Force Ghosts, Force Spirits, Blue Jedi Group…call it what you will, but they’ve had a complicated and varied history in Legends, as the ability for Force users to become one had editors and authors alike jumping from retcon to retcon as George Lucas decided to fill in the blanks slowly over time. Once those stories were placed aside for the new canon, Force spirit practitioners went from over 80 individuals to 5 (!), the process and ability to become a spirit stayed complicated but was given some clarity, while Force spirits have since been rarely touched on or discussed. In the Curious Case of Force Ghosts, I’ll be looking at how even though the whole idea of Force spirits got simpler, it has gotten equally more complicated (Yoda’s The Clone Wars arc helped on both ends), offering up curious questions including why Anakin Skywalker hasn’t made many visits (yet), and who’s still haunting around in the sequel trilogy. Strap in, unless you’re a ghost of course then float around at your leisure, as Detective Mynock is about take you on a ghoulish ride into the spirits of Star Wars where the answers might be more fleeting than any of us would like at the moment. UPDATE 12/18/17: I’ve included a section with details gleaned from the release of The Last Jedi. It’s full of spoilers, so don’t read it if you don’t want to be spoiled.
To start, let’s look at what it means to be a Force Ghost (FG for short) and what abilities they seem to possess, at least from what has been revealed up until this point. One of the best places to understand FGs and the process to become one is the far out there but phenomenal Yoda arc that closed out The Clone Wars‘ sixth and final season. In it, Qui-Gon Jinn reaches from the great beyond, aka the Cosmic Force, and gets Yoda to start his journey to the Force Priestesses, who taught Qui-Gon (to a point, but more about that in a moment) to at least retain his identity after leaving the Living Force, and they end up testing Yoda to see if he’s worthy to learn the whole ball of FG wax i.e. retaining identity and manifesting in a spiritual form. From there, things are still a little hazy when it comes to FG knowledge: Qui-Gon can’t become a FG, but he can manipulate the Living Force, while Force nexus’ (places where the Force is extremely concentrated) actually do allow him to manifest as a FG (as seen in TCW Mortis Trilogy); For Obi-Wan, Yoda, and even Anakin as Force Ghosts, they can manifest as they please and communicate as they wish, but it still remains unclear how long this ability lasts. In fact, for a while we had an answer in Timothy Zahn’s Legends novel Heir to the Empire, where Obi-Wan, despite only being a FG for about a decade, claims the ability fades with time and he cannot return. Yet in canon, Qui-Gon retains his identity in the Cosmic Force for over a decade before he reaches out to Yoda, who then essentially promises Obi-Wan the chance to speak to Qui-Gon while they chill in exile for the next two decades (though there’s been no canon material showing the two ever managed to communicate, though Ahsoka came close), which means time might not be much of a factor anymore.
Which brings us to the sequel trilogy and the curious lack of FGs in any material connected to it. In The Force Awakens proper and The Last Jedi‘s first teaser, we hear the voices of the dead, only in whispers, but still there nonetheless. If Yoda, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan were actually communicating with Rey during her TFA “Force-back,” (though only Obi-Wan directly reached out to her, partly with Alec Guinness’ voice, so double beyond the grave points there) plus who knows how long the Force Priestesses have been around, it would imply there really doesn’t seem to be a time limit to FG-ig. However, time limit or not, the ability might not always work, especially if the Living Force is/was asleep, considering it’s essentially the Cosmic Force’s battery (and vice-versa, as Qui-Gon revealed in TCW), so no FG-ing if there’s no Force to power them up, possibly limiting their communication greatly. The Last Jedi‘s teaser includes more voices, but again, these are old words whispered, not new insights, though hearing them in the teaser might imply that as the Force awakens, the Living Force could give the Cosmic Force enough juice to get our favorite Ghosts a chance to haunt again. Beyond that, many more questions loom, plenty of which don’t have an answer (yet). For starters…
According to TFA‘s Visual Dictionary, “…the cosmic Force has lain dormant,” ever since Ben Solo destroyed Luke’s Jedi Order and the fledgling Jedi Master went into exile. Remember, the Cosmic and Living Force feed into one another (a symbiotic relationship, if you will), so were the FGs in communication with Luke up until that point and then went dark? Or is there actually a time limit of sorts and they were already fading? Did the FGs warn him about Ben and he didn’t listen/thought he had it under control? If Luke made his Jedi Order like theirs, was it because they asked him to? Can they still manifest despite the Cosmic Force’s dormancy but Luke is shunning them while in his exile? Can they order me some great pizza from another planet? Jokes aside, there’s an interesting idea to consider: did Snoke realize this was a potential consequence of turning Ben against Luke, that the Cosmic Force would take a big hit and effectively cut off the Jedi’s number one secret weapon? It’s possible it was a happy unintentional consequence, but considering if Snoke’s been around awhile and well aware of the past (paraphrasing from 2015’s EW article about Snoke), I’d not be surprised he might have had some idea of possible consequences for his recruitment/brainwash/whatever of Ben Solo. Unfortunately, these questions and theories lack answers at this point, but thankfully we could be getting clarifications sometime soon, possibly this year when TLJ hits theaters in December, otherwise these will come as the Story Group wills.
