Editor’s note—several months ago, during the planning phase for my recent feature Checks and Balances, I asked Go Figure author Michael Lind to explore any existing data he could find on Force sensitivity throughout the ages in the Star Wars galaxy, and to what extent it appeared to be an inherited trait from one’s parents.
While his conclusions veered off somewhat from my original hypothesis—that Force-users were effectively a contagion and would’ve subsumed the regular population of the galaxy if not for the constant warring of Jedi and Sith—they presented a fascinating picture of how Force heritability might actually work; one that drastically changed how I thought about the Galaxy Far, Far Away. My own final piece on the subject can be found here, and below I am proud to present Michael’s original response in its entirety, with only minimal copy-editing, that our readers might be similarly enlightened. – Mike Cooper
Things we know:
I. Force sensitivity exists in the galaxy, with some unknown portion of the populace being able to touch the Force. There is a great deal of question as to the overall rate of this trait.
- The natural rate of Force sensitivity varies by species, from as low as 0% (Killiks) to as high as 100% (Miraluka, Vahla, etc.). We do not know what the all-important rate in humans is, but there is at least circumstantial evidence that whatever that rate is, most of the common species of the galaxy roughly share it, within an order of magnitude at least, simply because widely varying rates get mentioned.
- The rate of Force sensitivity also varies among subpopulations (which in Star Wars generally means planets). We know of several examples of inflated rates (Dathomir, Kesh), though I cannot immediately think of any examples where Force sensitivity is artificially reduced.
- Force sensitivity is heritable – it can be passed on from parent to child through both male and female lines. The precise mechanism of this heritability is not known, even if we pin the explanation on the midichlorians there are perfectly good biology-based arguments for and against Force sensitivity being heritable. We do know that this inheritance is not assured, two Force sensitive parents can have a non-Force sensitive child (Tigris), though we don’t have any good idea as to how common this is. While the experience of post 0-ABY Jedi populations suggest Force sensitivity is usually inherited, this is a very small sample size and there may be outside factors at work.
- Heritability and the Background Rate: We know that Force sensitivity can be inherited; we also know it can strike completely at random, as a mutation. What we don’t know is the relative contribution of these two factors to the overall abundance of Force sensitivity as a whole. The best example I can think of revealing any clue as to the mutation rate is actually the Dorsks, since they are apparently the only Force sensitives among the entire Khommite population. Khomm’s population is listed as 100-500 million. So, if Dorsk 81 is the only Force sensitive Khommite of his ‘generation’ then that could be taken as the rate of natural mutation producing Force sensitivity. Regrettably, Khommites are neither human, nor naturally reproducing.
- It may be possible to get some idea of the upper bound of abundance of Force sensitivity by using the example of Kesh. The Lost Tribe of the Sith appears to have trained just about everyone on the planet who was Force sensitive to use the Force (though there would have been not insignificant losses in training). This gives us the best possible look at a population where intensive Force sensitivity was occurring and where extensive efforts were being made to identify all possible Force sensitives. The net result of this was ‘tens of thousands’ of Sith. Kesh has an industrial but pre-spaceflight technology and a generally Earth-like environment. The planet is heavily settled by an aggressive species with thousands of years to expand, so planet-wide population almost certainly approaches the environmental and industrial carrying capacity. Since this is for the purpose of an upper-bound estimate, I’ll set that quite low: 2 billion. ‘Tens of thousands’ is subject to interpretation but generally restricts to the 5-figure range. For upper-bound purposes I’ll set that as high as reasonably possible: 90,000. We’ll also assume that humans and the Near-Human Keshiri display and inherit Force sensitivity at functionally the same rates. I’ll also say that fully 1 in 3 Sith trainees do not survive to become adult Sith, or are killed as adults, reducing the overall numbers. The result of this calculation is that 68 people per 1 million, or 0.0068% of the population, are Force sensitive. Rounding a little, this is 1 in 15000 people.
- The above estimate is actually really, really high. If applied galaxy-wide to the 100 quadrillion sentients we are told exist in the GFFA there would be over 6 trillion Force sensitives.
- The next question is how to determine a lower-bound for the number of Force sensitives. There’s some information to work with here. First, we know there are species with 100% Force sensitivity. We also know that these species are very much not the dominant face of Force sensitives across the galaxy. Seeing as there were a number of these species, and that they have to have had populations large enough to maintain viable populations, there were probably at least 1 billion such persons in the galaxy. If members of those species make up, say, 5% of all Force sensitives, then there would be a mere 20 billion Force sensitive individuals in the galaxy, a rate of 1 in 5,000,000 people.
