Warning: SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi ahead.
If anything has confounded fans of the galaxy far, far away, it's Force ghosts, something J.J. Abrams should address in Star Wars Episode IX. Ever since Obi-Wan Kenobi first instructed his young ward, Luke Skywalker, from beyond the grave in the original Star Wars, the narrative took on a surreal layer. Obi-Wan, Yoda, and later Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker, became one with the Force in the original trilogy, but the concept of a Force ghost wouldn't gain any proper explanation until the prequels and later in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The sequel trilogy, in particular, The Last Jedi, added further layers to these spectral beings, most notably with Yoda’s dramatic interaction with the physical world and Luke's ghost-like Force projection. Still, the expanded mythology of the Jedi and their afterlife capabilities probably escaped - or, worse, confused - most casual audiences, something Abrams ought to explore in the final chapter – especially if he uses these Force spirits more extensively.
The Complex History of Force Ghosts Explained (This Page)
What Actually Are Force Ghosts?
In the feature films, Force ghosts are one of Star Wars’ least-explored mystical elements. They just exist, for the most part, expanding the lore beyond nifty mind tricks and cool laser swords. Old Ben's echoey advice for Luke, telling to "trust his feelings," constructed a cryptic framework around the basic story, turning the adventures of a pie-eyed farm boy into a cultural phenomenon. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi also added substance to Force shades, with Luke seeing his old teacher on Hoth, and it became clear they could still have a big impact on the living - at least through advice.
Despite Yoda and Ben's instruction, the original trilogy didn't give us much to work with on Force ghosts. Basically, Obi-Wan just arrives at key junctures to aid and inform Luke, keeping him safe on Hoth, shipping him to Dagobah, and even having a heart to heart before the would-be Jedi scarpered to Cloud City. Fans were never given a proper reason for his shimmering presence aside from: "it's the Force, deal with it." For the most part, though, it seemed like only the good guys got to live on, at least until Vader dropped by the party on Endor (and how exactly did Anakin learn the secrets of Force-ghosting in the brief window between his repentance and death was never elaborated on).
Some of the layers dropped away during the prequel trilogy when George Lucas explored the Force in greater depth. In particular, a deleted scene from Revenge of the Sith includes a conversation where fallen Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn imparts some afterlife wisdom to Yoda. However, it would take the expanded run-time of the Jedi-centric Star Wars: The Clone Wars series to truly ‘flesh out’ Force ghosts.
The Prequels (And Clone Wars) Explained Star Wars Spirits
Through six movies, Force ghosts remained mysterious; in fact, Lucasfilm wouldn’t examine their existence and capabilities until Yoda spent some time in the swamp with his old, dead friend, Qui-Gon, During The Clone Wars episode “Voices,” Yoda experienced a rash of what the Jedi Council feared were Sith-based auditory hallucinations. However, it really was Qui-Gon Jinn, who comes on stronger, lifting candles, tables, and even the diminutive Jedi himself – and setting the precedent for Yoda’s own physical manipulation in The Last Jedi.
After escaping his enforced bed rest – thanks to Anakin, who also heard Qui-Gon on Mortis – Yoda journeys to Dagobah, where the late Jedi Master appears as a cogent swarm of fireflies. He explains that the Force is made up of two parts: the Living Force and the Cosmic Force, which align with life and the afterlife. Qui-Gon now exists outside of time, but he seemed unwilling or unable to reveal the identity of the Sith Lord (the future Emperor Palpatine). He does urge Yoda into the infamous cave, where he experiences a vision of the Jedi's downfall and the dawn of the Sith. Sadly, in the end, he and his ilk are unable to prevent the rise of the Galactic Empire.
From his encounter on Dagobah, Yoda met the Force Priestesses, the ones who (mostly) taught Qui-Gon how to escape disincarnation. They put him through a series of trials, deeming him worthy of the secrets of life after death, and, in turn, Yoda taught Obi-Wan. Now, the cycle continues, with Luke, the most powerful and last Jedi from the old guard. He undoubtedly learned a few tips about Force-immortality along the way, and his passing apes the same disappearing act Ben and Yoda pulled after their deaths.
But even with that greater scope, it's unclear whether this is still just part of the series' fabric or something more; what impact could Luke or other Force spirits have on the real world from Episode IX onwards?
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017