Star Wars and Generational Ethics: What is Owed to the Next Generation?

Sparked by the A Case for Starting Over, Part V: Passing The Torch piece….

A recurring line of political rhetoric over the last few years – and it is rhetoric, certainly not policy by any measure – has been around the idea that governments should not leave debts to future generations. In an ideal world that would be the case, but the world is not ideal and we have to deal with it as it is. That in turn means inheriting the debts of our predecessors regardless of whether it should be the case, some of the debt being the cost of the World Wars.

It might be said Star Wars is a case in point of one generation having to clean up the mess of its idiotic predecessors! Did Luke, Han or Leia wish for the galaxy to be ruled by a totalitarian Galactic Empire that sees the deployment of planet-killers as justifiable protest control measures? Of course not, but they’re stuck with it anyway.

The picture only gets worse when you turn a critical eye on the Prequel Trilogy and the story in it. Lucas is known for looking at the Weimar Republic in how he cast the fall of the Republic, the problem is that this really is, at best, a cosmetic linkage. There was far more to the fall of the Weimar Republic than simply Hitler being appointed Chancellor. One aspect was the poisonous post-war legacy of the Treaty of Versailles and France’s desire for vengeance again and again. Another was the great depression which wrecked the reforms of Gustav Stresemann – however tempting it is to assume the Weimar Republic was doomed from the start, it was not. Look to the Prequels and neither of these are in evidence, only a manufactured separatist war that, somehow, was nevertheless sufficient to drive the galactic populace into becoming an empire. The only conclusion that can be drawn, like a recent historian did of the leaders in 1914, is that the leaders in Star Wars are idiots.

So, Star Wars begins with a truly toxic bequest to the generation of Luke, Han and Leia. It is an inheritance whose toxicity takes decades to deal with – it undermines the attempt to restore the Republic as the Bothans and others advance the right to be xenophobic as a cultural value, the idea of a pan-galactic law is tainted by association with the Empire, even the Jedi are suspect. In such a devastated world, what should Luke, Han and Leia leave to their successors?

It would be easier to answer this without adding in threats from outside the galaxy – as a race of biotechnology-wielding sadomasochistic evangelists invade. Or threats from thousands of years before turn up to add more wreckage to the already blasted galaxy… But again, the galaxy of Star Wars is inherently chaotic so that’s what we have to deal with.

The accompanying question to what the generation of Luke, Han and Leia owe to the next is how much is enough for a person to contribute? If we assume the world will always be imperfect and the best that can be done is to reduce the level of imperfection and chaos, then technically, Luke, Han and Leia could retire any time they liked! That they don’t suggests that they are as much action addicts as the revamped Sherlock’s Watson! It also suggests the state of the galaxy, whatever it may be, doesn’t matter! There may be loose ends, new threats, enduring adversaries – none of that says it is has to be their job to deal with it!

But surely that is a really crappy legacy and inheritance? On one evaluation, it certainly is. On another, it really isn’t as the one enduring gift is that the next generation are free to be who they wish to be. They do not have to fight a galactic government that is contemptuous of life. They do not have to fight a load of sadomasochistic evangelists. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Expanded Universe is that in the wake of the defeat of Vader, Sidious and Shimrra, across three decades, the galaxy chose war and totalitarianism entirely out of the blue.

Yet that is true for any inheritance – those who inherit can always throw it away! But that lack of care on the part of the inheritors does not, indeed cannot, tarnish the gift itself – the careless disposal always reflects badly on the inheritors. It is a pattern that is seen again and again in the EU, even the Legacy comics has the galaxy choosing vengeance over compassion, condemnation over understanding.

Why should that be so? Because it is the nature of people to deny, avow and buck-pass. In the first book of the now notorious Legacy of the Force series, a kid lays into Wedge Antilles for defeating the Empire because the Empire would have defeated the Vong quicker. In short, instead of placing the blame where it lies, on the invaders, he blames the prior generation for not doing well enough. Blindly oblivious to how his life would be under the Empire, he substitutes a romanticized version that’s utter rubbish. Why? Because he can’t face up to the crappy hand life has dealt him and certainly doesn’t want the responsibility that accompanies freedom. He wants to go around committing violence and likely murder while being able to claim it wasn’t him, he was just following orders, he simply can’t help being a psychopathic halfwit!

What this also brings up are power limitations – no matter how much they may desire it to be other, Luke, Han and Leia are, at best, merely exemplars for the galaxy. If they are to be true to their belief that the Rebellion was worth fighting for the principles of freedom and accountability, then they cannot compel anyone follow them, they can only trail blaze and hope others decide to do so. In both Hand of Thrawn and the New Jedi Order we see a galaxy that simply isn’t prepared to do that, blaming the Empire and a host of other excuses for their selfishness. They want what they want and nothing else! A bigger picture? Stuff it, they’re looking out for number one and screw anyone else. (The likes of Thatcher and Reagan would be most approving.)

What then is the inheritance that Luke, Han and Leia leave then? It is not a perfect galaxy, nor will it ever be but the gift to their successors that they are not the prisoners of fate is beyond measure. They do not have to fight an Empire, they do not have to fear a massive war, though one or two more localized conflicts may blow up from time to time – a sad inevitability. No, the gift is the galaxy gets to choose its future regardless of how much it dislikes or resents being able to do so. It gets to choose to create heaven or hell, peace or war. In the form of the Jedi, there’s even a defense mechanism against the excesses and ravages of the Force’s dark side in place to help protect that ability to choose, but that is the most that can be gifted from one generation to the next. It gets to look to the past and hold onto old, festering resentments or actually look up to the future for once. It gets to choose.

2 thoughts to “Star Wars and Generational Ethics: What is Owed to the Next Generation?”

  1. Well, the reason for the Second Galactic Civil War, was because the writers were unoriginal and uninspired. If Anakin Solo was killed because his planned arc would be derivative of the Prequels, why wasn’t Legacy of the Force too?

    I think the Galactic Empire was ripped from the Foundation series, and then the analogues to Nazi Germany and the Roman Empire were added later, because Lucas was making the Prequels up as he went along.

  2. I think LOTF really was thought to be a smart continuation, that it was in the vein of give the consumer more of what they supposedly wanted – that the PT themes only work, to a degree even then, in the PT setting was never considered!

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