Monday, June 6, 2016

The Force as Divine Favor

Jedi Cross
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is 
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort... 
-Motti, A New Hope

I see Star Wars as taking all of the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and more easily accessible construct that people can grab on to, to accept the fact that there's a greater mystery out there 
-George Lucas, The Mythology of Star Wars
The Force is best depicted as Divine Favor.  While you can overstate religion's influence on Star Wars (the first sentence before George Lucas's quote above is "I don't see Star Wars as profoundly religious"), it definitely bears some of the trappings of faith.  It features desert hermits, prophecies, immaculate conception, celibate warrior-priests, knightly orders and a moral metaphysics.

As Obi-Wan teaches Luke the Way of the Force, he spends a great deal of time persuading Luke to give up his agency and to put his trust in the Force, in the same way religion often asks us to put our faith in God. In Empire Strikes back, Yoda discusses a matter of size, leading to the quote above, which suggest that anything that depicts the Force as an internal power, coming from the Jedi himself, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Force.  The Force might "come from all living things," but a Jedi is connected into and aware of that larger interconnection. He calls upon it, channels it and is guided by it.  When Yoda stretches forth his hand and Luke's X-wing floats into the air, Yoda is not lifting it, the Force itself is.  Yoda petitions the godlike power of the Force to act, and the Force does so.  That was the core of Yoda's lesson to Luke.

On the flip-side, when Darth Vader says "You do not know the power of the dark side of the force," he does not mean the power gained by following a particular philosophy, or the strength of particlar powers, but the power of the dark side as an entity.  When you let "the hate flow through you," you channel the Dark Side, become connected with it in a primal way, the way a voodoo cheval connects with his Loa: You become possessed and driven by this greater cosmic power, something greater than all of humanity, and also something fundamental to all humanity.

The Light and the Dark Side of the Force also make profound theological sense.  The Force is the incarnation of good: God.  The Dark Side is the incarnation of evil: the Devil.  Though, perhaps, we're better off viewing it through the dualistic lens of Zoroastrianism than the monotheistic lens of Christianity, as both sides are equal and necessary.  The balance spoken of in Star Wars isn't a true balance between Light and Dark, but the day, the final day, when evil is purged from the universe and good will reign at last.  Anakin, who was immaculately conceived, was meant as a Messiah to deliver the universe from the threat that faced it, but he fell, and it was up to his (forbidden!) children to carry on that mantle of Messiah.

The Jedi fit the pattern of Warrior-Monks.  They study an ancient philosophy and maintain it throughout time. The Jedi Order, including the position of "knight" and "master," its independence as a military order, its importance to the world order, and its sudden and precipitous fall followed by its legendary status, closely resembles the Order of the Knights Templar.  The Jedi must have no attachments and must remain celibate, just as priests did, a major plot-point for Anakin Skywalker, whose submission to love and lust began his first true step down the Dark Side.

The Force as Divine Will immediately solves many of the problems of Star Wars.  Just how powerful is the Force?  How much weight can a Jedi lift?  How reasonable is it that Rey is able to perform a Jedi Mind Trick without any training at all?  Why can't you genetically engineer Jedi?  What's all this about Destiny?  Divine Will answers all of these: A Jedi doesn't lift anything, the Force does, and the Force will lift as little or as much as It wants.  Of course Rey can perform a Jedi Mind Trick, if the Force wills it.  You can't genetically engineer Jedi because the Force chooses with whom It has a connection.  And Destiny is the Force making that choice, laying out Its plan for the life of someone.  No matter how scientific a universe gets, the Force must necessarily remain mystical, because a mercurial, psionic god-force does what It wishes, even whimsically, rather than following predictable physical laws that can be codified and applied.  It also explains why people use terminology like "I can show you the ways of the Force" or why people should "Trust in the Force."

Finn: We'll figure it out. We'll use the Force.
Han Solo: [irritated] THAT'S NOT HOW THE FORCE WORKS.
-The Force Awakens

The Father of Mortis, Clone Wars
This model does create a few problems, however.  First, the Force seems relatively reliable in Star Wars.  Once a Jedi has learned to shove over some battle-droids, he can always shove over some battle-droids.  Anakin violated his religious vows and his Force-God didn't abandon him.  Furthermore, religious power can create passivity: Why wield a lightsaber when you can just pray to your Force-God to strike your enemy dead?  The Force doesn't seem to work that way: It works through people, rather than on its own... though sometimes we do see Force Miracles and Force Spirits (The ghosts of dead Jedi, the "Dark Spirit" of Dagobah, and the Father, Son and Daughter of Mortis in Clone Wars) and such... but Psi Wars is an Action Game, not a Sit-Around-And-Pray-For-A-Miracle game.  Finally, Divine Favor usually assumes some kind of relationship with a divine figure, while Star Wars depicts an, at best, impersonal God. The Force doesn't seem to want anything. It just is, this great and terrible, dualistic Energy Field that pervades the universe. It does what it does in some kind of unfathomable way.  Why it bestows its favor on someone seems to have little bearing on moral principle.

GURPS Divine Powers as the Force

Even so, a Divine Powers model has some merit.  In particular, it works very well for GMs.  Rather than fussing over the exact power levels of the Force, characters can roll for a miracle and get one.  Need to grab your force sword?  Sure, Force-God allows it.  Need to lift your Starhawk out of a swamp?  For the faithful, Force-God allows it.  Need to yank an Empire-Class Dreadnought out of orbit with nothing but furious pulling gestures? Force-God is feeling generous today, so what the hell, why not?  But if the Space Knight is too cool and the the GM feels like emphasizing the lockpicking skill of the scavenger, then suddenly Force-God can't be bothered to help the Space Knight unlock a door.  Why didn't the Space Knight know about the ambush, even though he regularly sees the future?  Force-God just didn't feel like telling him, you know how it goes.  The Force is mysteeerious. By modeling the Force with Divine Powers, we fundamentally institutionalize GM fiat, which goes a long way to modeling the narrative nature of Star Wars.

Divine Powers, as a variant of Patron, tends to keep the costs of your powers down as well.  Since your power all comes from a single source (and additional powers tend to be relatively cheap offshoots), you can model a fairly powerful Space Knight on a decent budget.  We might run into a few problems in that the Divine Powers tend to be very Christian in tone and theme while the Force is very oriental, more Daoist... but Daoism is also a religion and, after a fashion, the "Universe" is the "God" of Daoism: One should trust in it, it can "provide" for the faithful, and Daoist priests can certainly work miracles, after a fashion.  We'll need to modify Divine Powers to make it work, but it can work.

Obviously, for this cycle, we'll rely entirely on GURPS Powers: Divine Favor.

Going Forward

As usual, tomorrow we'll take a look at Divine Favor, which powers work well out of the box and which powers don't, and what a Jedi with 50-points of Divine Favor might look like.  Wednesday, we'll adjust those powers and expand them out into Light and Dark and touch on some alternate systems to make that work.  Finally, Thursday we'll take a look at the results and see what a Divine Universe might look like.

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