- This estimated range of the frequency of Force sensitivity is therefore somewhere from 0.00007 to 0.0000002, which is a massive variance of over two orders of magnitude. I’m inclined to the low-end of the spectrum, because it is in greater accord with the Khommite example and therefore involves less inheritance of the Force and ‘Force-breeding’ but that’s a personal pet peeve so I’m biased. You can really pick a number.
II. The majority of Force sensitives go untrained and/or do not join recognizable Force traditions with any galactic presence.
- Even at the very lowest estimate, the known galaxy contains 20 billion Force sensitives. The Jedi Order, which is unquestionably the largest Force tradition (or the Jedi+Sith in eras where a schism is occurring), doesn’t push numbers anywhere close to that. We can actually estimate the size of the Jedi Order at a high number with some accuracy. Start with 10,000 Knights and Masters prior to the Clone Wars. Assume chances of becoming a Knight are modest – 50% failure rates for both Initiate and Knight trials bumps the numbers up by tossing 25,000-30,000 failures into the Service Corps. Throw in 4000 current Padawans and 8000 Initiates to meet replacement levels and the Order can be summed up at ~50,000 individuals.
- 50,000 individuals represents a minimum number, the Order on the end of a 1,000 year period of decline. However, we can easily calculate backward using the exponential decay function to estimate the number of individuals the Order contained at the conclusion of the New Sith Wars, and then double that number to throw in the Sith and get a modestly reasonable estimate as to the total number of Jedi+Sith in a timeframe not vastly removed from the present (the latter is important because the galactic population presumably grows, albeit slowly, over the millennia). If the Jedi Order had been shrinking at 1% per annum, then in 1000 BBY there would have been 1.1 billion Jedi. Double that for the Sith and we’d have 2.2 billion, which would be a solid 10% of the galactic total. Of course, a 1% per annum loss for a thousand years would be an epic decline, and so that rate is almost certainly too high. Even halving that rate, to 0.5% yields a maximum Jedi Order size of 7.4 million, a number that I think could be viably defended. Double that for the Sith and our Jedi+Sith mix now accounts for only 0.075% of the galaxy’s Force users.
- So, as can be seen, even at unreasonably massive estimates of Jedi and Sith numbers in the billions, they still don’t even come close to accounting for a majority of the Galaxy’s Force users. A high, but probably defensible, estimate with numbers in the low millions, still means the Jedi and Sith collectively, at a military level of Force user mobilization, account for less than 1% of the Force users in the galaxy. Recall that this is using the 20 billion low-end estimate for Force users too.
- Canon establishes unequivocally that the Jedi and Sith are by far the largest Force using groups in the modern galactic timeframe (ie. post 7000 BBY). Even if we added up all the other assorted groups to that total the other traditions would be chump change by comparison. At a very generous estimate of these other groups equaling the Jedi and Sith in size, we’re still not talking about very much as a proportion of the whole, a fraction of a percent to a few percentage points at best. The inescapable conclusion is that the overwhelming majority of Force sensitives in the galaxy are either 1. Untrained or 2. Not members of any known tradition, being at best local shamans.
- As a side note, Star Wars storytelling is massively biased towards Force users. The database shows that fully 11% of all characters are able to use the Force, and the majority of these are Jedi or Sith. This so obviously does not resemble whatever the ‘reality’ of the GFFA happens to be that is reveals quite a bit about what kinds of stories Star Wars is inclined to tell.
III. Jedi vs. Sith Over Time
- Most of the time, there is no ‘Sith.’ It sounds funny saying this, but, looked at over the arc of history, for most of Star Wars, the Jedi exist largely un-opposed by any Sith Order. Jedi history begins around 35,000 BBY now, given Dawn of the Jedi. The ‘Sith’ are confined to limited episodes. Even being generous with definitions, the first uprising occurs in 24,500 BBY, with the Legions of Lettow. That conflict lasts for only about 1 generation. The next Sithy incident doesn’t occur until the Pius Dea era, we can slot in the Order of the Terrible Glare in that role for about a thousand years. Actual Sith start to show up with the Hundred Year Darkness in 7000 BBY. This is the longest period of active Sith presence, lasting ~3500 years until the Sith Empire of Darth Vitiate is finally destroyed at some as yet undetermined post-TOR date. There appears to have been some level of Sith activity subsequent to that (Darth Desolous), but by the time Darth Ruin initiates the 4th Great Schism the Sith had apparently been extinct for a while. That Sith event persists down through to the present.
