacted over selfish root causes like these -- notions that serve to underpin (and undermine) the alien co-operation that triumphs in spite of these tangled desires of plain greed.

By the end of the film, the 'symbiont' relationship between species that Obi-Wan Kenobi stressed ealrier in the film  has been achieved, if only for a moment. The Gungans have gained the respect of Naboo and the Jedi on the battlefields; Anakin has overcome his slave past and become a figher-pilot hero; the Jedi Council have (albeit reluctantly) allowed a slave-boy from an Outer Rim planet to be trained as one of their own; and all now stand united on stage at the climax of their victory parade, the spiritual, and 'primitive', and political, united. The midi-chlorians -- those microscopic, biological elements existing in the physical realm --  have now had their cosmological components writ large on a societal scale -- 'symbiont life-forms living together for mutual advantage' as Qui-Gon once explained to Anakin. The basic beauty of the ending is that this notion of true togetherness has materialized and bisected itself across variously alien lines of initial distrust. The true tragedy is that the audience knows (or suspects) that such a delicate co-existence can't last all that long.