The Trump Era Has Taken Some of the Fun Out of The Book of Mormon
The most satisfying moment in The Book of Mormon might be when a disillusioned and rumpled Elder Price, a formerly straight-laced and pompous Mormon missionary, says the word fuck. The savage catharsis of that line is what the political hell (H-E-double-hockey-sticks, if you ask the musical’s proselyting characters) of 2017 demands. But all the profanity in the world—and Book of Mormon, the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, delights in being foulmouthed—can’t make the critically acclaimed musical as riotous a piece of satire as it was before last year’s election. After all, when Book of Mormon made its Tony-winning Broadway debut in 2011, Donald Trump was firing celebrities from The Apprentice, not threatening North Korea with “fire and fury.” But as it’s performed in today’s political context, Book of Mormon has become a tangle of Trumpian echoes, offering incomplete escapism and blunted commentary.
This fault line was evident at the touring production of the musical I attended at the Kennedy Center last month. (The tour is currently making its way through Florida, then heads west in the new year, and the New York production is still one of the highest-grossing shows on Broadway.) The audience still guffawed, the tunes were as catchy as ever, but I couldn’t sink into the sheer escapist absurdity of the satire the way I had when I first watched Book of Mormon in San Francisco two and a half years earlier; I was constantly reminded of the political reality of the Trump White House just one mile away.
From the curtain lift, Book of Mormon emphasizes the religious fervor of its missionaries; the first big musical number sees a host of ever-friendly Elders persistently ringing doorbells. But these days, religious fervor appears not just on our doorsteps but in policymaking, and when birth control coverage is being stripped away, the missionaries’ zealotry feels a lot less laughable. In this setting, the chorus of self-serious, squeaky-clean missionaries brings to mind the image of a dozen Mike Pences, pre-Mother. “Turn It Off,” a number about the repression of same-sex desire, has gained a sinister veneer in a world where the president jokes that his hyperdevout second in command “wants to hang” gay people. Lyrics like “When you start to feel confused/ about thoughts inside your head/ don’t feel those feelings!/ Hold them in instead,” could also make a very good anthem for the GOP congress people singing about squashing their consciences. (Just imagine Paul Ryan leading McConnell and the other rank-and-file conservatives in the tap routine.) It’s harder to giggle at religion when it’s become a political force to be reckoned with.
To be fair, a musical about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not exactly interchangeable with a song-and-dance story the evangelical right and the uneasy bedfellow it’s found in Trumpism. Mitt Romney won 28 percent more votes in the deep-red and majority-Mormon state of Utah than Trump, whose Islamophobia, lack of decorum, and anti-immigration sentiment many Mormons find off-putting. Mormon politicians have proven to be some of the president’s more outspoken conservative critics (see: Jeff Flake, third-party candidate Evan McMullin, Romney). But data from a 2014 Pew study showed that Mormons are the most consistently Republican-leaning religious group in America, and slightly more of them disapprove of abortion and homosexuality than even evangelical Protestants. These are the same faith-based, socially conservative views influencing this administration’s policy.
Beyond nagging reminders of the religious right, Book of Mormon is laden with unintentional Trumpian overtures. Of course, that’s partially because everything nowadays is Trump-saturated. (When was the last time you saw a tomato-red baseball cap or heard the word tremendous without cringing a little?) But you can also credit it to Stone and Parker’s brand of comedy, which lambasts political correctness. “The things that we do—being outrageous and taking things to the extreme to get a reaction—[Trump]’s using those tools,” Trey Parker told the Los Angeles Times. The braggadocio of “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” could easily have been a Saturday Night Live riff on Trump’s “I alone can fix it” bluster, staged as a buddy song between him and Pence. But like Alec Baldwin’s caricature of Trump on SNL, an onslaught of one-note Trump imitation grows exhausting.
That’s not to say Parker and Stone’s satire has wholly lost its edge; indeed, jabs at the LDS Church’s racist past got some of the loudest laughs, perhaps due to how glaringly applicable Charlottesville and a race-baiting president have shown them to be today (or more cynically, maybe because for an audience of white liberals, calling out racism through humor relieves the conscience and avoids some of the harder, privilege-dismantling work). But in other moments, jokes that apply Trump-adopted techniques—like the lark that “God’s favorite prophet was all-American” (referencing New Yorker Joseph Smith)—feel inadequate given how charged the notion of “all-American” has become in the midst of open xenophobia and endless respect-the-flag debates.
