In Defense of the Empire

I’m thinking about the original Star Wars trilogy, and if we look at it only in terms of what we learned in the original trilogy, was the Empire that bad? Sure you hear about how bad the Empire is, with its ruthless something or other, but who do you hear that from? Princess Leia. A terrorist. You don’t see any of the ruthlessness they talk about in any of the planets they visit (although, to be fair, the only regular planet they visit is Tatooine). The symbols of oppression, the Storm Troopers, are checking vehicles for stolen droids that were used by the terrorists to smuggle classified data. That seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for a law-enforcement group to do. Basically, from what little we see of day-to-day life in the Empire, planets are self-sufficient and not really bothered too much. It’s a system of government that functions pretty well. Dissolving the Senate is not particularly democratic, but the Empire had been a dictatorship for twenty years, and spending all the tax dollars on a vestigial branch of government seems kind of wasteful. 

Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes. Alderaan. Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the destruction of planet Alderaan, ending billions of lives. Evil? Not so fast. Exploding countless innocent people because they might have some connection to terrorists is a pretty routine thing the United States does. And, yes, Obama did it too.  

Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, and Grand Moff Tarken are three very evil people, so they say. But they’re trying to run a galaxy here. They’re assholes, but maybe they’re just pragmatic.  

I guess I’m saying that the original Star Wars movies are pitched to us as a clash of good versus evil, but we have to take a terrorist’s word that the bad guys are really that bad. Imagine you were living in the Star Wars Galaxy, and you worked a nine-to-five job, and you were married and had kids, and your best friend was an alien who spoke to you in their alien language, and you spoke to them in English. Now imagine you turned on the news, and you hear that some teenagers in fighter jets are blowing up military bases and shooting a bunch of troops. The worst part is, it is absolutely killing your commute. It’s not clear from that point of view who’s good and who’s evil. 

And when you think about the Empire in the terms of a government that has to take care of billions of billions of people of all races and nationalities that is being attacked by guerilla warriors, what does that say about us? As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as plucky rebels overthrowing a ruthless, evil regime, but we’re really not, are we?  

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