Welcome to an occasional new series called It’s all in the head-canon, in which I will look at some of the more questionable moments in the Star Wars canon and try to work them through with my own head-canon into something that fits the evidence available, while still feeling like it could be a natural part of the Star Wars story. For my first article, I will be looking at a controversial idea introduced in The Phantom Menace: Midi-chlorians.
The canon story
Back in A New Hope, we first heard an explanation of how the Force works as Obi-Wan began to teach Luke Skywalker:
“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.”
During Luke’s training on Dagobah, Yoda also gives this memorable speech about the Force:
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
This all sounds wonderfully spiritual, but then The Phantom Menace came along and we heard the word “Midi-chlorian” introduced, as Qui-Gon Jinn took a sample of Anakin Skywaker’s blood and had Obi-Wan do an analysis, finding that the young child had a midi-chlorian count of over 30,000 – higher even than Yoda.
When telling the Jedi Council of Anakin, he referred to the prophecy of the Chosen One by stating his belief that Anakin was conceived by the midi-chlorians. We finally get an explanation of what they are as Qui-Gon teaches Anakin:
“Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life-form that resides within all living cells.”
“They live inside me?”
“Inside your cells, yes. And we are symbionts with them.”
“Life-forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.”
And suddenly the once-mystical Force seems to have been demoted to a by-product of some microscopic creature forming a bond with you.
Midi-chlorians even got a quick mention more recently in The Mandalorian, though you may have missed it, as the hologram of Dr Pershing reports that Grogu’s blood was being used in their experiments due to it’s high M-count.
It’s all in the head-canon
So it certainly feels like we have been given a scientific explanation for a spiritual phenomenon. But is this not also what we try to do in real life, trying to find scientific reasons for why certain phenomena occur. And, as my old statistics teacher frequently reminded us in class, correlation does not always imply causation.
What if the scientific theory in-universe is that it is the build-up of these midi-chlorians that gives rise to people’s potential to use the Force, but actually it is the reverse, and that the midi-chlorians sense the power – or potential power – of an individual and congregate to these individuals. In terms of quantifying an individual’s power with the Force, an M-count would probably be the most accurate way, but this would not account for someone with supposedly less ability but a more open mind allowing them to use the Force better than someone with more ability but a closed mind.
Consider for a moment the Chiss Sky-Walkers, Chiss children who are able to use the Force to navigate through “The Chaos” while travelling through hyperspace, only to lose these powers in their early teens. What sounds more believable: the midi-chlorians suddenly leave these Chiss children in their early teens but stay in other species for their whole life, or that the way the Sky-Walkers are treated leads to them losing their ability to use the Force and the midi-chlorians subsequently leaving them.
But then why are the Jedi using M-counts to assess individuals. Well that’s the easy answer: the Jedi Order is a shadow of its former self by the time of the Naboo crisis. Their neutrality and spirituality is at a low and they are basically and the beck and call of the Galactic Senate, too stuck in their ways of only training children taken when young and preaching no attachment, whilst also being far to quick to take up arms in the Clone Wars rather than remaining as peacekeepers.
And so in this way, the introduction of midi-chlorians goes from a horrible and unnecessary explanation of the Force to another example of how the Jedi Order failed.
What do you think of this theory?
Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you….