- Filling in the dates then, in thousand years blocks, activity by large anti-Jedi dark side affiliated Force traditions occurs in the following periods: 25,000-24,000 BBY; 12,000-11,000 BBY, 7,000-3,000 BBY, and 2,000 to 0 BBY. That’s 7,000 total years out of a possible 35,000 (though you can slot that down to 25,000 if you want to talk about Rakatan dominance, though they were clearly not ‘Sith’ in any sense).
- So, by this calculus, large dark side affiliated formerly Jedi Force traditions have arisen four times and been truly destroyed (as opposed to proclaimed dead) four times. If you wish to throw in the One Sith that number increases to five (I hesitate to include anything in Legacy because it is almost certain to be obliterated from canon at some point in the next 24 months). Whether or not this is a high or low rate is really impossible to say, seeing as there’s no basis for comparison with anything else.
- Interestingly, this 7,000 year collective stretch wherein the Jedi are fighting their opposite numbers (or in the case of the Pius Dea studiously glaring at them) is the section of Star Wars history about which we have the greatest amount of knowledge. There is very little information about what was happening when there was not some kind of massive Force-based conflict going on.
IV. Force-based Organizations and Sustainability – this is a very speculative area, because, well, we just don’t know much about non-Jedi and Sith groups.
- Wookieepedia lists 68 ‘Force-based organizations,’ 38 ‘dark-side organizations,’ and 81 ‘Sith organizations.’ True Force Traditions are mostly creatures of the first grouping; the ‘dark-side organizations’ section is largely a collection of Imperial entities created by Palpatine, while the ‘Sith organizations’ category is mostly a collection of sub-groups, cults, and the like.
- Most of these organizations are black boxes. They tend to be spare references, brief appearances, or RPG creations that have no characters to their name. Only a bare handful has ever been used more than once, enabling us to get some sort of picture of what the organization actually looks like. This short list includes the Aing-Tii, the Fallanassi, the Imperial Knights, the Sorcerers of Rhand, and the Witches of Dathomir. The last group is the most detailed by a huge margin and is probably the best outgroup for comparison when talking about Jedi/Sith traits.
- I am uncertain if, outside of the aforementioned Sith groups, any Force tradition has been truly rendered extinct in canon. There are a number of small Force traditions that are referenced as being almost eliminated by Palpatine’s Great Jedi Purge, and several other groups, such as the Bando Gora, have been functionally shattered at various points, but fractions of the membership generally survive. Given the nature of the Star Wars galaxy, and of the Force, it is very difficult to thoroughly eliminate any ideology of this kind – to some degree it even requires killing the dead.
- Given the small number of organizations listed to date, and the incredible obscurity of the majority, it seems clear that most Force traditions have an extremely muted presence on the galaxy-wide stage. The Jedi and Sith (and the various sub-groups or alternatively named factions within the same) have a level of influence that dwarfs that of all other Force traditions combined by orders of magnitude. If the Witches of Dathomir really are the second most important Force tradition in the galaxy, then a small band of spellcasting mercenaries represents a Force tradition of above average influence. Numerically then, small, localized traditions are apparently the rule and the Jedi and Sith are some kind of strange anomaly from the pattern. It is not clear why this should be. Jedi/Sith makes sense because the Force (and in fact the universe as a whole actually, electron spins and all that) is inherently dualistic, but there’s no special reason why one particular ideology of Force use should be dominant as opposed to a huge number struggling against each other. I could propose any number of theories, but I don’t think there’s any strong in-universe evidence for any of them. Out-of-universe, of course, the Jedi/Sith ideology dominates because Star Wars is a classic good vs. evil melodrama and everything else is largely a distraction.
V. Is widespread Force Use an anomaly? Some brief thoughts.
- Force use is apparently fairly rare in the GFFA, yet the abilities, power, and influence it conveys vastly multiplies the importance of Force-users above the average sapient individual. Even going from the max estimate of 1 in 15000 to the functional representation of 1 in 10 means that Star Wars is inherently focused on ‘special’ people. In that sense it has a lot more in common with the Marvel and DC universes than might initially be apparent.
