Star Wars: The Last Jedi overflows with so many wonderful, bizarre and unexpected moments. In the coming weeks, we’ll have plenty of flashy scenes to discuss and Easter eggs to share. But I’m most enthused about one small but important shift the film takes with the franchise: The Last Jedi starts to open the Force to everybody.
[Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow.]
Quick context: In the maligned Star Wars prequels, George Lucas introduced sentient microorganisms called midi-chlorians, which exist within the cells of all living beings. Midi-chlorians serve as a scientific explanation of who can and can’t use the Force.
Here’s how Wookiepedia explains midi-chlorians in relation to Darth Vader, née Anakin Skywalker: “Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One born of a mother but without a father, possessed the highest known count in galactic history — over 20,000 midi-chlorians — surpassing the potential of all the Jedi including Grand Master Yoda.”
Yes, that’s a very dry explanation for something that should feel magical. Midi-chlorians take the Force, a power originally rooted in spirituality, and make it scientific in nature. Being a master of the Force isn’t something developed by faith. It’s not available to everyone.
When Disney acquired Star Wars, it was unclear whether the company would stick to this canon. Midi-chlorians fit in well alongside Disney’s other big brands. In this context, Force users aren’t so different from superheroes and princesses. These are the stories of people born with power, given power or married into power; rarely do they achieve it on their own.
The Last Jedi doesn’t totally retcon this idea of Force powers as birthright, but it does suggest there may be more wiggle room to who can and can’t be a Force user. Late in the film, we finally learn the identity of Rey’s parents. They weren’t just poor non-Force users; they were faceless extras in the Star Wars universe.
The more you think about an affinity with the Force being hereditary, the more boggled the logic becomes. For starters, if Jedi aren’t allowed kids, how do they even know the Force is hereditary? So now we know that Rey, a child of non-Force users, is strong in the Force. Was she born with that ability? Or is there more to it than that?
It would seem the latter. Just before this scene with Rey, Luke Skywalker talks with the spirit of Yoda about the purpose of the Jedi and the powers of the Force. Yoda suggests Skywalker is too rigid in how he thinks about the power, that he’s become too obedient to the text rather than the practice. There’s no talk of midi-chlorians or blood-borne powers. Instead, the film leans into the spiritual. Remember, Yoda was a Jedi Master of the era of the Jedi Council, leading a regimented and hierarchical Jedi order and seemingly bought into the science of the Force.
Yoda also saw the Jedi order fall, failing the galaxy. It seems that the former master has seen the limitations of the Force as it existed. (Disney noticed, too: The truth about Rey’s parents calls to mind the suggestion in Rogue One that Chirrut Imwe, a man devoted to the Force, had developed a connection with it — not as a Jedi, but as a patron of the faith. Perhaps the studio has been gradually expanding the scope of the Force all along.)
Then there’s the final shot of The Last Jedi: After the grand climax, the film features a quiet little coda. An unnamed servant boy cleans the stalls of a racetrack on a distant planet. With a flourish of his hand, he Force-pulls a broom into his grip.
Until this point, this franchise has been built around the magical bloodline of the Skywalker family. It’s been fun, but has it been relatable? Not for me. I’m grateful The Last Jedi ends not on Luke or even Rey. Instead, we get a no-name kid in a corner of the galaxy, cleaning the floor, looking at the sky and wondering what his place will be in all of this.