With the newest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, just days away from joining the iconic series, it’s a good opportunity to brush up on some lesser-known lore from the galaxy far, far away. What makes these modern-day legends so compelling is the level of detail that George Lucas and other writers have maintained throughout their entire chronology. There are hundreds of alien species and scores of exotic planets, all meticulously thought-out by the creators. In Star Wars a corporeal body isn’t required at all times – we as fans understand this, for it is an infinitely mysterious and intricately plotted universe, not entirely unlike our own. For Jedi warriors and Sith Lords, death is just another state of being, not the end of the road entirely.
In the Star Wars universe, becoming a Force ghost is a fate that only one gifted in the Force can achieve, rather than something open to every sentient being. It takes some specialized knowledge as well as a supreme effort of will, but those that manage it can remain cognizant as independent entities, rather than simply becoming one with the Force and joining all the others who have died before them. One clue that a Jedi warrior has utilized this knowledge is the disappearance of their physical bodies upon their death, though this isn't a foolproof method of foretelling their transition to this spiritual realm. Sith spirits, though similar, exist through sheer force of will and refusing to accept death, are clinging to life.
Despite their temporary evasion of death, Force ghosts are not all-powerful. They cannot simply materialize when and where they please and they do eventually have to let themselves join their brethren beyond the veil. It takes the presence of a living individual gifted in the Force to allow them to materialize at all, and they can only go to places that they had known while living. Despite these limitations, Force ghosts have had a tremendous impact on the Star Wars world and its characters - Yoda and Anakin Skywalker both became Force ghosts, and it was in his ghostly form that Obi-Wan Kenobi led Luke to Yoda in the first place.
The decision by George Lucas to create this added spiritual dimension to the Star Wars universe makes complete sense for a series of movies rooted in spirituality and mysticism. The state of a character's soul is hugely defining and can change everything from their appearance to the powers they wield. The Force, which in our more prosaic world might be conflated to a soul and must be taken on faith, is a visible and known entity in the Star Wars universe. Therefore having particularly Force-strong individuals stick around after death in a visible manner as Force ghosts not only fits into the lore, but is almost required by it.
Since the release of the first film almost 40 years ago, the reach and breadth of Star Wars-related media has expanded to new heights. Gadgets, collectables and toys are everywhere, multiple comic book miniseries spin-offs have taken off, and new television series like Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: Droid Tales are shown on Disney XD and DTV. Fans everywhere have fallen in love with not only the many alien cultures and characters of the expansive universe, but also with the moral lesson found within its story. Even when things are unbearably dark there are warriors for the light willing to battle against the odds.
With the new The Force Awakens (December 18th) on the horizon, it’s the perfect time for Star Wars newbies and die-hards alike to get reacquainted with the characters and fall in love all over again. Whether coming face-to-face with new characters or finding the Force ghosts of beloved old friends, this is one world most of us would feel comfortable never leaving.