Tuesday, February 28, 2017


In their final duel in EPISODE IV, Obi-Wan Kenobi warns Darth Vader that if he is struck down he will become more powerful than his former apprentice can possibly imagine. As a child I always expected Obi-Wan Kenobi to come back as some kind of literally all-powerful being, only to be puzzled that Obi-Wan seemed to think being a ghost was the same as being all-powerful. Which was even more disappointing, considering Kenobi’s assumption that Vader lacked the creativity to imagine ghosts.

I was eight years old when I first saw Kenobi's Force Ghost in EPISODE V, but even I could imagine ghosts, especially when your ghost is just a blue, transparent version of yourself that's otherwise the same as you were the last time I saw you. At the age of eight I had been to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, and that was exactly the way ghosts were represented there, so metaphysical beings of this stature were not difficult to imagine at all.

Pretty much the same thing...

What I didn’t understand when I was a kid was that Obi-Wan was in part speaking metaphorically. As a symbol, he was much more powerful in inspiring Luke and the rest of the company. As a martyr, he compelled them to honor the sacrifice of everyone who had already lain down their lives to free the galaxy from both the oppression of the Sith and the tyranny of the Empire.

Because guilt is how Jedi get people to do just about everything.

Less metaphorically, as we see revealed in later canon like the CLONE WARS series, was the fact that when Obi-Wan died he was to become an agent of the Living Force, just like Qui-Gon Jinn had before him and Yoda would after. While the original trilogy makes it look like all good Jedi turn into happy Jedi ghosts whose job it is to watch over Luke and occasionally tell him things, the fact that Anakin becomes a Force Ghost after his death hints in EPISODE VI what is further suggested in CLONE WARS: You become a Force Ghost not because you’re becoming one with the Living Force, but because you screwed up somewhere along the line and you have to help make it right before you can move on.

So let's examine the "physics" of Force Ghosts in the STAR WARS universe. Where do they come from? And why? If this isn't something that just happens to Jedi when they die, how does it happen?

Though I have to admit, the "why" is not always the easiest nut to crack.

We find the most definitive (i.e. legalistic) answer to this question in the CLONE WARS TV series, centered specifically around the first Jedi in the saga whose body didn't just magically disappear into thin air: Qui-Gon Jinn. The first time I saw EPISODE I it seemed strange to me that Qui-Gon's body was burned on a pyre much like Darth Vader's was burned at the end of EPISODE VI. Either Qui-Gon wasn't a very good Jedi (an argument you could make without a whole lot of effort) or disappearing serenely into nothingness was not the typical Jedi way of dying.

So what was the deal with Qui-Gon? The prequel films never bothered to go into this, other than some throwaway dialogue that shoehorned in the promise that Qui-Gon was a ghost and would teach Obi-Wan how to be one too, but this oversight was satisfactorily rectified later on in the CLONE WARS.

Qui-Gon Jinn appears as a Force Ghost at two separate pivotal junctures in the CLONE WARS series. The first time is during a bizarre storyline in the third season where Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka travel to a mysterious planet called Mortis. 

Mortis is a sanctuary/prison containing three archetypal Force-wielders who appear to personify the Light Side, the Dark Side, and the balance in between. Order is maintained by the wise old Father, while the Light is more or less represented by his Daughter, who looks like an Elven Fairy Princess, and the Dark is represented by his Son, who looks exactly like the Inquisitor from the REBELS TV series.

Above is the Son from planet Mortis in CLONE WARS.
Below is the Grand Inquisitor from REBELS.

The  Father believes that Anakin's destiny is to succeed him in his role. To this end, all three Overlords of Mortis participate in a number of trials intended to test Anakin's worthiness.

In the middle of all this, Obi-Wan is visited by the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, who tells him the planet is a conduit through which the Force of the entire universe flows. He warns Obi-Wan that the three Force-wielders believe, just as he does, that Anakin is the Chosen One. He believes that Anakin may discover the balance he needs on Mortis, but warns Obi-Wan that it is a very dangerous place for someone with Anakin's power to be.

"To be honest, taking an 8 year old with that kind of power and dumping him on a Padawan
who only just completed his training was probably also,in retrospect, not completely well-advised either."

Meanwhile, Anakin is visited by what appears to be the ghost of his mother, who attempts to dissuade him from his feelings for his loved ones in order to seek a greater destiny. This spirit is quickly revealed to be the Son in disguise, which leads them all to believe later on that Qui-Gon must also have been a construct from their memories rather than a Force Ghost (an explanation that helped to reconcile this visit with the fact that no one at that time knew what Force Ghosts were or that Qui-Gon could become one).

"I mean, sure, we fought an evil space god in a lava pit that tells
you the future, but ghosts? That's just silly."

Ahsoka also receives a visitation from a spirit claiming to be her future self, who warns her against Anakin exposing her to the Dark Side. Like Qui-Gon's warning to Obi-Wan, this grave prediction will prove true over time. Only Anakin's visitation is proven to be a deception.

Here's Ahsoka in REBELS, staring down the business-end of the galaxy's biggest "I told you so".