So I’m sorry to say Detective Mynock doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for quite yet, but maybe I’ve given you some new questions to ask when the time comes for the Force Ghosts to manifest once again. But, as you can tell, there’s plenty of article left, so what’s next? Below, I’ll look over what I consider some of the most interesting FG material from Legends, what canon could learn from this FGs of canon-yesteryear, and I make my case for more Qui-Gon because his story is saturated with FG lore.
Whether you like it or not, Luke Skywalker will die at some point. Maybe in The Last Jedi, maybe Episode IX, maybe some time after that…but he will, like all beings, pass away. No matter when it happens, you should fear not, as he’ll be Force Ghosting up it for a long time, be it books, comics, TV shows, videos games, or even in films as long as Lucasfilm has access to Mark Hamill. In fact, we’ve met Luke as a FG already, as one of the more enjoyable aspects to the Legacy series from Dark Horse comics where he was haunting his great-great-something grandson Cade Skywalker, attempting to guide him back into the Jedi’s path. We’re never truly going to be rid of Luke, no matter when he dies, and remembering his appearances in Legacy have put me at ease regarding his fate so please consider that the next time you get mad/disagree with someone theorizing about Luke’s death in the upcoming sequel trilogy films.
And so far the best thing about the lack of FGs in canon has been, well, the lack of them. The ability had lost its specialty in Legends, though this was due to a lack of oversight and general knowledge regarding the ability, so you can’t really blame the writers of Legend materials for it but it happened nonetheless; At least Legends had some fun with it i.e. R2-D4 and Tag and Bink. But now with there being so few in canon, the ability has truly become the Jedi’s secret weapon, hence my theories regarding Snoke trying to diminish the ability to help take down the Jedi. And when they’ll show up, and you know they certainly will somewhere, sometime in canon, it’s going to be a big deal (even bigger deal than Finn is in the Resistance), which could help show how special of an ability it is and the Jedi are lucky to have it at their disposal. At the same time, whereas Legends’ plethora of Ghosts ripped the power of the ability away, I hope canon doesn’t end up overpowering it when they do use it. A Jedi’s death should still mean something and those who know the ability shouldn’t just gleefully jump into danger’s way knowing they could become more powerful than anyone imagines, and hopefully Obi-Wan’s death serves as the blueprint going forward (and not what happened with Revan and Meetra Surik of Knights of the Old Republic fame*). Also, I hope they keep any and all FG wisdom as vague as the mist they seem to come out of, because if they dole out too much expository info (side-eyes Obi-Wan) then killing them off feels a little pointless/our hero doesn’t have to do much legwork. All in all, so far so good, canon…but Detective Mynock will be watching.
