20,000 Per Cell: Why Midi-chlorians Suck

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One word ruined Star Wars for me, and probably for a generation of fans, too. That word wasn’t Jar Jar or Watto. It wasn’t a character.

It was “midi-chlorians.”

With that one word, the mechanisms of the Force became less spiritual and more scientific. Major bummer. The draw of the concept of the Force in the Original Trilogy is that it comes across as a low-maintenance religion. It’s kinda like Unitarianism that also gives you psychic powers and enables you to jump, fight and stare better than other members of your respective species. (Seriously, Jedi wield eye contact like a weapon. Never get into a staring contest with them.) You couldn’t measure the Force really, unless it whopped you upside the head. It was just there, lingering like a threat or a promise.

Until, of course, “midi-chlorians.”

Moreover, “midi-chlorians” messes up every extrapolated wish fulfillment that accompanies Star Wars, too. Every kid who ever wanted to be a Jedi thought that all they’d have to do was train really hard, learn to concentrate and squint and they’d somehow connect to the energy that moves through all living things. But that stupid little Force Detector Qui-Gon pulls out in Phantom Menace scuttled the hopes of all such young dreamers. Forget about all those push-ups and those eyebrow raises you’ve been practicing. If you’ve got a low midi-chlorian count, won’t be no Jedi Academy for you, youngling.

But the midi-chlorian revelation raises a bunch of other questions, too. Is midichlorian count affected by diet or exercise? Do you have to be a vegan, like Todd Ingram? Do Dark Siders have high midichlorian counts after they give in to the universe’s bad mojo? Because, while those guys may be hella powerful, they sure don’t look healthy. What does the originator of the Star Wars mythos himself say?

Midi-chlorians are a loose depiction of mitochondria, which are necessary components for cells to divide. They probably had something–which will come out someday–to do with the beginnings of life and how one cell decided to become two cells with a little help from this other little creature who came in, without whom life couldn’t exist. And it’s really a way of saying we have hundreds of little creatures who live on us, and without them, we all would die. There wouldn’t be any life. They are necessary for us; we are necessary for them. Using them in the metaphor, saying society is the same way, says we all must get along with each other.

Look, far be it from me to deny Mr. Lucas his metaphors. And, yes, it seems that Lucas had these little microorganisms in mind from as early as 1977.  But, the problem with trying to create a modern-day fable is that you need to maintain some of the mystery. To me, the midi-chlorian macguffin is like saying some ninjas are just going to be sneakier than others because they have low cholesterol. Umm, what?

I know my lament isn’t a new thing and is just another voice added to the angry nerd chorus. Maybe this is too far a tangent, but when that device gets whipped out in Episode One, the line separating Star Trek and Star Wars blurs. The former series is about the empirical investigation of the universe, with technology at the forefront. The latter is more sociological, turning on the strength of personal belief and political will to change history.

“Midi-chlorians” take all the comparative religion ideas, all the quasi-mythological essences that churn at the core of Star Wars and turn them into easily quantifiable biology. And metaphor or not, I say “boo” to all that.

7 comments
faustuus
faustuus

Great article, a very fun read. "The draw of the concept of the Force in the Original Trilogy is that it comes across as a low-maintenance religion" that was perfect, you nailed it on the head. My personal problem with the midi-chlorian explination is that they are located in a persons cells. With the advanced technology of the Star Wars universe, technically couldn't someone subdue a jedi and then give themselves a blood transfusion, or swap brains and then become a jedi? Do or do not, there is always sugery

Oriflow
Oriflow

I agree that star wars (at least the older movies) are closer to fantasy than they are to sci-fi. I do enjoy the concept of midi-chlorians because I do not think it de-mystifies the force whatsoever. What more have we actually learned? We knew from before that some people were force-sensitive, and some weren't. The more midi-chlorians you have, apparently, the more force-sensitive you are. I fail to see how this yields any more information rather than another way of saying some people are force sensitive or not. It does not explain what the force is, how it interact with force sensitives or anything. 

The list could go on...

Geriath
Geriath

Star Wars is not sci-fi. Yes, it does have technology but the whole story revolves around fantasy. Star Wars is closer to Lord of The Rings than to Star Trek because both of them deal with mysterious magic forces that can't have an explanation on the rational field since they work on magic.

People are annoyed because Lucas, by explaining the work of the force, removes the mythological aspect of it. And that's not a coincidence at all, the original trilogy was deeply influenced by Joseph Campbell and his Journey of the Hero mythology. George Lucas said time and again how he used mythology as a framework for the first trilogy.

Anyway, I'd argue that the work is more important than the creator, hence I don't care about what he thinks and gladly ignore the prequels.

PacoDurazo
PacoDurazo

You hate the concept of midichloriana because you liked the "religious" and mystic aspect of star wars, but there are other type of star wars fans, the ones that don't like religion that much and are more into science.

NathanFraser
NathanFraser

As Arthur C. Clarke third law of sic-fi says: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." 

The same reasoning can be applied to biology, since human biology is an advanced biological technology. This article seems like  Evan Narcisse, and every other tragic fan's, way of complaining about something that should be appreciated. 

The Jedi and Sith are canonically religious groups so of course they would have had little understanding of their biology before the technology to study it became available. Also why would you complain? Star Wars fans have always wondered what The Force was affected by, so why is it that when The Force is explained, everybody cries about it? It's honestly quite pathetic. 

kanedaozaki70
kanedaozaki70

I agree completely. It wasn't bad enough that Lucas constantly fiddled around with the original trilogy, he had to go and ruin any magic in the prequels too.