Besides, we go to musicals for an escape from reality, not a million stinging paper-cut reminders of it. That’s why the more outlandish numbers, like “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” where Elder Price gets taunted by Genghis Khan and also dancing Starbucks cups, are still fun. Even dressed up in sparkles and sharp choreography, the other numbers felt like garish versions of what we see with every push alert. So much for escapism; the marble halls of Washington are now a real-life spooky hell dream of your own.
But it’s Book of Mormon’s grand conclusion that shows how much the political ground has shifted. The overarching message—that for all its flaws, faith in something that can’t be proven is good—is better suited to the hopey-changey Obama presidency, not this post-truth Trump world where facts have become a more precious commodity. Like our president, the musical’s protagonist, Elder Cunningham, is prone to fibbing and underprepared for his job; when his limited knowledge of the Book of Mormon fails him, he tells outlandish half-truths that blend doctrine with Star Wars: “In ancient New York, three men were about to cut off a Mormon woman’s … clitoris. But … right before they did, Jesus had … BOBA FETT turn ’em into FROGS!” Yes, Stone and Parker wink at the idea that these lies aren’t too much more ludicrous than some of the Mormon beliefs they ridicule, like the prospect of the Nephite people leaving ancient Jerusalem to live in North America two-plus millennia ago. But by the final song, the cast holds out a new holy book: the Book of Arnold. To me, it was an uncomfortable remembrance of how Trump’s base supports him with borderline religious fervor, of how the evangelical right has found its morals flexible when it comes to politically expedient partnerships, of just how eagerly people can embrace untruths.
Reviewing the musical in 2014, the New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote, “The Book of Mormon is about the triumph of faith in fantasy.” Faith in fantasy—be it the liberal fantasy of the first woman president or the Trump-peddled notion that his “great” response to Hurricane Maria was twisted by the media—does not feel like something to sing about; it’s been weaponized. “I Believe,” a soaring ode proclaiming faith in the stranger points of LDS doctrine, is a song for 2008 Obama, for Bill Clinton gleefully batting balloons at the Democratic National Convention and feeling confident Hillary would win. But now, cynicism feels more apt than sincerity. Perhaps that’s why I found the smaller, interpersonal numbers that pay more attention to the characters than their stereotypes or the songs that voice frustration (like when the Ugandans cuss out God) the most enjoyable this time around. Faith feels foolish, but protest is in style.
PBS Suspends Distribution of Tavis Smiley Indefinitely After a Sexual Misconduct Investigation
PBS has suspended distribution of late-night talk show Tavis Smiley after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against host Tavis Smiley, Variety reports. Smiley has denied the allegations. The network released the following statement:
Effective today, PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of Tavis Smiley, produced by TS Media, an independent production company. PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations against Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with multiple witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.
According to Variety, the investigation was conducted by Sarah Taylor Wirtz of the venerable Los Angeles law firm MSK, who interviewed ten witnesses, primarily former staffers, about their interactions with Smiley. Although Wirtz declined to comment, Variety reports that sources close to the investigation said that she had uncovered credible claims that Smiley had had sexual relationships with more than one subordinate, that witnesses were concerned Smiley was tying employment status to sexual relationships with him, and that they feared retaliation from the host. Additionally, Variety reports, witnesses said that Smiley had created “a verbally abusive and threatening environment” for his employees.
Smiley responded on Facebook, posting a video and statement denying claims of any sexual misconduct and criticizing PBS for the manner in which it conducted its investigation:
I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.
Never. Ever. Never.
If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us. …
Put simply, PBS overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment, and trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish.
This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back.
It’s time for a real conversation in America, so men and women know how to engage in the workplace. I look forward to actively participating in that conversation.
