Brow Beat

Has Star Wars Outgrown the Force?

With Rogue One, Solo, and now Star Wars: Resistance, the franchise is relying less on what was once a crucial piece of world building.

Kazuda in Star Wars Resistance, Alden Ehrenreich in Solo, and Donnie Yen in Rogue One
Kazuda in Star Wars: Resistance, Alden Ehrenreich in Solo, and Donnie Yen in Rogue One.
Lucasfilm Ltd, Lucasfilm, Ltd and Disney.

It’s extraordinary that the magicians at Lucasfilm Animation have managed to pull off the same trick three times in a row. First, they show the audience a seemingly empty hat: a new Star Wars TV show with a jarring animation style, an unfamiliar setting, and a goofy (OK, downright annoying) protagonist. Then they reach inside and, seemingly from nowhere, pull out a rabbit: a more compelling, nuanced story than we had any right to expect. It worked for The Clone Wars, it worked for Rebels, and, with Sunday night’s season finale, it worked for Star Wars: Resistance.

Set on the edge of the galaxy in the months leading up to the Disney-era sequel trilogy, Resistance follows an overeager, inexperienced spy named Kaz (voiced by Christopher Sean), who is recruited by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to keep an eye out for First Order activity at the Colossus, a station crawling with pirates, pilots, and other riffraff. What began with slapstick fish-out-of-water antics turned unexpectedly serious toward the end of the season as the show caught up to The Force Awakens, with the finale showing the destruction of Kaz’s home planet and a former ally’s decision to join the enemy.

But throughout Star Wars: Resistance’s first season, I kept waiting for a different kind of magic: the Force. Unlike in Lucasfilm’s other animated series, the hero of Resistance isn’t a Jedi—in fact, there are no Jedi or Sith to be found on the Colossus at all. The most mystical element of the Star Wars universe, the vast energy field that connects all living beings, has been pushed to the periphery. Temple ruins are explained as “relics of a bygone era,” Kylo Ren is an unseen threat but doesn’t make an actual appearance, and a child has a dream that suggests she can predict the future, but it’s never really followed up on.

Can it rightfully be called Star Wars without the Force? It’s strange to even conceive of a story set in the Star Wars universe without it. By the time of the original trilogy, it’s baked into the mythology, an “ancient religion” that you mock in front of Darth Vader at your peril, and Luke spends his entire arc learning to master it so he can follow in his father’s footsteps. The prequels, for all their preoccupation with politics, take care to show the audience the inner workings of the Jedi, including, yes, the dreaded midi-chlorians. And The Last Jedi introduced a new generation of Force users learning from—and rebelling against—their elders. “The Force is not a power you have. It’s not about lifting rocks. It’s the energy between all things, a tension, a balance, that binds the universe together,” Luke tells Rey, echoing what Yoda once told him—before pulling off the most ambitious Force trick the franchise has ever seen.

But even as the Force continues to drive the core saga of Star Wars, its stand-alones and other media show less interest in that spiritual side. Rogue One was extraordinary in that it showed the Everyman scrappiness of the rebellion rather than power struggles among dynasties of Force wielders. Though Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe reveres the Force and seems to be sensitive to it, whether he actually uses it in the movie is up for debate. In a pivotal moment, he evades enemy-blaster fire while walking through a battlefield, but it’s ambiguous whether the Force is protecting him or whether his belief in it is simply fueling his determination—stormtroopers are notoriously bad shots, after all, and Rogue One’s novelization credits his supernatural calm not to the Force but to zama-shiwo, a martial art practiced on Jedha.

Instead, the only confirmed Force user in the entire movie is a bad guy, Darth Vader, making a brief cameo to choke an underling. That’s also true of Solo, a movie with even less reverence for the Force, which makes sense: It’s a prequel about Han Solo, who we know is a Force skeptic at the time of the original Star Wars. (“There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.”) In fact, the only glimpse of the Force in Solo is so quick that you could blink and miss it—when Darth Maul uses it to summon his lightsaber in a hologram, the laziest possible use of the gift since Anakin Skywalker used it to cut up a piece of fruit.

Though Solo’s ratings were lukewarm, the success of Rogue One and Star Wars: Resistance demonstrate that there’s room for stories set in the Star Wars canon that have nothing to do with its most famous concept, which opens up a world of possibilities for future installments. It’s a credit to the vibrancy of the series’ world building in the years since the prequel trilogy—another one of Lucasfilm’s magic tricks—that these shows and movies about rebels, pilots, and bounty hunters still feel like Star Wars, even when the lightsabers are sheathed.