I think that midi-chlorians are probably one of the most hated aspects of Star Wars. People hate them so much even Jar Jar gets to pick on them. Midi-chlorians are criticized for demystifying the force and for turning the energy that surrounds us and binds us into nothing more than an infection. Even more surprising, while most Star Wars controversies are bemoaned by a few disgruntled fans, midi-chlorians are hated by everyone.
That’s why I am going to attempt to explain why they might not be so bad after all. See, as a Star Wars fan, I want to be able to love everything about that Galaxy Far, Far Away and I really enjoy opportunities to justify and retcon until things make sense. Am I an apologist? Maybe. But what it really comes down to is that if we accept (which I have) that canon is canon… I would rather do some mental gymnastics and find a way to like midi-chlorians than just sit around and let them spoil the stories for me. I hope that by sharing my interpretation of midi-chlorians, maybe you will also be able to see them in a different light.
Here’s what we know about midi-chlorians from the movie:
Anakin Skywalker: Master, sir, I heard Yoda talking about midi-chlorians. I’ve been wondering…what are midi-chlorians?
Qui-Gon Jinn: Midi-chlorians are a microscopic lifeform that reside within all living cells and communicates with the Force.
Anakin Skywalker: They live inside of me?
Qui-Gon Jinn: In your cells, yes. We are symbionts with them-
Anakin Skywalker: Symbionts?
Qui-Gon Jinn: Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you
I want to start by saying that nowhere in Qui-Gon’s explanation (see above) does he say that the midi-chlorians create the Force or that they even create a being’s connection to the Force. As a matter of fact, all he really says is that they are a symbiotic life form. I think that everyone misunderstood this scene by interpreting the midi-chlorians to be much more important than they actually are. Through my interpretation, midi-chlorians are only important for one purpose: they are the way that the Jedi are able to measure force ability. We will get to that later, but let’s start by imagining a midi-chlorian as simply a tiny little cellular life form, but forget everything you think you know about its relationship with the Force. Let’s just start with it as a normal living thing, similar to an amoeba.
What we DO know about midi-chlorians is that the Jedi council measures a midi-chlorian count to see how strong a being’s connection to the Force is. This is what throws most people off as there seems to be an implication that the midi-chlorians CAUSE the person to be more closely attuned to the Force. However, if the Jedi were simply using midi-chlorians as a measuring tool, there would only need to be a CORRELATION present. There needs only be a connection saying that with greater force ability, you will find a higher midi-chlorian count and nothing needs to exist stating that one causes the other.
You have to imagine that the Jedi needed ways to measure Force sensitivity. Sure, part of it was just the masters sitting around during Lunch trying to find a way to prove who was best… but they also needed ways to seek out and recruit more Force-sensitives to their cause. I would imagine that (until midi-chlorians were considered) the Jedi probably spent lots of time, effort and credits researching ways to detect force-sensitivity. Like most of us would, they probably started by trying spiritual or Force-based tests. They probably studied and meditated for millennia looking for a way to precisely measure Force sensitivity. Eventually, they probably expanded their scope and tried approaching the problem scientifically. At that point, they noticed a correlation (not even needing causation) between Force sensitivity and midi-chlorian count and from then on, that became the standard test… not because the midi-chlorians create the connection to the Force, but simply because a being with a close connection will end up having more midi-chlorians in their blood.
Why would there be a correlation, then?
We know from the Expanded Universe that different creatures can interact with the Force in different ways (The best example would be the ysalamiri). So it’s not too difficult to imagine that midi-chlorians could be creatures who actually feed off of the Force. If the idea of them “eating” or gaining nourishment from the Force is too biological for you, imagine that the little amoeba-like organisms are specialized in Force-healing and so the more they are surrounded by the Force, the healthier they are.
If this were the case, wouldn’t it make sense that a person who has a greater connection to the Force would be able to attract and sustain a larger population of midi-chlorians? Think of it like lampreys attached to sharks. A lamprey is a fish that survives by attaching itself to a shark and eating all of the food that falls out of the shark’s mouth. Therefore, if a shark is an excellent hunter, killing hundreds of fish per day, more lampreys would be able to stick with it and still have plenty of food. You could probably, in that case, look at a shark with 5 healthy lampreys attached to it and conclude that it is a better hunter than a shark with one hungry lamprey. I think the Jedi noticed that a similar relationship existed between Force-users and midi-chlorians and they realized that it was just an easy way for them to see how strong a person’s force connection was.
Obi Wan tells us in A New Hope that the Force is an energy field created by all living things. It makes sense that more life yields more Force and there are many implications that places in the Galaxy that are teeming with life seem to have stronger connections to the Force, especially the light side. In this way, it is probable that, to some degree, having a large number of midi-chlorians in your body at all times might, in fact, make the Force more accessible to you, even though the midi-chlorians themselves are not actively creating or facilitating this connection. Considering Qui Gon Jinn’s strong adherence to his view of the Living Force, it makes sense that he would really focus on the interconnectedness and the relationship between the midi-chlorian and the being serving as its host. That is why Qui Gon emphasizes this connection to Anakin when explaining the symbiotic relationship.
This only leaves two small points to address.
First, there is the comment that without midi-chlorians, “life could not exist”. To explain this, we can simply look at our own existence and the mitochondria that exist in our cells. Mitochondria are tiny organisms that exist within our cells and without them we could not live Most biologists, however, believe that mitochondria were actually bacteria that integrated themselves into our cellular structures and were not part of our original cellular makeup. So I can accept this as precedent for the idea that there can be a cellular organism without which life could not exist.
Second, there is the comment that without midi-chlorians, “we would have no knowledge of the Force”. As I mentioned above, you have to imagine that Jedi and non-Jedi alike must always spend time researching and learning about the Force. Could you imagine a world where we didn’t study how electricity or gravity works? Well, even though the Force is more mystical than those real-world forces, I would imagine it would be studied all the same. Once the midi-chlorians were discovered, it could have harbored a new scientific approach to studying the Force and given non-force-users a way to indirectly measure and interact with the Force. Just as Gravity existed and impacted us before it was “discovered”, so the Force was around and used, but the Galaxy’s knowledge of the Force could have expanded dramatically as a result of the scientific approach to Force-study and the ability for everyone to measure it.
So that is a window to how midi-chlorians exist in my mind. With this understanding, the Force itself is still the mystical and spiritual force it was before 1999 and nothing has really changed about my understanding of how it works. However, knowing that midi-chlorians exist, I can now accept them as a simple measuring tool that the Jedi found to help them determine different levels of Force ability.
I know that many fans have created their own personal canon and chosen to completely write off the prequels and the midi-chlorians, but hopefully this new interpretation can help you allow them back into your Star Wars fandom by allowing midi-chlorians and a mystical Force to coexist.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!