Instinct or Thought: Is Training Necessary to Use the Force?
I recently participated in a Twitter experiment posted by someone whom I follow there, who is a Star Wars fan. The survey was asking how many fans had issues with the character Rey’s lack of training and how many didn’t. I was reluctant to tweet on it because usually these kind of posts are just online sounding boards for followers who generally agree with the opinion of whomever they’re following. Star Wars seems to be one of the exceptions in that there were some who did not, but otherwise, she said that the majority believed training should not be an issue.
I do hate what the fandom of this franchise has become, two warring factions shouting insults at each other and making assumptions of each others’ character and motivations. Simply disagreeing instead of making absolute statements does not seem to be allowed anymore. That said, the specific question revolving around training in the Force did fascinate me as a Star Wars fan.
People who believe that training isn’t necessary for someone’s Force connection often site Luke’s seeming lack of training, of which very little was seen on screen. So even though these are only movies, I decided to take a look at the main protagonist of the prequel, original, and sequel trilogies, and see, based on facts, if the training was really necessary to use the Force or not.
And it should go without saying that, if you enjoyed any of these movies and they connected with you, great. This is not a prescription on whether you should or should not like any of them.
When you talk about using the Force, the name Anakin Skywalker is definitely going to come up. He is the Chosen One, born of the Force, with no father and into slavery. Discovered seemingly by accident by the Jedis Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi, the boy immediately demonstrates an unusually strong connection and instinctive use of the Force during his pod racing and later somehow survives the Battle of Naboo, taking down the capital ship, all it seemingly by accident.
If anybody shouldn’t have needed training, it was this guy. Hell, it's established in The Phantom Menace that he was already using it without anyone telling him. Even so, Qui Gonn still takes him to the Jedi council and insists on training him. Now the argument that the no-training supporters made was that Rey had a much deeper connection to the Force and therefore was able to make a deeper connection more quickly than the son of Anakin Skywalker. But what of Anakin himself?
He was the Force embodied, thereby allowing him to have a deeper connection than any other Force-user. Yet he was still trained. The results of which are another matter, but either way, both the Jedi and the Sith felt he needed training in their ways.
The hero of the original trilogy, Luke is the one who establishes many of these tropes, both forwards and backwards, in this universe. Like his father, he is already noted as being a great pilot by the time Obi Wan rescues him. He then starts to undergo training by the old Jedi, only to be cut short by his death. However, he is still able to listen to his master’s spirit without any prior knowledge of that ability and sinks into the Force to blow up the Death Star against all odds.
We catch with him later on Hoth, where some time has gone by. He somehow has learned to use telekinesis and summon his weapon to him: something we don’t see him learning on screen. Later, Obi Wan’s spirit sends him to Dagobah to learn under Yoda. He spends an unspecified number of days there before he leaves to go to rescue his friends. However, it doesn't go as planned and he ends up instead facing off against Darth Vader. During the duel, he clearly shows an improvement in his skills, but once Vader takes the fight seriously, Luke was worn down and eventually defeated, costing him a hand in the process. However, he somehow knows to reach out to Leia, who has already escaped. She promptly returns to rescue him.
Another time skip happens and Luke, now looking like a cross between a Jedi and a Sith, shows up in Jabba's palace to free his friends who have been captured. He again displays new techniques in the Force choke, like his father, and defeats the rancor sent to kill him while having no weapons. After saving his friends, he returns to Dagobah to complete the training, only to be told by Yoda that he doesn't need anymore. Later, he surrenders himself to Vader in order to save him, but Vader refuses and turns him over to his master, Darth Sidious.
While another battle erupts on the forest moon and in space, both Skywalkers engage in another duel as well. This time, the young Skywalker does much better, holding his own against his Jedi-killing father. The final turn happens when Vader threatens his daughter, Luke’s sister, Leia and Luke losses control. In a Force-fueled rage, he batters Vader into submission, nearly killing him. By now everyone should know how it ends, with the Emperor nearly killing Luke with lightning before a redeemed Anakin throws him down the reactor shaft, but this is the last time we see any Force powers from Luke.
Both sides look back to Luke to support their arguments about the next protagonist, and truthfully, there are points here to support both. Luke may have been an experienced pilot in New Hope, but he was a complete novice to the Force. He could barely use a lightsaber, and yet there’s the Death Star’s destruction. When I look at that, I see arguments for both.
