Friday, July 1, 2011

The Evil Empire wasn't so evil.

Professor Stephen Bainbridge points to an io9 post called "Ten Tired Movie Plots That Need to Show the Villain’s Perspective." By far the most interesting of the ten is Number 1:

The freedom-loving rebels against the fascist empire.

From the empire striking back, to a ragtag group of serene space-western characters, to a guy who has a fetish for the letter V, this has to be the most popular storyline. I know that those who trade security for freedom end up losing both, and movies show that very well. The problem is, before you get to the point where you lose both, it's still a trade-off. And the term trade-off means that both concepts have value. To the rebels, the fascists who run their world have gone too far. What if there was a movie where, from some perspectives at least, they hadn't?
Isn't there someone on the Death Star who just wants to keep order in a massive system of planets, all filled with Cantinas in which people get shot regularly? Maybe this guy doesn't understand why people keep trying to blow up his workplace. What about the Alliance, which fought a war to try to organize and supply a sprawling galaxy full of colony planets, and is rightly annoyed by people randomly stealing from them? And while it's clear that the intolerant government that V railed against supported monsters, they also kept their country together when others were falling apart. How would a person working in that government react to a guy who takes hostages, shoots cops, and blows up buildings? The rebels want freedom, which sounds good in pop songs, but is that always the best idea? A look at the other side, for once, might make a good movie.
Prof. Bainbridge calls it "a theme I've wanted to see for a long time" and asks "What if the Emperor was the good guy?"

Some of us always thought that he was.

Ever since the first Star Wars movie and continuing into the Expanded Universe, I've rooted for the Galactic Empire.  That doesn't mean I root for all the bad guys in the Star Wars universe -- the Hutts are disgusting, the Ssi-Ruuk are weirdos and the Yuuzhan Vong are practically Islamists -- but the Empire always had a coolness about it.  They had the cool ships, legions of well-dressed stormtroopers, Death Star troopers and officers; an awesome superweapon and the coolest of villains, Darth Vader, with the Emperor right behind him.

Such was the logic of a 6-year old boy.  But as I recall there were a lot of us who liked the Empire.  What George Lucas and many like him don't understand is that however much you try to explain that this visually perfectly ordered army, whether they are Imperial stormtroopers, Roman legions or the Wehrmacht, is brutal and evil, young boys will generally ignore the spoken brutality and evil, see the visually perfectly ordered army, and think "Cool! I want one of those!"  They have no evil intent, mind you, they just think that having such an army would be cool.  They grow up being told about the evil and brutality in those armies (not so much evil in the case of Rome but certainly brutality), and thus much of that thinking goes away.  Much, but not all.  What if such a potent military force could be used for good?  Many of us, myself included, would love to have our own army of millions of clone troopers to do good things like get rid of the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe.  Even rid American cities of murder, rape and robbery.

Even today, I still prefer the Empire to the Rebel Alliance by far.  (Many do; ever heard of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion?)  I never saw what was so good about the Rebels.  Darth Vader said the Empire wanted to bring "order" to the galaxy.  The Rebels, it seems, not so much.  They always seemed like hippie brats.  Luke Skywalker was whiny and stupid, Princess Leia was too concerned with her wardrobe while the slobbish Rebel soldiers were not concerned enough, their ships were ugly and don't get me started on the Ewoks.  The only cool ones among them were Han Solo and R2-D2.  As the prequels and the Expanded Universe make clear, the Rebels were incapable of effective governance and just as corrupt, perhaps moreso, as the Empire.

Over the years, perhaps due in part to the muddled plot of the prequels, more and more have been expressing this view.  In 2002, Jonathan V. Last wrote an excellent piece in the Weekly Standard titled "The Case for the Empire: Everything you think you know about Star Wars is wrong."  He concluded:

In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn't liberate the galaxy--it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one.
Which makes the rebels--Lucas's heroes--an unimpressive crew of anarchic royals who wreck the galaxy so that Princess Leia can have her tiara back.
I'll take the Empire.

No comments:

Post a Comment