What the 3rd Star Wars trilogy was supposed to be about

Spoiler: Microbiomes in space!

Image source: Disney
  • A recent interview reveals the visionary inspiration behind Star Wars.
  • The story was originally an excerpt from the Journal of the Whills.
  • The Whills were the force behind the Force.


As the final trilogy of Star Wars—or the ninth segment of the Star Wars ennead—takes flight, the curtain is coming down on the Skywalker saga. As the story was originally envisioned by George Lucas, however, the original plot line and conclusion would have been very different from the one presented in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It would have been a dip into the genuinely metaphysical, and an exploration of a biological concept Lucas somehow intuited by 1973 and which science only recently identified: the microbiome. Lucas is often called a visionary—it turns out it's truer than many of us realized.

The Force


Image source: Disney

Whatever one thinks of Star Wars as movies, there's no denying that Lucas contributed to humanity something that transcends the Star Wars movies and their fans: the Force. The vaguely theological, unseen struggle between opposites—good and evil, darkness and light—has become a secular religion, if such a thing is possible. While few would say they actually believe in it, few would say that they don't, even if they call it something else.

In its original conception, it turns out the Force was the activity of microbiotic beings called the "Whills," who were the real, if hidden, heroes and villains of Star Wars. As Lucas has said, "The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force."

Lucas recently revealed, "There's this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force."

Lucas planned for the third trilogy to largely leave the Skywalkers, etc. behind and shift the action down to where the story was really happening: the Whills' microbiome.

Disney said, um, nope, and wrote its own final trilogy without Lucas' involvement. And without the Whills. Says Lucas, "If I'd held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told."

Clearly, the beloved movie characters would have gotten a major demotion if we were to learn it's really the heroism of the Whills we're seeing.

Reading between the lines

Full of mid-chlorians is young Annakin.

Image source: Disney

Fans of the movies have long known something about the Whills. In early story notes, summaries, and script drafts that have been published, notably in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, the Whills loom large as the central focus of the whole saga. It was, in fact, originally called Journal of the Whills, and was to be presented to the audience by an unseen narrator, a Whill:

"Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events. I eventually dropped this idea, and the concept behind the Whills turned into the Force." — George Lucas

Passing references to the Whills pop up here and there in the films released before Lucas sold the rights to Disney, particularly in the widely disliked first trilogy, released decades after the acclaimed second trio of films.

Critics and viewers alike rolled their eyes in The Phantom Menace when young Annakin Skywalker was found to have a high "mid-chlorian" count. Here, Lucas was laying the groundwork for the Whills: Mid-chlorians, he now says, were micro-organisms that served as conduits though which their host, say, a Jedi, could communicate with the Whills. The more mid-chlorians someone has, the more in touch with the Force that person is.

The Whills revealed

George Lucas

Image source: Art Zelin/Getty

The central role played by the Whills in the Star Wars universe became clear only recently, thanks to an eye-opening interview Lucas gave director James Cameron as part of compelling AMC series James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction. The publishers of the companion book for the series, Insight Editions, published an excerpt of Lucas' interview online.

In his interview, Lucas recalls the thinking that led him to the Whills back in the early 1970s. It's remarkably prescient regarding what science now describes as our personal microbiomes: "Back in the day, I used to say ultimately what this means is we were just cars, vehicles, for the Whills to travel around in. We're vessels for them."

Nothing much is known about how Lucas would have visualized the Whills, and we may never know, if even he does. Meanwhile, bringing Lucas' original Star Wars vision into focus is fascinating. When Episode IV, a New Hope first exploded into the theaters, it played primarily as a deliberate and hokey—if thrilling—tribute to the director's beloved Saturday-matinee sci-fi popcorn serials. Who knew its origin had been so profound?

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Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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