- There doesn’t seem to be any real threat to eliminate the Force, or Force users, from the galaxy. Force traditions mostly persist long term, even when under continuous threat. The Baran Do Sages survived 6,000 years of Jedi poaching their recruits, and their situation is not atypical. Jedi and Sith populations do undergo massive population changes, mostly linked to shocking levels of violence, but this is not unreasonable when compared historically to certain kinds of warfare – the nobility of certain medieval nations for example. Even if one, or both, sides of that ideology are destroyed, it’s only a small fraction of all Force users alive in the galaxy at any time.
- Force use as a common point is not confined to the current human-dominated era of galactic history. The immediately preceding epoch was if anything significantly more Force-tinged, with Force-engineering a mainstay of the Rakata and Esh-kha species. Going back one step further leads to the Kwa, who were also Force-based. Leaving the Celestials as a question mark, the only major GFFA civilization I can think of where the Force did not necessarily play a major role is that of the Gree.
VI. Changes in Force User Abundance over time
- First let me try to restate your central thesis as a summary: essentially you’re saying that the light and dark side factionalism of Force sensitives, and the conflict this engenders, is a sort of population control measure, one that prevents Force sensitives from breeding up to levels where they dominate the population.
- I’m fairly certain the above information generally goes against this premise. Most notably, if the Jedi and Sith are only ~1-2% of all Force users in the galaxy, their casualties have little impact on the overall population of Force sensitives as a whole. I also think the evidence shows that while you can ‘breed Force sensitivity’ to a degree, there seems to be some sort of upper bound. Even Kesh only had 1 Force sensitive in 15,000 people.
- Still it is possible to try and run some demographics here, to examine whether even the conceptual idea of Force sensitives growing proportional to the rest of the populace is viable. There are a couple of key questions: 1. What is the actual rate of inheritance of sensitivity for sensitive/sensitive and sensitive/non pairings? 2. What is the comparable fertility of sensitive/sensitive and sensitive/non pairings versus non/non pairings? 3. What is the propensity of sensitive/sensitive versus sensitive/non pairings? 4. Is there a strong or widespread pan-cultural reaction that limits the fertility of sensitives in general after the fashion of the Clone Wars Era Jedi Order? 5. To what extent is growth of the Force sensitive population mitigated by growth of the Galactic population as a whole?
- Rate of heritability: we really have no true idea of what this is, because all we have is a limited amount of anecdotal evidence. Still, based on that, in the interest of throwing some numbers around, let’s say that the rate does not differ for sensitive/sensitive versus sensitive/non and that it is quite high, 90%.
- Comparable Fertility: Now, this is tricky. In order for the number of Force sensitives to be increasing our Force sensitive couples have to have more Force sensitive offspring than normal couples. Luke and Mara, for example, are below replacement rate, because they had only one Force-sensitive kid. Now, because the sensitive/non pairing is going to result in 90% Force sensitive children, this is likely to be a source of increase. Seeing as sensitive/non pairings are likely to be almost the rule, because the overwhelming majority of Force users are not members of any organization and probably don’t even know any other sensitives, this is the biggest single source of increase we’re looking at. If all pairings are sensitive/non and they all result in two offspring, then the number of sensitives is doubling with each generation. However, it is possible that Force sensitives simply have less children than non/non couples, for whatever reason (and actually, if the Force was reacting to numerical growth, a reduction in fertility would be the simplest control method). As there is essentially zero information on demographic trends over time in Star Wars this is difficult to work out.
- How many Force users are breeding with each other? As already stated, probably not that many in a neutral condition. If you’re one in a million, then you probably have no direct contact with other sensitives, but that would change as the abundance rises and as Force users congregate in groups of like-minded individuals (something aided by the spread of technology and space travel). This would increase the number of sensitive/sensitive pairings, which has a dramatically reduced impact on the spread of Force sensitives. I don’t have a good grasp of how often this is happening, but to throw some numbers at the wall, let’s say 50% of the Galaxy (the Core, roughly) enables Force sensitives to contact others of their number, and among those, another 50% chose to mate with other sensitives. That would give us 25% sensitive/sensitive and 75% sensitive/non.
