Ever since its 1977 cinematic debut, the Force has been strong in popular culture. People with only passing exposure to the Star Wars saga probably have at least a general notion of how the story’s mystical energy works: light sides and dark sides, wizard-like abilities over objects and minds, laser-beam swords. But who is the Force strongest with? And how has the balance between light and dark shifted throughout the series? In anticipation of “The Force Awakens,” we decided to find out by watching every minute of the first two trilogies to identify, measure, and categorize use of the Force. This was a delicate exercise, mainly because the Force is vague and entirely fictitious. But we’re confident in our findings—and if you search your feelings, we think you will be, too.
Only 4 percent of the 805-minute Star Wars film canon, stretching from Episodes I through VI, involves clearly discernible Force use. The light side, domain of the noble Jedi warriors, accounts for the majority of Force screen time, in large part because there are more good guys and greater focus is placed on their actions. The light and dark sides are used simultaneously for less than a minute.
minutes : seconds
Total time using light side
Total time using dark side
Depictions of the light side receive more generous time than those of the dark side in each film except “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” arguably the gloomiest chapter. Spoiler alert: Nearly every Jedi knight is murdered in this film, even a classroom of Force-sensitive school children, and the emergence of Darth Vader is announced with a “Nooooo” scream heard ‘round the galaxy. “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” with its lengthy training sequences involving Yoda and Luke Skywalker, is the most Force-heavy film overall.
No character in Star Wars is seen using the Force more than Luke Skywalker, champion of the light side. Luke covers all the staples: senses, leaps, mind tricks, hands-free object movement, laser blast deflections, and even talking to ghosts. In fact, listening to a dead Obi-Wan Kenobi is how Luke Skywalker spends the majority of his Force time. Kenobi himself is technically dead during more than half the time he is wielding the Force, including the critical moment he urges Luke Skywalker to use it in his attack on the Death Star.
Of the 10 Force abilities we tallied, Force Leap was used most frequently. More than a third of all leaps are made by Yoda, the diminutive Jedi master whose fighting style hinges on aerial ballet. The old Jedi Mind Trick—“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”—is used 14 times, including a few failed attempts by Luke Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn.
The Force isn’t just a power, it’s an incessant talking point. A tally of each time characters invoke the concept finds 90 utterances throughout the six films, including a dozen instances of the most famous line of all: "May the Force be with you."
Balance, schmalance. The light side trounces the dark side in Force time, abilities used, and even characters who say the word "Force." Below, a breakdown of when and how the Force is used in each of the six films.
We recognize that a case can be made that some Force practitioners are using the Force in some unobservable way at all times, and we don’t even want to talk about midi-chlorians at all. So we limited this exercise to clear and observable uses.
To arrive at a figure for total on-screen Force time, we decided to measure cumulatively, by scene. That means when multiple people use the Force simultaneously, we counted the time only once.
Light-side and dark-side times are the cumulative durations that characters associated with each side are depicted using the Force. When multiple characters associated with the same side at the same time use the Force, that time is also counted only once. When light-side and dark-side characters use the Force at the same time, the durations are scored separately.
Each recorded duration is rounded to the nearest second, and no use of the Force was assigned less than one second in duration.
When the use of the Force has some physical analog (e.g., Force Leap), we begin timing from the start of the maneuver. When the use of the Force is revealed through dialogue (e.g., “I sense much fear in you”), we begin timing from the start of the relevant dialogue, unless the character signals non-verbally to begin earlier.
Although some Force abilities are more closely associated with one side of the Force, we ignore those associations here. Instead, we categorize light side and dark side time based on the nature of the Force user. For example, Luke Skywalker uses Force Choke at the beginning of Episode VI. That’s an ability closely associated with the dark side, yet it has been coded here as light-side time because Luke is a character associated with the light side.
The use of the force by Anakin Skywalker is also scored as light-side time, even though the same person is ultimately reborn as Darth Vader, a stalwart of the dark side. We distinguish between the two characters by using the moment in Episode III in which Palpatine speaks his new name, not the moment in which a disfigured Anakin first appears in a mask.
The depiction of any of the following named abilities constitutes Force time: Sense, Force Leap, Force Choke, Force Push, Force Lightning, Telekinesis, the Jedi Mind Trick, Telepathy, Burst of Speed, and Force Spirit. (Each of these named abilities is outlined in greater detail later in this methodology.) The depiction of any of the following additional abilities also constitutes Force time: The deflection of a blaster bolt with a lightsaber, a saber throw (in which a lightsaber is used as a spinning projectile), the supernatural healing of others, meditation to bring oneself more in the line with the Force, telepathic communication with animals, the perception of a Force Spirit (ghost) by a living person (for example, hearing “Use the Force, Luke”), and any other apparently supernatural ability or sensation.