Smiley, the one-time host of BET’s BET Tonight, has hosted Tavis Smiley since 2004; he also hosted “The Tavis Smiley Show,” for Public Radio International, from 2005 to 2013. He has a deal at Warner Bros. Television, where he is developing an adaptation of his book Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days. Smiley is the second high-profile personality PBS has cut ties with in the post-Weinstein era, after pulling The Charlie Rose Show on Nov. 20 in the wake of a Washington Post article alleging Rose sexually harassed women. Unlike Smiley, Rose did not deny misconduct; he apologized for his behavior but said in a statement that he did not believe all of the allegations against him were accurate.
Here Are All the Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Music Mogul Russell Simmons
Ten women came forward Wednesday to accuse music mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate behavior in business meetings to rape, in incidents that span from 1983 to 2016, according to reports in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Simmons, who was an important figure in rap music and, with Rick Rubin, a co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, has denied all of the allegations. This brings the total number of Simmons’ named, on-the-record accusers to twelve: model Keri Claussen Khaligi had previously accused Simmons of coercing her into performing oral sex on him while director Brett Ratner watched—Simmons denied this allegation in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, while Ratner said he did not remember Khaligi asking him for help fending off Simmons—and screenwriter Jenny Lumet, who wrote her own Hollywood Reporter column accusing Simmons of raping her. Simmons also denied this, writing:
While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades, and I sincerely apologize.
Simmons has categorically denied the new allegations in the New York Times:
I vehemently deny all these allegations. These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.
In response to the new allegations in the Los Angeles Times, Simmons wrote:
These new stories range from the patently untrue to frivolous and hurtful claims. I want to restate categorically what I have said previously: I have never been violent or abusive to any women in any way at any time in my entire life.
Here are the allegations against Simmons in chronological order.
The 2018 SAG Awards Will Be Presented by an All-Female Lineup, Because Women Are Awesome
The Hollywood Reporter revealed on Wednesday that the 2018 Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony will be presented by women, women, and more women, as a mark of what womenfolk have been through this year and since the dawn of time.
Like many award ceremonies, the SAG Awards usually pairs a man and a women to announce each winner—but this year, only women will have that honor. The lineup is yet to be announced, but the ceremony, which has never before had an emcee, will be hosted by Kristen Bell. The nominations were also announced by women, with Olivia Munn and Niecy Nash revealing the nominees Wednesday morning alongside SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, awards committee chair JoBeth Williams, and awards committee member Elizabeth McLaughlin.
Kathy Connell, the SAG Awards executive producer, told the Hollywood Reporter that the decision was in recognition of the idea that 2017 belonged to women. “Beginning with the Women’s March in January, it’s been the year of the woman,” she said. “This is a unifying salute to women who have been very brave and speaking up.”
Men will still be allowed on the stage sometimes, like when they win an award, but with female-heavy ensemble casts nominated for Lady Bird, The Handmaid’s Tale, GLOW, and Orange Is the New Black, hopefully we won’t have to see more than a dozen suits on stage for the evening.
Connell insisted this was not about punishing men for their behavior (even though they definitely deserve it). “We don’t want to slight the men who have given great performances this year,” Connell added. "Knowing our membership, I’m sure our men will embrace the opportunity to honor women.”
Salma Hayek Writes NYT Op-Ed Revealing How Harvey Weinstein Turned the Making of Frida Into a Nightmare
Salma Hayek became the latest high-profile actress to share her #MeToo story about Harvey Weinstein on Tuesday in an intense New York Times essay. Hayek opens the essay, in which she recounts her alleged experiences with the producer while filming Frida, by explaining that she was approached by reporters earlier in the fall but chose not to speak out about the producer at that time: “I didn’t consider my voice important, nor did I think it would make a difference.”
Now, though, Hayek is speaking up, and her accusations against Weinstein include not only sexual harassment but also fits of rage and manipulation. Hayek alleges, as other women have, that Weinstein asked her to shower with him or watch him shower, offered to give her a massage, suggested he give her oral sex, and showed up at her hotel room on multiple occasions in the middle of the night. “And with every refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage,” she writes, recalling how Weinstein allegedly threatened to give the role of Frida Kahlo to another actress even though the project had been conceived by Hayek. She also says he forced her to meet strict, often unreasonable criteria in order to move forward, such as rewriting the script on a tight deadline, finding A-listers to act and direct, and raising $10 million to finance the film.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Dominates SAG Nominations, But No Love for Globes Fave The Post
The 2018 awards season field continued to take shape Wednesday morning with the announcement of the nominees for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It was a good day for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which scored the most nominations at four, while Lady Bird wasn’t far behind with three.
The SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast is considered a strong predictor for the Oscar Best Picture race—it’s been 22 years since a movie won the Academy Award without getting at least a nomination for the ensemble award—meaning the category is likely to include The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, though some critics are pushing back against this. (As Mark Harris points out, SAG voters and Oscar voters do not consist of the exact same pools of people.)
The 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Include Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, and the Cars
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2018 inductees:
The Moody Blues
Award for Early Influence
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
The list was narrowed down from 19 nominees announced in October, which included Radiohead, Kate Bush, LL Cool J, and Depeche Mode. It looks like fans might look forward to a mini–Bon Jovi reunion next year, as the frontman has told Rolling Stone he’s open to performing alongside former members Richie Sambora and Alec John Such at the ceremony. (No word yet on the chances of a reunion for Dire Straits, who haven’t performed together in 25 years, or the Cars.) The ceremony will take place on April 28.
Doug Jones Ended His Victory Speech to the Tune of “Teach Me How to Dougie”
On Tuesday night, C-SPAN2 viewers who tuned in past the end of Doug Jones’ victory speech were treated to an extra dose of the ecstatic mood in the room as his team celebrated his close win over Republican and alleged sexual assaulter Roy Moore.
The Best Movies and TV Shows to Stream on Netflix Before They Expire in January
Every month, Netflix adds dozens of new titles to its growing collection of streaming movies and TV series. At the same time, it rotates out some of its older titles. Below, we’ve chosen the best movies to watch before they’re removed from Netflix Instant in January. (All titles expire Jan. 1 except where otherwise noted.)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Dressed to Kill (1941)
Fantasia (Jan. 5)
Fantasia 2000 (Jan. 5)
The Manhattan Project
Three Coins in the Fountain
Young Mr. Lincoln
Lost: Seasons 1–6 (Jan. 4)
Sirens: Seasons 1–2 (Jan. 15)
Futurama: Seasons 7–10 (Jan. 30)
“Dun Dun” Watch
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifteenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fourteenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventeenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Sixteenth Year
The Addams Family
Daddy Day Care
The Parent Trap
The Mighty Ducks
Pokémon the Movie: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction
Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages
Pokémon: Indigo League: Season 1
Pokémon: XY: Seasons 1–2
The Secret Garden
One and Done Watch
Requiem for a Dream
If You’re Bored
Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood
I Am Sam
License to Drive
Made of Honor
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
Mona Lisa Smile
Saw: The Final Chapter
Someone Like You
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
The Man With One Red Shoe
VHS (Jan. 3)
The Host (Jan. 5)
The Case for Midi-Chlorians
In the lead-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we look back at the first Jedi (narratively speaking) with a series of stories about the much-beloved and never-disparaged prequel trilogy.
There is precious little that makes my experience and enjoyment of Star Wars special. I like the films everyone likes, and am ambivalent about the other ones. I thought The Force Awakens was fun, if derivative. I’ve dabbled in various spinoff-media products, but have never been anything resembling a completist. I have standard-issue opinions about the mythology’s politics (the Rebel Alliance’s multiculturalism is nice, the Jedi concept is troublingly aristocratic, Jar Jar Binks is a racist abomination, and so on). All of that said, I do have one take so hot that it’s been searing a hole in my brain for nearly 20 years. Okay, deep breath. I’m ready.
The midi-chlorians aren’t that bad.
Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say they’re fascinating, albeit not necessarily in the way they were intended to be. This stance puts me into a tiny minority. Ever since George Lucas first introduced the world to these tiny organisms in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, they’ve been one of the leading bugaboos for prequel skeptics. In that film, we learn about them from noble Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Perhaps I should just let the dear, departed Qui-Gon explain them to you as he does to wee Anakin Skywalker, after the latter has learned that he possesses an abnormally high midi-chlorian count:
ANAKIN: I heard Master Yoda talking about midi-chlorians. I’ve been wondering: What are midi-chlorians?
QUI-GON: Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life-form that resides within all living cells.
ANAKIN: They live inside me?
QUI-GON: Inside your cells, yes. And we are symbionts with them.
