There’s this little movie franchise. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
It’s called Star Wars.
I have a lot of opinions about this that might be controversial. For instance, I think Solo is the best of the new movies, Episode VII was pretty good, Episode VIII was pretty bad, and Rogue One was hot, flaming garbage.
However, I think the most letdown I’ve ever felt by anything in the Star Wars universe was the campaign in Battlefront II, the EA version.
Sure, the main character is boring and the story is forgettable, but what really rankled me was the fact that they took the easy way out. When they announced the campaign, we were told that we were getting a story about an Imperial officer.
Which I thought was super cool, because the one thing that the Star Wars movies still haven’t really given us is the Empire’s side of the story.
And then, of course, the main character deserts and joins the rebellion. This is now a terrible cliché in stories set in the Star Wars universe. The most famous deserter now pilots the Millennium Falcon, cementing the backstory as one of the easiest and laziest a writer could use.
So, I wonder what the Empire’s justification is? How does someone who willingly works for the Empire explain their actions? Why is what they do worth doing?
Part of the reason that we don’t have a good answer is because all of these stories are told from the rebellion’s point of view. Sometimes we hear from characters like Grand Moff Tarkin, but they just use buzzwords like “order” and “stability.”
These characters using these words makes a lot of sense because they’re the attributes that the Rebellion most directly threatens.
However, it doesn’t explain why a person would support the Empire.
And yet, we know for a fact that some or perhaps even most people are in favor of the Empire.
Because, the Rebellion largely appears to operate in secret bases on sparsely-populated or unpleasant worlds, and they wouldn’t have to do that if there was broad support for overthrowing the Empire.
In fact, if there was broad opposition to the Empire, the Rebellion itself probably wouldn’t be necessary.
Each world would revolt on its own, destroy the local Imperial installations, and once that happened enough times the Empire would collapse.
Maybe this sounds like it wouldn’t happen because the Empire had all of the technology and strength in numbers, but I feel the need to remind you that this is a universe where the Ewoks fought the Empire and won.
Let’s go back to those buzzwords: order and stability.
Order allows for stability. It’s the more important of the two. And, like freedom, which the Republic would have provided, it can be nice on its own, but it matters more because of what you can do with it.
So, the question that really needs to be answered concerns not the terrible things that the Empire does to create order, but the good things that the common person and military figures believe creating order will produce. Those good things that come must be greater than the evil done.
Given the evil we see from the Empire, the good must be great indeed. We just never find out what it is.
For a moment, we can try and make the Death Star fit the bill.
It’s a huge project that would require a lot of order to bring to fruition. The coordination of thousands or millions of workers in mining, refining, construction (in space, no less), design and staffing. Not to mention that it was all done in secret. This is something that only a highly organized group could do. Just a little bit of chaos would ruin the project completely.
However, it will be used to bring about more order.
Which leaves us with two unsatisfying possibilities.
It’s possible that the good things the Empire does are always just offscreen while we watch the movies. They exist, but we’re only seeing the bad things because those are the ones that are relevant to our protagonists.
Or, it’s possible that the Empire has a fetish for order. They won’t be satisfied until all aspects of life have become regular. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on its own, but it’s consistent with what we do see.
There’s a third option that rejects both of these.
Perhaps we’re jutting up against the edge of what Star Wars can do, morally.
Let me explain what I mean.
One of the first rules of making a new Star Wars movie is that it can’t undo anything that was done in Episodes IV, V, or VI, in part because those movies make sense, and in part, because they’re so good. Not all of the other Star Wars movies can claim to be both of these.
And, IV, V, and VI were built on the framework of the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey doesn’t need a complex villain in order to work. In fact, it may benefit from having a straightforward and simple villain. All that’s really necessary is that there’s a bad guy to oppose the protagonist and that bad person is stronger than the protagonist at the start of the story.
So, it doesn’t really matter why they are bad. Just that they are.
Which may be why Episode VIII falls short for so many people.
Rey is clearly on the Hero’s Journey at the end of the previous movie.
But the problem with Episode VIII is that it wants to delve into the moral complexities of its antagonists, and blatantly kills off the one that would have served as the best “evil, for evil’s sake, character.”
Even if the exploration is done masterfully, and there are parts that are beautifully done, the framework on which this story was built wasn’t meant to support that kind of story. Even if done well, it probably won’t work.
And, that’s too bad, because I believe there’s room in the Star Wars universe for that kind of story.
But it just needs to be built on the right foundation. It’s a great premise for a standalone movie, but kind of a rough one for a movie in the middle of a trilogy.