Although pod racing is said to require “Jedi reflexes,” we have omitted Anakin Skywalker’s pod race from this exercise because it could not be determined precisely when in the course of the race he is using the Force. Similarly, we omit the piloting of all vehicles by Force users.
General fighting activity has also been omitted. Although mastery of the lightsaber and Jedi and Sith fighting styles are said to require the use of the Force, we limit Force time in battles to observed blaster bolt deflections, saber throws, and any of the other abilities named above.
The terms used here to define Force abilities may not be identical to those used throughout the Star Wars expanded universe. They represent amalgamations of definitions used in the starwars.com databank, the reference book “Star Wars: Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force,” and one or more LucasArts games. Some terms have been modified or combined for simplicity.
Sense: The demonstration of a heightened awareness of the world around the Force user. This includes particularly keen vision, hearing, and smell, as well as the ability to detect danger, another Force user, and a disturbance in the Force. This ability also includes the detection of thoughts and emotions in other people. Although this is arguably a telepathic ability, we include it here (and not in Telepathy) because users often say that they “sense” emotions in others. We also include here the Force ability known as Farsight, which allows users to perceive events at great distances across the galaxy (e.g., Obi-Wan Kenobi’s palpable sense of the destruction of Alderaan) and to see visions of the future.
Force Leap: A preternaturally high or long jump, such as Luke Skywalker’s skyrocketing exit from inside a carbon-freezing chamber, or one that appears to require heightened physical awareness and balance. Yoda often uses Force Leaps in combat.
Force Choke: The often-lethal constriction of another’s windpipe without physical contact, even at a great distance. Darth Vader uses this ability to threaten or dispatch several underlings. Note that we exclude from this category Count Dooku’s Force Grip on the throat of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode III on the grounds that he appears to lift Kenobi by the throat and throw him across a room, rather than simply constrict his airway. That maneuver, a feat of supernatural strength, is included in overall dark-side time.
Force Push: The projection of a moving energy field. This ability is often used to knock over or defend against an opponent in combat. Numerous battle droids are smashed this way throughout Episode I.
Force Lightning: The projection of intense, violent energy from the user’s fingers. The lightning appears in three of the six films, with Palpatine and Count Dooku the only practitioners.
Telekinesis: The movement or retrieval of inanimate objects (or droids) without physical contact. This definition is more specific than others: Force Push and Force Choke are arguably telekinetic abilities, but we tally them separately.
Jedi Mind Trick: The ability to influence the thoughts and behavior of others, using verbal suggestion. We also include failed attempts on species that are resistant.
Telepathy: The purposeful sending of telepathic messages and the reception of such messages by living, sentient beings. We exclude here the mere sensing of thoughts and emotions in others.
Burst of Speed: This brief, swift sprint occurs quickly enough to create the illusion of disappearance.
Force Spirit: This ability entails communication with the living by a deceased Force user, counted both when the manifestation is aural and when it is seen as a ghostly visual projection.
A mention of the Force is an instance of the spoken word “Force,” and it refers specifically to the Force.
Five coders watched the iTunes digital downloads of the six Star Wars films, three per movie, and recorded in a spreadsheet the duration, user, and ability of every clear and observable instance of the use of the Force. The versions of Episodes IV, V, and VI are not the original theatrical releases, which aren’t available for purchase. All data were reviewed to resolve discrepancies among the coders. When differences could not be reconciled, the novelizations and screenplays of the films were used as references.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Lucasfilm/The Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection, Yoda: Lucasfilm/Everett Collection, Luke Skywalker: Lucasfilm/The Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection, Palpatine: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection, Darth Vader: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection, Anakin Skywalker: Lucasfilm/Everett Collection, Qui-Gon Jinn: Lucasfilm/The Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection, Count Dooku: 20th Century Fox/Photofest, Mace Windu: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection, Princess Leia: Lucasfilm/The Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection, Darth Maul: 20th Century Fox/Photofest, Jar Jar Binks: Lucasfilm/Everett Collection, Ki-Adi-Mundi: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection, Jan Dodonna: Lucasfilm/Everett Collection, Han Solo: Lucasfilm/Everett Collection, Admiral Ackbar: Lucasfilm/Photofest