One of my favorite moments in all of Legends takes place in 1993’s Truce At Bakura, a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi, and it’s when the spirit of Anakin Skywalker (this was still before the prequels even, mind you) visits Leia in an attempt to ask for forgiveness (you can listen to the scene if you don’t have a copy of the book handy). It’s a pretty powerful moment for Leia, finally airing her griefs to Vader/Anakin, and it speaks to how it would’ve been much harder for her to find the good in Anakin had Luke failed and she were recruited to destroy the Sith, as she’s unable to look past Anakin’s atrocities as Vader. As far as canon is concerned though, Anakin never visited Leia as a FG, as the novel Bloodline not only seems to imply it, but reveals she only manages to come to terms with what Anakin/Vader did around the time said book takes place, some 6 years prior to TFA. I thoroughly enjoyed Bloodline and how it handled Leia coming to terms with Vader being her father, but I was left wondering why Anakin hadn’t visited her. Has the Story Group just deemed he realizes she’d never want him around? Does Luke ask him not to? Does she not have enough training, though if Rey can hear FG voices and Luke can be visited by Obi-Wan on Hoth, even Leia, minimally trained by Luke post-RotJ (before he sets off on his yet to be revealed adventures), should be able to be visited, no? Did any Force Ghosts visit her? As you can tell, the simple decision to not have Anakin visitations leaves a lot of questions. It made sense for Anakin to want to visit his children, and I admit it’s certainly likely he spent time with Luke, but for him to go all flaky on meeting his daughter with his own eyes seems a bit odd. Out of all the curious things with FGs in canon, Anakin’s lack of visiting is something I’m second most interested to see explained.
The most interesting: How/why did Qui-Gon Jinn start down the path and find the Force Priestesses in the first place? I’ve been hoping and wishing and dreaming year after year for a Qui-Gon novel/comic/and now A Star Wars Story movie because there’s still so much left to be learned about this most enigmatic and unique of the Jedi seen during the prequel films. As usual, Dave Filoni is a wealth of Star Wars knowledge, especially since he trained under the Master himself, George Lucas, for so many years, and he clarified some things in a Q&A way back in 2014: Pertaining to Qui-Gon, the Priestesses didn’t train Yoda, but rather figured out if he was worthy to learn, and then Qui-Gon essentially becomes both Yoda and Obi-Wan’s teacher since he was actually trained. Qui-Gon not completing his training comes down to his death on Naboo, but since he seems to know the entire process (and even if he didn’t know it all, becoming part of the Cosmic Force probably filled in any blanks) that’s why he gets to be the teacher. The question still remains, and carries some intriguing implications: why did he start to learn about becoming one with the Cosmic Force in the first place? Possibly from a vision? If there’s one story yet to be told that holds my greatest anticipations, it’s the answer to that question. One of the stories in the upcoming From a Certain Point of View novel will feature Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit during the time frame of A New Hope, and while I doubt any of the questions I have above will be answered in his story, I’m eagerly anticipating it nonetheless.
UPDATED 12/18/17: The Last Jedi Thoughts on Force Ghosts (FULL SPOILERS FOR THE FILM AHEAD, so scroll past if you don’t want to be spoiled)
Our first Force Ghost appearance post-RotJ is Yoda, and what a pleasant surprise it was in The Last Jedi! Above I had wondered if Luke was shunning the FGs and the movie reveals in a way he was because he shut himself off from the Force, but for how long? Having seen it a few times now, listening to the dialogue seems to imply it’s been since at least Ben Solo’s turn Luke hasn’t talked to any FGs and leaves it open for how much more vocal he was with them leading up to that moment. I understand director Rian Johnson’s reasoning for no Obi-Wan FG, but I’m curious why Anakin Skywalker isn’t even mentioned…either he’s going to appear in Ep. IX or they don’t quite know what to do with his Ghost quite yet. I can imagine scenes where Anakin and Luke pester Ben for his decisions or offer support to Rey, but I’m only confident in saying Luke will appear as a FG in IX. Speaking of that, the section above where I mentioned Luke will likely become a FG but it won’t be sad because he’ll be around in the films (while Mark Hamill is still alive), comics, novels, etc? Thinking of that helped make his death in TLJ an easier pill to swallow, though the film certainly makes it clear it’s a happy moment, not a sad one. With our first appearance of a Force Ghost in the post-Return of the Jedi world, I do believe the lid has finally be taken off and we’ll begin to see them a little more often.
