Midichlorians: Mysticism as Technobabble (or: Part One of Why Everyone is Wrong About the Prequels?)

I think I’ve now gathered enough nerdy notes to write an epic treatise on why the Prequels are in fact dramatically misunderstood and under-appreciated. Since it is so popular to hate George Lucas instead of thinking for yourself, I think it’d be worth writing something.

Below is one piece of the puzzle: explaining Midichlorians

I been wanting to get into ExtraCredits for a while (because if Penny Arcade endorses it – it must be good, right? And I think James Portnow has said interesting things in the past…). But I keep getting thrown off by the inexplicably pinched vocal sound effect (seems like they sped up someone’s voice to make it sound more like Zero Punctuation?). And I keep running into bitter nerdy brickwall disagreements with their core statements.

For example, i think they’re latest episode bizarrely misunderstands the star wars prequels. (watch)

It lays out rules explaining why “future fantasy” stories are allowed to invent something like Midichlorians (because they don’t rely on hard science), then immediately says midichlorians are an example of bad “science fiction” (because the concept isn’t based on good hard science).


here is my forum rant in detail:


Dug the theme of this episode, but wanted to offer a polite criticism:
I think the star wars example is confused.

the writer presents the two separate camps of scifi – Then immediately criticizes a “future fantasy” (star wars) for failing to use the realistic-science backbone of a proper “science fiction” story.

Isn’t that weird?

– They say we don’t need science to explain the force. If someone hasn’t bought in yet, then a sciency explanation won’t help. But there is no suspension of disbelief problem to solve! We’ve established this is in the FANTASY camp. In future fantasy: “the explanation rarely has anything to do with science…it doesn’t need to.” ; “In future fantasy, advanced technology stands in for magic”

… this is EXACTLY what the word midichlorians does! It is the definition of “a strange advanced technology” standing in for magic! (and three movies later in the story, the wise old Obi explains the same Force with mysticism instead of science. This is clearly the whole idea Lucas was presenting. young people have science and order, old people have mysticism and larger consciousness. thbbt.).

I don’t understand why the video’s author lays out rules, then crosses them. Maybe they think this is a sign that star wars is badly written, because it crosses the line between camps. but it didn’t. Rather, the video’s author makes an audience mistake by claiming that star wars changed camps.

* I think people tend to forget that measuring midichlorians served a major plot function. (Most talk about it like it was randomly inserted to shit on the spiritual explanations that come several movies later. It is common to claim it could have been easily edited out.)

It is specifically WHY the Priests are able to justify taking a young boy away from his parent. If Qui-Gonn had stolen the kid from his mom because he “just had this gut feeling” or “the force told me to,” it would have portrayed the jedi as creepy religious freaks.

The prequels are about how the old order failed one skywalker. The followup trilogy is about how a single survivor of that old order learned from his mistakes and saved the son.
(the old order took his family away. Obiwan helped him build a new family, of friends.)

midichlorian measurement tools are just some advanced technology standing in for magic – so that other points could be made.


… Some further thoughts (I thought this part was over reaching. I mean, just because some critics misuse the word technobabble doesn’t mean I have to go along with their misuse. which is what I’m describing here – the misuse of this one word):

* Overall: I think the larger ‘real problem’ with throwing around the term “technobabble” is that it is often used to dismiss challenging entertainment.

I see uninformed (or lazy) critics often (mis)using the term as an insult, to explain why commoners need not think too much about a movie. Really upsets me when the matrix sequels, Inception, Tron Legacy, Sucker Punch, Splice, etc. (yes, even the star wars prequels), are dismissed as being ‘padded out with meaningless babble’ – because some hipster idiot couldn’t handle the possibility its creators were touching on genuinely complicated concepts.

I very rarely read “this movie might have just gone over my head.”
But I often read “it had pretty visuals padded with meaningless technobabble.”

Even when the critic has reason to insult some genuinely lazy writing- that writing is usually pretty funny to consider. Thus, it is still entertaining! Like when the scientist in Doom [the 2005 movie] says “10% of the human genome is still unmapped. Some say it’s the genetic blueprint for the soul.” I laughed out loud at that bold stupidity. I thought it was the most enjoyable dialogue in the movie.

(side note: this seems like bad/lazy scifi writing because : it’s a simple movie full of cursing, tired one liners, and poop talk. There is no context for such a high concept as crossing science with religion. But part of me STILL holds a sliver of hope that the writer was trying to sneak in something profound. For example, they do talk about an “ark” the connects Mars to Earth… But I just can’t buy it. in the early aughts, genetics was the buzz science to go for evil experimentation – replacing the cyberspace of the 80s/90s, which in turn replaced radiation.

… I wanted to say the human genome had already been 100% mapped, but actually, when you look it up, there is about 8% of the human genome which they effectively gave up on, called the “heterochromatic areas.” Which cover the timing of expressions of other genes? soo. hmm. HMM! Maybe not so retarded an idea… On some level, it’s fun because it is such a deep thought that you have to dismiss it as pretentious schlock. or maybe I am describing how I’ve done the very thing I hate in critics! AHHH!)

(…at this point I realized that quote from doom isn’t exactly technobabble, per say. so i stopped jotting down anything on this train of thought).


(and here are some thoughts I jotted down before EVERYTHING above. then forgot about. then decided not to erase, for some reason)

* 2 common misunderstandings of the whole point of “midichlorians” in Episode 1:

1- They are commonly used (by bile spewing nerd critics) as an example of spirituality being ruined.

Except, if you actually pay attention to the story you will see the term was used before Obi-wan’s famous (better) Force explanation. It is an example of how a society worked at one point – which is later overwritten by the wisened hermit spiritualist. (after years of meditating, and discovering how to talk to the dead, the aged obi-wan does not use midichlorians to explain the force to Luke. Don’t be so stupid as to think Lucas wanted to un-write his later movies).

The problem here is that (aged) nerds watched episode 1 after they watched episode 4, so they fall into thinking that episode 1 comes after episode 4. because they’re lazy, and looking for excuses to hate Lucas.

2- Midichlorians are commonly used to exemplify ‘any pointless detail unrelated to the story.’

(check this io9 post, where the creators of Lost explain how they don’t want to make a midichlorian style mistake)

Except in Episode 1 they need to test a kids blood to see if they’ll train him. How else would they identify children to be ripped from their families and trained? A mystic’s gut feelings wouldn’t be as widely accepted as repeatable science. Not by a modern audience. Lucas wanted to make Jedi respectable members of the story’s culture, not creepy kidnapping priests.

(the tricky thing here is : I think he was trying to say that taking anakin from his mother WAS a mistake. he just wanted you to go along with it. thus, he creates a way for magic science to identify the savior boy. He wants you to see flaws in the priests, but not to hate and reject them as flawed creepy-kidnapping priests)

The brief explanation of midichlorians (tiny weird things in your blood) is also an example of symbiosis (which is a core theme of Episode 1), and also a nod to the ways in which science and spiritualism are different sides of the same coin (the coin of understanding strange systems in the universe).

(in a way, the prequels are about priests who have lost their connection to the force. they are blinded by their connection to the government system. only when they are cut off from society and forgotten about are they able to meditate and truly connect with the spirituality behind their old order.)


and so! that was all i jotted down about that.

more on this topic later. Or rather, more on the topic of Misunderstanding The Prequels


One Comment to “Midichlorians: Mysticism as Technobabble (or: Part One of Why Everyone is Wrong About the Prequels?)”

  1. You put a very intriguing view of the midichlorians and the Jedi in general out there. Nicely done. Be sure to check my blog as well for a different view of Episode I. http://starwarsawakening.wordpress.com

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