One of the enduring mysteries of the Star Wars universe is how sensitivity to the Force is passed on. All of the Skywalkers have it, suggesting it’s hereditary, but it’s impossible that all the Jedi are genetically related. One group of researchers, frustrated with this puzzle, pooled their minds to brainstorm a scientific mechanism for its transmission: If the Force isn’t genetic, they argue, it must move through individuals like a virus.
As Space.com reports, the scientists, meeting at the Dragon Con convention in Atlanta in September, argued that it’s much more likely that sensitivity to the Force is passed on like a virus than through genetic means. While there’s certainly evidence that people in the same family have the ability to use the Force — thereby calling Rey’s parentage into question — this theory falls apart when you consider that different species can also have the Force. If the ability is genetic, where did Yoda get it?
Okay, so it’s technically possible that Yoda and humans could have overlapping genomes — after all, we share 98 percent of our DNA with chimps, and 50 percent with a banana — but if the ability really just came down to a mutation, its persistence across multiple species would suggest that the ability to use the Force is a pretty fundamental characteristic for life. It just wouldn’t make sense that only some humans carried it.
Furthermore, if the trait was rooted in a genetic mutation, then it would suggest either that all Jedis are somehow genetically related (highly unlikely), or that all parents of Jedis individually developed that mutation in their genes (also unlikely).
Besides, they also made the very good point that Jedis would be incapable of passing on their Force-sensitive genes because they’re forbidden to marry. How could Obi-Wan Kenobi’s abilities have come from mom or dad, if one or both of his parents were Jedi and were not allowed to make Jedi babies? Unless one of them pulled an Anakin and got it on anyway, it’s unlikely that Obi-Wan would have gotten his Force-wielding abilities in this way.
The virus theory, in contrast, suggests that the Force could be passed on to people through direct contact. It successfully explains why all of the Skywalkers have it — they are far more likely to have been in contact with each other — but it also provides a mechanism by which alien species could have it as well.
“A Jedi virus could have a broad range like the influenza virus so that little green Yodas can get it as well as humans,” Duke University biologist Eric Spana, Ph.D. told Space.com.
The caveat to the virus theory is that contact with the Force “virus” would have to take place at an early stage of life, when the embryo is still in its mother’s womb. This technicality would help explain why Padmé didn’t develop the ability after hooking up with Anakin but provide an explanation for why her children had it. Similarly, it explains why Jedi don’t pass on their abilities to people they’re battling with. There are real-life viruses that behave like this, like the human herpesvirus 6 which integrates itself into a person’s egg or sperm cells so that their babies will carry the virus.
Unfortunately, the virus theory complicates things for people trying to suss out Rey’s or Jyn Erso’s familial lineage by stating that just because someone is Force-sensitive doesn’t mean their parents necessarily were. Whether George Lucas will ever provide an explanation that is not midichlorian-related remains to be seen, but for now, one thing is certain: This is one virus you’d definitely want to catch.