QUI-GON: Life-forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.
This felt like a radical change from the conception we’d previously had of the mysterious Jedi-powering entity known as the Force. In the original trilogy, it had been described in more ethereal terms. “It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together,” an aged Obi-Wan told Anakin’s son Luke. As Yoda put it in the movie after that one, “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”
For decades, that was about it, as far as explanations of the Force went. Then, all of a sudden, per the first prequel, it seemed that Force abilities were caused by little bugs in your bloodstream. To make matters worse, Qui-Gon at one point suggests that Anakin’s mom may have been impregnated by midi-chlorians. Ersatz God had been abruptly trumped by garbage science in the eyes of dejected fanpeople.
“One word ruined Star Wars for me, and probably for a generation of fans, too,” wrote Evan Narcisse in Time, still ticked off more than a decade after the movie’s release. “That word wasn’t Jar Jar or Watto. It wasn’t a character. It was ‘midi-chlorians.’ With that one word, the mechanisms of the Force became less spiritual and more scientific. Major bummer.” Another luminary of the geek commentariat, Charlie Jane Anders, called them “a clumsy retcon that screws up an explanation we already had.” Lost and The Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof railed against them while describing why he didn’t want to get into the science of Lost’s island: “I feel like you have to be very careful about entering into midi-chlorian territory,” he said. “Never once did anyone ever say to me or did it occur to me to say, ‘What is the Force, exactly?’” Trawl message boards and you’ll find blunter assessments: As a user of the Ars Technica forum put it, “Star Wars - the force is a mystical energy = fantasy. Star Wars - the force is caused by mitichlorians [sic] = fuck you.”
Okay, so, first off: Yes, the Star Wars mythos would have been just fine, if not better, if it lacked the handful of bits in the prequel flicks that talk about midi-chlorians. There wasn’t anything wrong with the way the story had presented the Force previously. I’m not going to say the critters were a net positive for the franchise. Writers have struggled with them in canonical and quasi-canonical Star Wars spinoff stories ever since: There was a tale having to do with mapping the Jedi genome; an in-universe manual talked about how rock creatures without organic cells might interact with midi-chlorians; and some dude named Darth Tenebrous created things called maxi-chlorians, about which the less is said, the better. All of that could go out the window and we would, for the most part, be better for it.
But we live in a world with midi-chlorians, and it’s one where people are altogether too angry about them. That anger comes from a pair of misconceptions. For one thing, just because midi-chlorians exist doesn’t mean the compellingly airy-fairy nature of the Force goes away. Look at what Qui-Gon says: “They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.” That in no way means midi-chlorians are the Force, just that they help connect us to it. The Force is still vaguely defined, allowing you to map whatever meaning you want onto it—it just so happens that there might be little creatures that help us become more sensitive to it, and some people have more of them than others. Ask yourself: How different is it from our other notions of the Jedi? It had already been established that they’re people who are somehow born with greater sensitivity to the Force, meaning we already accepted the idea of the Force as a birthright reserved for a chosen few, fundamentally different from the rest of us. Is it that big of a leap to say that their differences show up in biology, too?
This idea that midi-chlorians are a kind of baseline prerequisite, but not anywhere near the full explanation of the mystical nature of the Force, has recently become the canonical method of sewing them into the Star Wars legendarium with as few seams as possible. They’ve been addressed and explained most prominently in a pair of 2014 episodes of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In “Voices” and “Destiny,” Yoda grapples with questions about the nature of life and death, specifically as they relate to the soul. What makes up a person’s essence, and what happens to it after the body is felled?
He is visited by the disembodied voice of long-dead Qui-Gon (shockingly, Liam Neeson returned for the performance), who tells him that the Force has two components: the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. “Living beings generate the Living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the Cosmic Force,” he tells the little green Jedi Master. “All energy from the Living Force, from all things that have ever lived, feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding everything and communicating to us through the midi-chlorians.” Later, Yoda travels to a planet where the midi-chlorians first emerged. Some ghosts appear before him and talk about how the midi-chlorians are what “connects the Living Force and the Cosmic Force” and that “when a living thing dies, all is removed; life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes one with it.” Doesn’t that leave the Force, itself, as something sufficiently metaphysical?
