Nothing get Star Wars fans stirred up quicker than talking about the prequel trilogy. The writers here at Nerds On Earth encountered this recently when Josh made an impassioned defense of the prequels. When Josh told us that he was working on a “prequels are good” article, it sparked an hours-long debate in our Slack chat.
Friendships were made and unmade, alliances were formed and sundered, and all agreed on a mutual hatred of Jar Jar Binks—your basic Star Wars nerd debate, in other words. But it allowed me to reveal that I agree with Josh: I love the prequels. Moreover, I think one of the prequel trilogy’s greatest “flaws” is actually one of its biggest strengths.
Fanboys consistently single out the concept of midi-chlorians as representative of the prequels’ problems. Namely, that their casual reference in The Phantom Menace removes all mystery from the enigmatic nature of the Force. Several of our writers mentioned that in our Slack throwdown.
Michael: One word—midi-chlorians.
Mike: The midi-chlorians took the Force from a spiritual idea and imposed a physical limitation.
Jason: The mysticism of the Force was part of its allure, especially in A New Hope. When you yank that out of there, you get weird dynamics that I didn’t like. Heroism should be open to everyone.
Mike: Midi-chlorians make the Force genetic. You have it or you don’t.
All legitimate points—and each points to a very deliberate decision made by George Lucas. Stepping outside of the prequels’ narrative for a moment, midi-chlorians allowed Lucas to ground the Force in a biological function.
But midi-chlorians aren’t and never were described as the source of the Force. They’re tiny, intelligent life forms that accommodate its use. According to J. W. Rinzler’s excellent primer, midi-chlorians exist at the cellular level in all life. The Force exists independently of midi-chlorians and the life forms they inhabit.
Offering a logical explanation for why some beings become Jedi while others become nerf herders is problematic for many Star Wars fans because it removes the mysticism of the Force. As Jason put it:
Jason: If you try and explain the Force in the prequels, it is a death curse on the art.
I argue, however, that the concept of midi-chlorians add a fascinating new angle to the Jedi and the Force. Consider the role of midi-chlorians one facet of the Force, a lens through which to view the most important quasi-religion in pop culture.
The prequels give us a more direct view of the inner workings of the Jedi Council than ever before. Any exploration or depiction of the Council will, by definition, draw the curtain back on the everyday work of the Jedi. Midi-chlorians are part of the problem because they’re meant to be.
When Qui-Gonn Jinn first meets young Anakin Skywalker, he can already sense the boy’s strength. His midi-chlorian test proves it—“The reading’s off the chart! Over 20,000!”
But why does it matter that Anakin’s levels are so high, even higher than Yoda’s? Yoda’s midi-chlorians are never mentioned in any relevant way again.
The midi-chlorian test exists purely as a requirement for potential Jedi. It serves no purpose for anything other than Jedi paperwork, a piece of data, the gateway to the Jedi order.
In other words, the insistence on measuring Anakin’s levels is a sign that the Jedi are increasingly bureaucratic and losing their grip on their original purpose: following the Light Side.
It is this loss of sight and purpose that leads directly to the destruction of the Jedi Order. Darth Sidious’ engineering of the Separatist War forces the Jedi to become generals and commanders in the Clone Wars, a role they were never meant to play.
Even Yoda, one of the strongest Force-users in the galaxy, fails to see the coming danger to the Jedi. When the Sith plot is executed to near perfection, the Jedi Order is wiped out almost to a man.
Viewed through this lens, midi-chlorians are not the fun-sucking symbols of late-era Lucas laziness; they are harbingers of a Jedi Order gone off the rails and rotten on the inside. The prequel trilogy feature a group of Force users who are fixated more on their own quotidian tests and rigid, inflexible system than the good of the galaxy, the Force, or those who need protection and guidance.
As a result, the Jedi pay the price for their short-sightedness and increasingly officious worldview with the death of their Order. Midi-chlorians are the symbols of the Jedi Order’s failure to adapt and evolve.