- Cultural Limitations: Force users are traditionally religious figures, whether as shamans or sages or Jedi. Religious prohibitions on childbearing are common, at least in human cultures. Still, outside of the Jedi this doesn’t appear to be especially common among known Force traditions. Even so, it probably reduces the overall reproductive level of Force sensitives compared to non-sensitives moderately. I’ll throw 10% out there.
- Population Growth Mitigation: The population of the Star Wars galaxy as a whole is growing, at least from the fall of the Rakata onwards. By how much or how fast is really impossible to say, but it actually doesn’t really matter, since we’re just comparing two growth functions the absolute values aren’t important, only the differences between them. Simply put, if the number of Force sensitives is not growing faster than that of the galactic population as a whole then nothing changes, as the proportional presence of sensitives will remain constant.
- Numbers Time: To compare growth in the Force sensitive population to that of the non-sensitive population I’m going to attempt to model total change in both over the full 25,000 year existence of the Republic. This will assume an initial population of 1 quadrillion (10^15) and that the initial Force sensitive population starts in a neutral state, mutations only, at a level of 1 in 100 million (10^-8) (this is of course bogus, considering Rakatan slaves and Je’daii and the rest, but it’s for experimental purposes). This means the initial Force-using population is 10 million (10^7) even in our much smaller galaxy.
- Equation for normal growth: Our base population, going from 10^15 to 10^17 in 25000 years has a growth rate of 0.018% (this is sloooow, current human population growth is running at over 1% or over fifty times as fast). So, the trick is we have to determine the r value for the Force sensitives.
- The calculation given the factors above suggests that the frequency of Force sensitives is growing at a rate of 57% each generation. Starting at 1 in 100 million and plugging that into the exponential growth equation for 1000 generations yields 3.5×10^239 so yeah…that’s obviously not happening.
- Changing the approach, I took the base Force user population of 10 million and tried to see what would happen to it if I plugged in different growth rates over time, and where the result would be. First of all, if our Force-sensitive population of 10 million grows at the same rate as the galaxy wide population (0.018%) for 25000 years, it increases to 900 million, which actually leaves Force sensitives slightly less abundant than they were before, and well below my minimum estimate above.
- So double the rate. At 0.036% we get 81 billion. That’s actually well within the estimated range. Just to see what would happen, I cranked it up further to see what it would take to hit the 6 trillion mark. That gets hit at right around 0.053%, which, conveniently, is just under 3 times the base growth rate for the whole population. So, for Force-sensitives to hit our target range, their population has to grow at 2-3 times the rate of the normal population.
Now, assuming my assumptions about Force-sensitive mating above were even close to correct, some factor is indeed reducing the spread of Force sensitivity through the population to produce such a modest growth rate. The light/dark conflict hypothesis would say that this factor is a lot of violence that kills Force sensitives before they get a chance to reproduce. The problem is, I don’t see any way that violence could account for a shift from a growth rate of 57% to one of 0.053%, this is a shift of 4 orders of magnitude. Really I don’t see any way to reconcile Force sensitivity spreading through the galaxy like some kind of supervirus with the overall low growth rate of the galactic population and low proportion of Jedi. Actually, even if every Force user was a Jedi or Sith the level of casualties necessary to restrict growth this much is pretty unfathomable.
At the growth rates given, effectively a group of 100 Force sensitives increases to 101 every new generation. If we have 100 Force sensitives, and 25 mate with each other while 75 reproduce with outsiders, and 90% of the sensitive/sensitive kids inherit the Force, then the rate of inheritance from the sensitive/non pairings would have to be 51.7%.
In order to get that while maintaining the 90% inheritance, you need a factor (ie. Something preventing Force sensitives from reproducing before they can have kids like massive violence), producing a 36% reduction for each. That would be of all Force sensitives, not just Jedi and Sith, and the Jedi and Sith are only a few percentage points. And really, even the Jedi and Sith aren’t killing other off at anything like that abundance, that would be the bloodiest war ever by a huge margin.
Essentially I believe the solution is either that the sensitive/non pairing just doesn’t produce a high level of sensitive offspring, and the known examples are simply a consequence of variability across a small sample size (and perhaps Skywalkers are special, which the whole Shmi virgin birth situation supports), or we have to come up with some other massive forcing that reduces the spread of Force sensitives. I prefer the former scenario, which still allows for rapid increases in a Force user population base if your society encourages Force-users to reproduce together and have a bunch of kids.