Take No Prisoners

There’s a theory that Star Wars is a simple story of good guys and bad guys, in which the heroic, idealistic Rebels, overthrow the evil, oppressive Empire.

But come on. We all know that a lot more complicated than that.


Does the phrase “Death Star Daycare” mean anything to you?

No, it’s not one of those quirky little comic strips in Star Wars Tales. It’s the observation that Grand Moff Tarkin’s technological terror is so darn big that it probably contains an awful lot of ordinary people in its massive crew. Military families. Imperial Army brats. Ordinary enlistees from the Mid Rim who just joined up to see the galaxy.

And Luke Skywalker blew them all up.

In the comics and novels, it just gets a lot more complicated.

After Endor, according to the Dark Empire comics, Luke goes off and takes up Darth Vader’s old job as the Empire’s iron-fisted warlord. It’s an attempt to undermine the bad guys from within that goes horribly wrong.

Luke’s great plan is to undermine the Empire by mismanaging their campaigns and causing huge, unnecessary casualties among his troops.

And of course, that plan ends up blindsiding him with a sudden realization about what he’s been doing – what he’s been doing ever since he killed his first stormtrooper.

As he struggles onward, trying to find a way out of the mess he’s created, he falls towards the dark side.

Eventually, he has to be rescued by his kick-ass sister.

The more you look around the Expanded Universe, the more examples you can find.

In the novel Crosscurrent, the Jedi hero, Jaden Korr, is revealed as the perpetrator of a fairly brutal act of battlefield mass-killing – but it doesn’t stop him being an ordinary decent guy. This time, the question of how to reconcile this with his duty is left more-or-less unanswered.

Then there’s the Legacy comic, where pretty much everyone was morally compromised. For me, the defining moment of that series was Roan Fel’s summary execution of several thousand prisoners – how far can you go and still be a good guy?

In other words, Star Wars is a story where the good guys are fighting a war. A lot of them have killed innocent people, and some of them have committed some cold-blooded war crimes.

And, of course, it goes right back to 1977. Han Shot First.

Now, even when all this is taken into account, there’s still a theory that Star Wars is a simple story of good guys and bad guys, in which the heroic Rebels overthrow the evil, oppressive Empire.

In this version of the theory, it’s supposed to be okay for Luke to blow up the Death Star, because the ends justify the means. The bad guys have to be stopped. The princess has to marry her space-pirate, so their children can inherit a galaxy free from bad guys.

You know the sort of thing.

I’m resisting the urge to quote Vergere at you. Or Bob Dylan.

If Star Wars was based on that simplistic precept, it would deconstruct itself under the weight of the sheer implausibility, and still end up as what it’s been all along – and endlessly fascinating story in which the heroes are trying to figure out the way to fix a broken reality – and occasionally breaking some things themselves when they try to put a new route through to the future.
So, yes, Star Wars is still about good guys and bad guys, idealism and oppression – the problem is, putting idealism into action isn’t always as straightforward as it should be.

This is probably part of the reason I tend to shrug at stories with straightforward anti-heroes, like Maul or Bane. Give me something like the underrated Fatal Alliance, with its cast of idealistic Jedi, endearingly try-hard Sith, and passing scoundrels, plus a villain driven by personal psychology and backstory, all of them more human than anything else.

Or give me antagonists like Ves Khai – who can be ruthless enough to kill twenty thousand innocent civilians, but who we know is still struggling with the fact that she has a conscience.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a big place for the idealistic hero in Star Wars, and even for heroes who manage to avoid moral compromises on the way.

But there’s also a place for someone like Kyp Durron. You remember that he went off the rails as a grieving teenage Jedi and went around the galaxy killing a lot of bad guys, right? But look closely at his self-imposed penance: he kept going around the galaxy killing a lot of bad guys.

And that’s still as Star Wars as anything else.

4 thoughts to “Take No Prisoners”

  1. You see Roan Fel as a good guy? Ah, there’s your problem right there!

    As for your idea of Imperial families the Emperor would be most disappointed in you! For a stormtrooper or any indeed any member of the Imperial forces, the Empire IS their family, they need no more than that, true believers all of them.

    While I like the central idea of the article, I’m not as won over by the execution, part of which downplays the totalitarianism the Empire represented.

    It’s odd that SW embraced imperfection from the start, but with the Prequels it seemed to reject that and go in the other direction, despite being utterly unsuited for it!

  2. Wasn’t this discussed in the movie Clerks?

    I don’t think the presence of children or families (even if we were to concede such a thing) would eliminate the Death Star as a legitimate military target. A fortress is a military target, a castle is a military target.

    The idea of looking at the horrors of war is a good one – but there is also the idea of what is… appropriate when it comes to warfare. Blowing up the giant gun the enemy has – sure. Blowing up a planet or sun… not so much.

      1. Clerks is a fantastic film, chalk full of moral quandaries =o) And Pulp Fiction parallels the theme of “signs” in the Gospel of John.

        Clerks: The movie with “Chewbacca” as a song on the soundtrack.

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