Here are a few other things:
- Speaking of the From a Certain Point of View novel, which is a collection of short-stories from background characters “re-telling” A New Hope (celebrating the film’s 40th Anniversary), there’s a story where recently Ghosted Obi-Wan pays Yoda a visit on Dagobah. Though these stories vary on being canon or not (as some of these stories are things characters SAY happen, so it doesn’t necessarily mean they DID happen), he does feel the dampness of where he sits and helps tuck Yoda in bed, which is at least consistent with Qui-Gon being able to manipulate objects. I feel like this one would be considered canon, as its third-person narration style suggests we’re viewing this scene, or heck, it’s part of my headcanon. Anyways, Jedi-Bibliothek had a link to the audiobook preview of the story though it has since been taken down (and his current link doesn’t seem to contain any sound when I listen to it), but try not to cry like I did after you read/hear the story and discover where Yoda got his blanket from.
- In Star Wars Rebels we’ve been introduced to Force Nexus Chats (trademark pending) i.e. when Yoda is able to talk to Ezra/Kanan/Ahsoka on Lothal despite being on Dagobah (see: “Path of the Jedi” and “Shroud of Darkness”), something I feel lessens the idea of Force Ghosts to some extent. I say this because these Nexus Chats allow Jedi to interact over great distances while both still alive and not knowing how to become a FG, which almost makes the Force Ghost ability a little redundant when there’s a perfectly good deathless way to provide information to those who need it most across the galaxy. However, that the Nexus Chats require one to be in a very specific place at the same time someone else is at a specific place as well, certainly is a glaring disadvantage to the free-roaming Ghosts.
- From the video above of Filoni speaking of FGs, he teases he knows how Anakin was able to become a FG despite not learning, but he’s not telling (of course). At least he gives a pretty good reason why Hayden Christensen’s Anakin showing up in Return of the Jedi makes a little more sense than the older Anakin.
- I had imagined Leia’s reasoning for naming her son Ben possibly came from Obi-Wan visiting her as a Force Ghost, but the Aftermath Trilogy doesn’t point to that happening (though doesn’t deny it) but at least Poe Dameron #14 seems to suggest she thinks highly of Obi-Wan so that might just be reasoning enough.
- Speaking of Leia, regardless of Carrie Fischer’s heartbreaking passing, I’m curious if she’ll get to become a Force Ghost, either through eventual training or in a similar fashion to however Anakin pulled it off.
- *If there’s one thing I’d explicitly not like seeing again, it’s how Meetra Surik’s FG, along with a Sith Emperor feeding off him or something, kept Revan alive for 300 years, and part of him managed to go spectral but another part didn’t and then he had to have a discussion with his physical self to become whole again. Or something. It was an intriguing idea, but a little too out there to feel totally Star Wars, but if handled better, maybe one could get behind such a thing. Maybe.
- While in canon only Jedi can become FGs, the precedence has been set for the specters of Sith to be tethered to a certain object or place, as seen in TCW‘s S6 episode, “Sacrifice,” where Darth Bane makes his first canon appearance. While he might have been conjured by the Force Priestesses to test Yoda, the recent Empire’s End has a chapter that implies a Sith’s essence can live on in objects, with the potential to warp the user. The Acolytes of the Beyond will be a group to keep an eye on in the years ahead.
By returning Force Ghosts to a rare occurrence, the mystery around them has built intrigue and interest, as apparent by all the questions I had above I’m hoping to see one day answered. And remember, this was posted prior to The Last Jedi‘s release, which will uncover details on Luke Skywalker, potentially unlocking the gates guarding the content revolving his actions post-Return of the Jedi, be it novels/comics/animated TV show, so it’s very possible some of my questions/thoughts could be solidified or nullified sooner rather than later. Regardless, I, Detective Mynock, apologize I couldn’t quite crack the case, but I hope you can agree with me that the case on Force Ghosts is fascinatingly Curious and there’s nothing wrong with it staying that way for a little while longer.
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