Yoda’s journey in Clone Wars also brings us to the second misconception that bedevils midi-chlorian haters: the belief that the Jedi have any idea what they’re talking about. He goes on his quest because he realizes that, even after 900-odd years of existence, there’s still a wealth of information that he doesn’t grasp. The Republic-era Jedi Order is certain that there is no life after death, but Yoda discovers that there is. Who’s to say the Jedi aren’t wrong about, well, everything?
If you look at the prequels from that perspective, they become far more engaging than if you assume these self-confident men (and they are usually men) have all the answers. It’s not that big of a stretch, to be honest. Take, for example, the prophecy of the Chosen One. Qui-Gon believes that young Anakin’s destiny was foretold by ancient Jedi who predicted the advent of a person who would bring balance to the Force. The audience is supposed to have enormous respect for Qui-Gon, but Jesus, given the whole “Anakin turning into Darth Vader and committing genocide” thing, was he wrong about that. Or think about the Jedi’s participation in the Clone Wars. These supposedly wise analysts of the world became unwitting warriors in the service of the Sith Lord Palpatine, helping to throw the entire Galaxy into bloody mayhem. If they’re so smart, how’d they miss that?
Same goes for midi-chlorians, in one possible interpretation. Maybe midi-chlorians are as stupid an explanation of the Force as their real-world critics say they are. What if high midi-chlorian counts had a loose correlation to Force sensitivity, but weren’t actual causes of it, and the Jedi just misinterpreted their data? What if this was something like medieval doctors rambling on for centuries about humors and leeches—a faux-scientific delusion that was wholeheartedly embraced by a guild of people who loved to preach their own greatness to the hoi polloi? Perhaps the Jedi had thunk themselves into utter stupidity on an array of matters. Midi-chlorians were just one manifestation of their high-minded idiocy. From that point of view, the prequels are a tragedy about well-intentioned intellectuals whose myopic condescension led them onto a path of war and self-immolation.
Which leads us to my personal fan theory about these loathed microorganisms. You’ll note that Obi-Wan and Yoda don’t tell Luke—the first of the new Jedi, who presumably should have as many facts as possible if he’s going to start up the old traditions again—anything about midi-chlorians. You may think that’s because Lucas hadn’t come up with his dumb idea yet when he made the first Star Wars picture. Oddly enough, you’d be wrong. According to J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, Lucas saw them as part of the mythos as early as 1977. “It is said that certain creatures are born with a higher awareness of the Force than humans,” the progenitor wrote in a guide on the rules of the universe. “Their brains are different; they have more midi-chlorians in their cells.” He didn’t feel there was enough time to effectively explain the organisms in the original trilogy, but he had them in the back of his mind. So how do we explain the fact that Luke’s trainers don’t mention them?
I like to think it’s because they realized in their old age that midi-chlorians aren’t worth worrying about. Yoda and Obi-Wan had decades to ponder the nature of the Force and refine their conception of it down to its essence. Maybe, in looking back on the downfall of the Jedi, they realized that hewing too closely to specific explanations of the Force was a fool’s errand, a pseudo-intellectual distraction from what’s really important: spiritual contemplation and selfless deeds. As such, they may have thought Luke had the opportunity to build a future Jedi Order that wouldn’t repeat their mistakes. Like their decision to hide Leia’s familial relationship to him, they felt that Luke was better off without certain tidbits—and, unlike their dissembling about his sister, this was a worthwhile sin of omission. A condescending one, yes, but hey, old Jedi habits die hard.
In making that choice, we can see Obi-Wan and Yoda doing what we all have to do with Star Wars: choose what works and ignore the rest of it. To say midi-chlorians ruined the franchise for you is to avoid the fact that you have to turn a blind eye to a ton of Star Wars stuff in order to enjoy the good parts. Even in the original trilogy, the writing and acting is often stilted and wooden. There are way too many coincidences and plot holes to make for a sensical plot. The heroes are, arguably, uncompromising terrorists. And so on and so on. But none of that really matters. As is true of the midi-chlorians, you either forget that those problems exist, or you engage with them in a constructive way. This is how one teaches a Jedi—or enjoys flawed fiction. Even in a Galaxy far, far away, it’s OK if your fave is problematic.