The Jedi become way too involved in the Son's plot to supplant the Father, working with the Daughter to prevent it because his goal is to leave the planet. It's never really stated why, but he could do way too much damage to the universe if ever set free. The plan goes sideways immediately after the Daughter decides the only way to stop the Son is to kill him with an ancient mystic dagger. The Son takes over Ahsoka and uses her to steal the dagger for him, then releases her from his hold by apparently murdering her. Just as he is poised to strike the Father, the Daughter intercedes and is killed instead.

For a bunch of super-powerful Force Gods, the Overlords of Mortis
get awfully hands-on in situations where a Force-push would probably do the trick.

This action pushes the Son completely over to the Dark Side (in much the same way Kylo Ren later hopes murdering his father will cement his commitment to the Dark Side). At the Daughter's insistence, her last remaining power is channeled through Anakin into Ahsoka and Ahsoka is resurrected. 

Instead of leaving after this horrifically traumatic experience, the Jedi stick around against the Father's advice, thinking they may be able to help even though they have clearly only been making matters worse. The Father tells them outright that they're just as likely to be used to help the Son. He even tells them that what has happened to the Son and Daughter will only serve to strengthen the Sith.

Think about what's going on here, in mystical terms. The Jedi have basically met the Gods of the Force. The Goddess of Light and Life is killed and the God of War and Darkness becomes stronger for it. This has a physical, literal effect on the forces of good and evil throughout the universe, portending the fall of the Jedi and the ultimate triumph of the Sith.

Qui-Gon's spirit later returns to Mortis, appearing this time to Anakin. He advises him to visit the Well of the Dark Side, a place that is strong in the Dark Side of the Force, in order to learn how best to realize his place in the prophecy. Inside the well, the Son shows Anakin visions of a future where he becomes Darth Vader. These bizarre guardians of light and darkness are beyond the Jedi and the Sith, but they represent the positive and negative aspects of the Force, the Yin and Yang that are both necessary to maintain the balance. The Son offers Anakin the opportunity to change his future by joining him, which Anakin ironically decides to do. 

Note how the bottom of the Well of the Dark Side forms a perfect Yin Yang.

The Son vows that they will restore balance by destroying the Sith and the Jedi. Anakin tells Obi-Wan that he now understands that it is the Jedi who stand in the way of peace. "He's mine now!" the Son laughs. Both completely true statements, by the way. In fact, destroying the Sith and the Jedi is exactly how Anakin will ultimately manage to restore balance to the Force.

The Father conveniently erases Anakin's memory of the future before anything of substance can be drawn from this encounter, but the entire story is a weird metaphor for what will become not only of Anakin, but of the galaxy and even the Force itself. The story demonstrates just how easily Anakin can be swayed to become the very thing he is trying to destroy and it plants the unconscious seed for the decisions he will later make.

The story breaks down into a typical lightsaber fight, but in the end the Father can only stop the Son by killing himself, thus robbing the Son of his power. And as the Son weeps over the death of his father, seemingly regaining some trace of goodness, Anakin stabs him in the back. The Father assures Anakin that he has restored balance to Mortis, just as he will to the galaxy, but issues one final warning to beware his own heart. Then he disappears, the first character in the saga to do this as he dies.

Because this is STAR WARS, the planet explodes. The three of them wake up as if the whole thing was a dream, learning that they have only been gone a moment.

There are three obvious reasons this story is very important in examining the unique nature of the Force Ghost in the STAR WARS universe. First, it's a hammer-subtle allegory for the delicate balance between good and evil that is tied up in the battle between the Jedi and the Sith. It shows us that light and dark are not necessarily related exactly to either of those philosophies, but as one succumbs to the other, the balance of power shifts in ways that can have grave direct consequences for the rest of the universe. We also see the inner struggle facing Anakin, in which his fear of achieving his dark destiny informs all his decisions to insure this outcome. We see his single-minded thinking and frail emotional state, both of which contribute to his choice to join forces with an obvious malefactor for what he believes is a greater good.

Second, the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn manifests itself to Obi-Wan and Anakin in the very same capacity we will see Obi-Wan's spirit appear to Luke and direct him to complete his spiritual/mythical journey. It is never revealed if this is truly the spirit of Obi-Wan's former master or merely a manifestation of his own hopes and fears, but he appears to be the actual spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn and doesn't directly represent the wishes of the Force wielders on Mortis. This being the case, he doesn't seem to serve much purpose as an illusion they would conjure.

Third, the death of the Father is the first time we see a Force wielder fall and disappear (presumably into the Living Force). This appears to be the standard when we see Obi-Wan and Yoda pass on in the original trilogy, but now we know that this transformation is significant. Obi-Wan wasn't just talking tough right before Vader killed him. It has a very powerful and meaningful purpose when a Jedi dies in this manner.

Just what that purpose might be is something we'll explore a little more in-depth as we come to the final days of the Clone Wars. Then we'll see a little more clearly the role that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi will play in the final fate of the Jedi Knights.

No comments:

Post a Comment