Kathryn Fedchun is a PhD student in communication at Carleton University. She is a certified women’s counsellor and advocate who worked in the violence against women sector for a few years in Toronto, Ontario. She completed her master’s degree at the University of Ottawa in sociology and gender studies. Her thesis was a feminist autoethnography on the videogame League of Legends. She is currently a fellow at the Research on Comics, Con Events, and Transmedia Laboratory (RoCCET Lab) and is working on her second comprehensive examination on affect theory.
May the Force Be with You: Illustrating Affect Through the Force in Star Wars
The image on screen slowly pans across a lush, rocky island. The sounds of strange wildlife surround the audience. Luke Skywalker stands on the edge of a cliff. Persuaded by Rey to teach her the ways of the Force, Luke asks her to sit on a rock with her legs crossed. Luke explains, “the Force is not a power you have. It’s the energy between all things, a tension, a balance that binds the universe together” (Johnson, 2017, 48:10). He asks Rey to close her eyes and breathe. Small tendrils of Rey’s hair sway in the wind as she closes her eyes and breathes in. Music begins as Luke takes her hand and places it firmly beside her on a rock.
Luke: Now, reach out. Breathe. Just breathe. Reach out with your feelings. What do you see?
Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay. That feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.
Luke: In between it all?
Rey: Balance. An energy. A Force.
Luke: And inside you?
Rey: Inside me… That same Force.
(Johnson, 2017, 48:25)
When Rey begins to describe what she sees, the audience is invited into her mind: wildflowers blow in the wind signifying life; fossils underground represent death and decay; new life grows in the form of small seedlings; the warmth of the sun shines on the cliff; the cold waves crash into the shore. A porg (a fictional bird featured in the series) shelters her newborn babies under her wing, symbolizing peace. Then we see violence: a porg nest with broken eggs gets washed away by a large wave. According to Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, “affect more often transpires within and across… all the miniscule or molecular events of the unnoticed” (2010, p. 2). In this scene, seemingly insignificant events on the island are only noticed because Rey allows herself to feel them, to be affected by them, through the Force. Luke asks Rey what is between life and death, cold and warmth, peace and violence. Rey explains that between it all is a Force.
Like the Force in Star Wars, affect “arises in the midst of in-between-ness… [it] is in many ways synonymous with force or forces of encounter” (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010, p. 1–2). This powerful Force, or energy, exists inside of Rey. By reaching out with her feelings, Rey senses that all things are connected through the Force. Similarly, the power of affect exists inside of us: “a body’s capacity to affect and to be affected” (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010, p. 2).
Of course, affect exists beyond the fictional world of Star Wars and Jedi powers. It is often considered synonymous with emotion or feeling. For example, one could use affect theory to study the emotional impact of ending a romantic relationship. Yet affect is both more and less than emotion and feeling… it is an almost unnameable sense of bodily or visceral impact that arises without direct physical contact. Affect is all around us: between objects, between feelings, between ways of being.
Affect theory emphasizes the causes and impacts of affect, and everything in-between. There is no single definition that perfectly encompasses affect; as a mode of theorizing, affect is always in flux (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010, p. 3). Scholars are fascinated by affect and use affect theory to critically investigate depression (Cvetkovich, 2012), happiness (Ahmed, 2010), cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011), ugly feelings (Ngai, 2005), video games (Anable, 2018), ordinary affects (Steward, 2007), and touch (Sedgwick, 2002).
In Star Wars, the Force connects everything across the galaxy. Similarly, affect theory helps us explore our connection with the world around us. Evidently, the force is with you.
- In the example above, the Force in Star Wars was used to illustrate affect. When Luke asks Rey to close her eyes, she sees the island, life and death, peace and violence. If you were to close your eyes right now, what would you notice? Consider your senses: what can you smell, taste, hear, or touch?
- Every day, we affect and are affected by innumerable things. Think about the day you have had so far: Can you list five ways that you affected and five ways you were affected?
- The Force in Star Wars can be wielded in different ways and degrees of strength. What is an example of a person or institution in real life that wields the force of affect, and how do they wield it?
Ahmed, S. (2004). The cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2010). The promise of happiness. Duke University Press.
Anable, A. (2018). Playing with feelings: Video games and affect. University of Minnesota Press.
Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel optimism. Duke University Press.
Cvetkovich, A. (2012). Depression: A public feeling. Duke University Press.
Gregg, M. and Seigworth, G. J. (Eds.). (2010). The affect theory reader. Duke University Press.
Johnson, R. (Director). (2017). Star Wars: The Last Jedi (episode VIII) [Film]. Lucasfilm Ltd.
Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Duke University Press.
Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of affect. University of Minnesota Press.
Ngai, S. (2005). Ugly feelings. Harvard University Press.
Sedgwick, E. K. (2003). Touching feeling: Affect, pedagogy, performativity. Duke University Press.
Stewart, K. (2007). Ordinary affects. Duke University Press.