The Force, as explained in certain moments in the prequels, does not afford everyone the luxury of retaining their identity after death. Yoda has the exchange with Anakin in Episode III, in fact, wherein he admonishes him for wanting to protect someone from death. He tells them that they are one with the Force and to let them go; in the psuedo-Buddhist path of the Jedi, it should be enough to know that we are returned to the ether. The desire to hold onto who we are is, by implication, greed of a corrupting sort since it leads, as we see with Anakin, to the desire to retain life at all costs.
The first inclination we have that this barrier has been broken is when we hear Qui-Gon’s voice in Episode II as Anakin kills the Tuskens. Yoda, deeply attuned to what is happening half a galaxy away, hears two voices in his meditations. The first is Qui-Gon, the second Anakin screaming “No!” (An interesting point of debate would be whether he’s screaming “No” in horrified anger at his mother’s passing, or horrified self-reproach at what he’s done.)
For those that might like to argue the idea that it’s a surprise to hear Qui-Gon, I point to Yoda’s bookend exchange with Obi-Wan at the end of Episode III. Note Obi-Wan’s surprise at the fact that Qui-Gon has managed to return from “the nether world of the Force” as Yoda explains that he’s going to train Obi-Wan in the ways that will show him that path.
I have a long-standing policy of pretty much ignoring “expanded universe” writing that might conflict with the story and symbolism of the films. This has been, in fact, long-standing policy by Lucas as well; his story, his rules. Look to the (mercifully rescued) origins of Boba Fett if you don’t believe me. I will, however, moderately suspend that rule to include the novelization of the film which supports my point here.
On a side note, I’d like to call out Qui-Gon for being a total douchebag in not sharing this with Obi-Wan directly. Thanks a lot, Master. I think “path to immortality” should be among the top lessons for me as you teach me the ways of the Force. Right up there is lightsaber training.
There are slightly bigger “technical” questions raised by this fictional path to Enlightenment.
First, the exclusivity issue. You have to ask yourself, what type of enlightenment makes these few Jedi able to retain their selves while the rest of the universe passes to dust? Further, what does it say about the Jedi that they are not on a mission of evangelization, to assist everyone to share this ability with people as a whole?
I think that the latter question can be tied to its uniqueness and its “discovery” at the time of the prequels. The door to Blue Ghostiness was not open even to the Jedi until that time, at least judging by the evidence in the films. At the very least it’s a “lost art” that the Jedi have either convinced themselves is folklore or they they simply dismissed as unnecessary at some point in their past.
For the former, though, that one’s up for debate. It’s obviously something that requires training. But if that’s the case then how did Qui-Gon achieve it? We know that he was something of a maverick, but what is missing from his back story that would shed light on this? Again, there was mention in early script drafts and the novelization, but nothing committed to film. To be honest, since I prefer it when things are blurry in the margins to give me room to bring in my own thoughts, that’s OK by me.
But there’s that little matter of Anakin becoming an abomination. That’s a tough one to forgive, especially when viewed from the perspective that he gets to “retain his identity” after death and in fact transcend where most in the context of the Star Wars universe are left to be nothing more than victims of a tragic zero-sum outcome, a whole lot of them at his hands.
I know that one of the points of the series is redemption. Reconciliation and Redemption are key cornerstones of Christianity and precepts to which I subscribe. That means that anyone has a chance at redemption no matter what they’ve done.
There are some philosophical issues with a mass murderer being given the keys to heaven. What a terrific leap of faith to extend forgiveness to someone for terrible deeds. It’s one of the reasons I really enjoy these films. Because at the very least, I always feel challenged to ask how much I could forgive. Is there such a thing as too much forgiveness?
Anakin Skywalker. As a character, he goes from wide-eyed little boy to abomination, and in the end fulfills his destiny through the redemptive love of his children. Maybe that’s the enlightenment needed: love. So long as someone loves you with that pure, forgiving love, forgiveness can be extended by grace to be accepted as soon as someone opens their heart to reconciliation.
That’s pretty beautiful, ain’t it?