Yes, he used his connection to the Force to destroy it, but that was only after Kenobi’s spirit told him to; through most of the Battle of Yavin in fact, Kenobi was guiding Luke. On Hoth, he uses a new power not seen before and we are not given any explanation as to how he learned it. We just accept it and move on. It could be argued that Kenobi was still teaching Luke offscreen, which does lend itself to the no-training camp as it is unseen by the audience and just assumed. It’s never confirmed how he learned it either. He just does it. Equally though, we bought into it because he had some training previously in the last film. So we just assumed from there.
Still, Obi Wan sends Luke to Dagobah for further training. That goes on for an unknown time, but clearly Luke is learning things here that he wasn’t during the time skip between movies. Some are concepts about the Force he’s never heard before and he has great difficulty letting go of assumptions that do limit his connection and abilities. When he goes toe-to-toe with Vader for the first time, it's definitely notable that he lasted as long as he did, even landing a blow on him after the Sith Lord was in kill-mode. Yet, he still loses.
During the last time skip of the trilogy, Luke has somehow learned the Force Choke, a power already seen by Vader, but for which Luke was never present when he did it. He also makes his own lightsaber. It’s said that he uses notes left by Kenobi, and that could arguably be used to support the unseen training as well (though the Jedi would never use Force-Choke as it was a dark-side technique).
So just looking at events, Luke does things that both camps support. It's basically a grey point to use him therefore as a reference, because there will be just as many points against you as for you. So where does this leave Rey?
Rey starts out as a scavenger on a desert planet of Jakku. From the beginning, it's established she can fight as she has to fend for herself to keep her finds from being stolen. She’s heard of the Force, but only as a legend. Her first encounter with it is when she hears Anakin’s lightsaber calling to her and experiences a Force vision. When Maz Kanata explains to her what the Force is and what's going on, she promptly rejects it. Afterwards, she is pursued by Kylo Ren a.k.a. the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, Ben Solo. It’s her first encounter with a lightsaber and is easily choked out and captured.
However, when Kylo interrogates her, probing her mind, she not only actively resists, but then turns it back on him; her second use of the Force. This is followed up by an immediate third use, using the Jedi mind trick on storm troopers. At the end of The Force Awakens, she calls Anakin’s lightsaber to her and defeats Kylo by submitting to the Force to guide her actions.
In the The Last Jedi, she undergoes training by Luke Skywalker himself, now a recluse hermit. Luke teaches her two lessons about the Force; that no one group controls it, allowing Rey to deepen her connection, and that the Jedi were over proud and caused their own downfall to the Sith. On the surface not much to go on, with maybe the deeper connection potentially leading to paths. It’s after this that Rey is actively drawn to the Dark side of the Force, and later had her second Force vision, but nothing new is learned in regards to technique. She also learns to have a Force connection to Kylo, across vast distances. Not long afterwards, she leaves Luke to rescue her friends, the last time she sees him alive.
Putting all the assumptions of sexism aside for a moment, most people’s issues with Rey and the Force is the unseen lack of training. Most of the above abilities she learns, she has never seen, heard of, or been taught. Some of it seems instinctual, like when she blocked Kylo’s mind probe. Her fighting skills are a blend of swordsmanship and street fighting, the former she probably took from her first fight with Kylo and the Force connection she experienced then. But the higher ability like the mind trick and levitation many argue cannot be instinct and must be taught.
What Is the Force?
Taking all three character experiences into account here, it seems to me that the real question isn't about whether Force training is needed, but rather what is it in and of itself? Yes we got the “binding all things together” explanation and how it both guides and obeys commands, but these explanations are rather vague. The Force, in universe, seems to be doing both with all three characters throughout their lives.
One of the arguments I read in the Twitter survey was that the Force was not a tool, but a connection. Something you had to have a relationship with. Yet, what was being overlooked was that even the people who knew this best still trained regardless, whether it was on having a deeper connection than they previously had, or learning new uses of its nature. Likewise, people who support the need for training also overlook that there are clear examples of where the Force was instinctual, such as Anakin’s ability precognition ability in flying and racing, Luke using the Force Choke (a Sith technique), and Rey mind-blocking Kylo.
So there’s room for both interpretations. Whatever the Force is in this universe, it apparently likes to be ambiguous, not following any one set of mechanics on how it works in people. No need to fight over it. But fans will continue to do so.
The training doesn't matter as much as how we the audience connected with the characters. If they did, then we will rationalize everything backwards, giving are preference intellectual credence. And the same if it were the other way around. Feeling comes first: rationale, second. So both positions work for me as long either side doesn't try to claim that their position is the correct one.
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© 2019 Jamal Smith