From the first moments we saw Darth Vader in Star Wars so many years ago, the visual language employed by director George Lucas told us all we needed to know. This was the bad guy. Lucas is a filmmaker who wears his influences on his sleeves and the Nazi allusions seen in the various Imperial Troopers regalia is undeniable. I digress. Darth Vader is bad. Very bad. As in despite-his-redemption-he-still-has-a-killing-record-that-rivals-the-Sandy-Hook-massacre bad. Through a few short films we’d also be introduced to Emperor Palpatine, who was somehow even worse. But as the end credits of Return of the Jedi rolled, Emperor Palpatine is defeated and Anakin Skywalker is redeemed (Oh, by the way, SPOILER ALERT). So all is well right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
Before I delve into why things are horrendous in the Galaxy post-Return, let me ask you a question. Why exactly is the Empire so bad? Did someone say they tortured Princess Leia and blew up an entire innocent planet? Okay, yeah. Torture is bad. And genocide is worse. I’m not denying that. But why exactly did Vader torture the Princess (when somehow his force intuition was completely blinding him to the fact that she is his daughter)? The answer is that Leia is a politician who is secretly head of a rebellion that is attempting to destabilize the Empire. And not only that, but Leia had stolen military plans. She’s essentially the Star Wars answer to Edward Snowden. These plans were used to blow up a military installation, killing millions of soldiers. So, while Vader may have committed genocide, is Leia’s slaughter any better?
Aside from the fact that the Empire is willing to kill millions over an over-hyped publicity stunt, the audience never sees any other instances of why they are so evil. Is it based solely on fashion choices and looks? Anybody who has ever owned a pit bull can tell you just because they look mean doesn’t mean that it’s the case. At least the Empire fights under a banner and not via rags and plainclothes. They launch assaults, not roadside bombs in crowded cities.
So yes, their governing tactics may be harsh, but you have to remember this is in a war-time setting. Last I checked, the United States didn’t exactly use the Fat Man and Littleboy on military installations. We have no other evidence (I’m too lazy and apathetic to the research examples from the Prequel Trilogy so if you have any examples, the comment box is waiting for you below) that the Empire is anything less than an amazingly competent and efficient governing body. Hell, the PT seemed to posit the fact that the Senate was too inefficient which is why Palpatine took control. Surely that’s a sentiment the Tea Party can get behind! Evil cackle and predilection for force tasering people aside, it’s entirely possible Palpatine had a more efficient way of running the galaxy. His system may have been a bit Military Complex-y, but if that worked then what is the problem?
Fast forward to the present. Luke, Leia, and Han have succeeded in leading the Rebellion to victory. But while they’re all celebrating and patting each other on the back around a campfire with glorified teddy bears let’s look at the horrifying future. First off, the Battle of Endor’s results mean that the planet is going to shortly be showered in radiation and debris and the entire world will become the space equivalent of Chernobyl. Somehow that’s not the worst of it.
There now is a power vacuum in the galaxy. Typically, when one leader or dictator is overthrown, especially one at the head of a violent regime, they aren’t replaced by someone who is friendlier. Case in point. Kim Jong Un makes Kim Jong Il look sane. Think about ISIS replacing the Taliban. In the Middle East, life was actually better for people under the Taliban than ISIS. What created ISIS? The destruction of the Taliban (among many other complicated factors that are too deep for a pop culture thinkpiece).
— Star Wars (@starwars) August 10, 2015
We know in the upcoming The Force Awakens that “The First Order” is the Empire re-organized after the events of Jedi. As Roger Daltrey once said, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Indeed, these Storm Troopers and Tie Fighters look like sleeker and updated versions of what came before. They’re also led by a mysterious shadowy figure wielding a red lightsaber (So he’s gotta be bad, right?). Not only that, but this is thirty years after Palpatine was deposed. What has been going on since then?! I’m assuming it’s been thirty years of prolonged military activity. It is estimated that 26,000 Afghani civilians died since 2001 due the the United States presence there. Imagine that in an entire galaxy.
Right now it’s safe to assume that the Rebellion deposed a dictator (if he was as bad as his evil laugh would indicate) and upset an established galactic order. The First Order was born out of the chaos, but with diminished resources and reach, would have to act even harsher in an attempt to maintain control. Seeing as their military is conscripted, it’s likely many soldiers are people who see the Empire as the good guys, which would make the Rebellion, in this analogy, ISIS. The prolonged military conflict has likely led to increasingly drastic measures from both sides which would incur an even higher death toll of both good and bad.
It is very possible Luke and his friends made life in the galaxy worse for everybody involved. The First Order could be a force of evil created by their good intentions (just remember how Bruce Wayne’s debut as Batman paved the way for the Joker in The Dark Knight). Maybe when all is said and done, the good guys wear black and wield red lightsabers. Then again, maybe I’m overthinking it.