Oh yeah, you read that right. This is happening. I’ll be getting into The Force Awakens details below, incidentally, but nothing that hasn’t been officially revealed.
A lot of the news and speculation lately has been about alignments: Kylo Ren is a big fan of Darth Vader, but he’s not a Sith. He’s part of a group called the Knights of Ren, but what are they, exactly? Are they actually Imperials in some respect, or just a cult that he went rogue from?
And then there’s the First Order—recently explained, kind of, by JJ Abrams as follows:
“That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again? What could be born of that? Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire?”
Abrams seems to be talking about two different things, here—actual ex-Imperials seeking to get things moving again, and perhaps also a younger generation who “admired” the Empire but weren’t actually a part of it. Just going by ages, it seems logical that Phasma, General Hux, and presumably even Kylo represent the latter, because they would have been toddlers when Palpatine died—if that. Maybe they’re acting completely of their own volition, but if so, who are the retired Nazis in this analogy?
Meanwhile, there’s the interesting dichotomy between the New Republic that we now know existed in the immediate aftermath of Endor, but seems to play no role in the plot of TFA, and the “Resistance”, on whose behalf the heroes are actually fighting. One idea I kind of like is that the action of TFA is a proxy war somewhat analogous to the X-Wing novel The Bacta War; in other words, the “mainstream” Empire and New Republic are busy stabilizing themselves are don’t have the willpower for renewed conflict, so instead smaller, more radical groups are taking matters into their own hands.
Add to that the likelihood that one of the first things we’re going to see in the movie is a defecting stormtrooper (who later ends up using a lightsaber), and the political status of the sequel trilogy is starting to feel like, in Facebook terms, “It’s Complicated”.
Which brings me to Game of Thrones. What could a galaxy-sprawling, all-ages space opera possibly learn from a gory, controversial death march like GoT? For a long time I would’ve said nothing, but now I’ve hit on one crucial thing—indeed, the main thing that keeps me watching it:
Alignments are overrated
First off: I’m not going to try explaining GoT from the ground up right now, so my apologies to anyone who doesn’t know who these characters are. At the end of GoT’s most recent season (spoilers, I guess) Stannis Baratheon is apparently killed by Captain Phas—ah, I mean Brienne of Tarth. This came shortly after his willing execution of his cutey-pie daughter whose name I forget for dumb spiritual reasons that aren’t important, so suffice it to say that I was happy to see him go. Others on Twitter, though, were outraged about the whole thing—not just his death, but the fact that the murder of his daughter (which hasn’t happened in the books—yet) had ruined what had been until then one of some fans’ rooting interests in the show.
For me, though, I never liked him at all. He was a fun character to have in the mix—basically the George W. Bush of Westeros—but I certainly never wanted him to win in the end. No, for me there are basically only two characters remaining worth rooting for: Tyrion and Daenerys (and okay, by Daenerys I mostly mean Missandei). I’ve been waiting for five years for them to join forces, so when they finally did so in the last few episodes it wasn’t a moment too soon.
This, though, is what GoT does best: no one in its universe is completely good or completely bad. Well, maybe one or two people, but thematically speaking, there’s no clear protagonist of the story in the way that Star Wars has Luke: I’m hardly alone in rooting for Tyrion and Dany, but there are plenty of people who feel the same way about Jon or Arya or Sansa, or once felt that way about Stannis or Robb.
There are lots of people to root for, really (except for Bran. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about Bran). You can’t do a show this bloody without a wealth of potential rooting interests, and for all the think pieces that have been written over its various high-profile deaths, people are clearly still finding reasons to stay invested, and I’m sure not all of them like Dany. What’s certain, though, is that we’re rooting for characters, not factions—I’m not Team Lannister, after all, I’m Team Tyrion (definitely not Team Lannister).
I think this is something Star Wars could stand more of. As black and white as the first six films are on a superficial level, people overlook how grey the moral of the story actually is: we all have both good and bad in us. The Empire, thinly-veiled Nazi analogues though they may be, isn’t made up of orcs or demons, it’s made up of regular people who were convinced by the established government that it was the right thing to do. The prequels had more of an opportunity to address this complexity than the OT did, but aside from that one bit in Revenge of the Sith‘s opening crawl—“there are heroes on both sides”—I believe it dropped this ball pretty hard, and even The Clone Wars was hit-or-miss in its efforts to present sympathetic Separatists; though at least it tried.
TFA, though, is looking to be downright postmodern in its use of the Empire. The antagonists’ one unifying factor seems to be a reverence, mistaken or otherwise, for what it represented. It’s easy to see how Finn, born years after the death of Palpatine, could have grown up in a chaotic galaxy and been tempted to bring civilization back through the stability of the First Order—only later learning of the brutal realities that caused people to overthrow the Empire in the first place.
That the trilogy begins with a defection is, I hope, a sign that this era will prioritize characters over alignments. Right now I can’t imagine what Phasma’s history is or what she hopes to achieve, but I’d love for the film itself to answer those questions—which is hardly a guarantee in this franchise. If Supreme Leader Snoke ends up being the trilogy’s Palpatine figure, I’d love to see a story where even the First Order eventually awakens (see what I did there?) to his bullshit, and for Episode IX to feature rebels, stormtroopers and Jedi fighting side-by-side and rejecting the lures of the dark side as a society—Luke throwing away his lightsaber on a macro level.
Or, hell, maybe Snoke himself ends up being a good guy. We really have no idea what the “awakening” he refers to is, or what that might mean for people who are highly Force-sensitive. Point being, if the ST is to earn its place as the next chapter of Star Wars, it has to actually progress the message as well as the story. So if the message is “we all have good and bad within us”, I want to see that in everybody now; from Luke to Kylo to the lowliest stormtrooper.