Star Wars: Only Sith Deal in Absolutes

My feelings on Star Wars are often complicated. So much of my love for the series is tied up in what we don’t strictly have any longer in canon. Like the rest of us, I started with this series in the films but I did so in the early 90s. This was at a time before the remastered editions in 1995, before the special editions in 1997. Star Wars was something that I watched on television, typically about once a year around Thanksgiving. They were shown in marathons and I remember them being hosted by Billy Dee Williams.

All that is to say that Star Wars was one of those films that I appreciated in the same kind of way you enjoy holiday films. As I got older and the films became more available, they came to mean different things to me. When I was very young, I enjoyed them because they were just cool! Laser swords! Blaster pistols!

I was eight when the THX editions were released, and this is where I really got my connection to the series. I saved every penny I could find to scrape together the $30 it cost to buy the box set. Here, it began to mean something different to me. Instead of just being entranced by the spectacle of it, I enjoyed the story: a young man achieves a destiny he never knew about growing up, fulfilling the same kind of dream that many have at that age.

As a teenager and adult, I still enjoy the films but, again, in a different way. They’re fun and served as a wonderful base from which to build a deep setting with so much potential that was capitalized on by authors like Timothy Zahn and Mike Stackpole.  All that having been said, I have developed some nit-picky things over time about it that I will soundly admit are very particular. Twenty years of MST3K will do that to a guy.

There is one issue I have with the films, though, that I think is truly legitimate.

So, coming to the theme that all of us are pursuing in the time up to the release of The Force Awakens, what do I hope for in the new films?

Star Wars, especially the original trilogy, watches like an anti-Imperial piece of propaganda. Everything in those films is portrayed in black and white, all good or all evil and the only in-between is really Han in the first film and he still manages to overcome his mercenary nature and become a permanent fixture of the good side.

What I want is nuance.

The lower down the scale of power someone is, the closer to their communities they will be. Leadership of the Empire is oppressive and evil, but the employees of the Empire are people. There were accountants and cooks and maintenance workers on the Death Star who likely had no idea that there was a plan to fire on Alderaan. In a setting where the market is at least partially a command economy, the best work that many people will be able to hope for is with the government. People are what make up the parts of the Empire that civilians are going to interact with every day, and individual people will be good or bad. It can’t have been all evil or the Alliance to Restore the Republic would have been made up of more than a handful of worlds.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; The Empire was an oppressive regime, but it kept the lights on, the economy was stable, and trade was safe from pirates. Some people have to have been content with it. The universe as we knew it in the prequel films was one that showed us a setting where things worked, but honestly, not well. The Republic was trapped in gridlock, the will of the government was carried out by a non-governmental, quasi-religious order based on a group of people with a genetic quirk and no civilian oversight. At some point, I will have a whole rant about the ridiculously poor management and rule of the Old Republic, but now isn’t the time for that. The important thing here is that any organization that is looking to restore the Republic exactly as it was is looking through the rosiest of tinted glasses.

We’re going into a whole new series here. The expanded universe may have been relegated to a wholly separate canon, but instead of seeing it as a loss, we should look at it as an opportunity for more shades of gray in the primary continuity, where we have heroes that are more torn over their actions and have to question the methods or motivations of their leaders.

Nuance, subtlety, depth. That’s what I hope for. Star Wars has been a film series meant for younger demographics, not solely, but it’s always been a focus. I want a more adult series. Not to say that I don’t want there to also be films that are fairly lighthearted like what we have had before, but Disney is making more than just numbered films and I hope that they take advantage of it. They’ve proven that they can have a variety of tones across a single setting with the Marvel Cinematic Universe; now, I just want that applied here, also.  At the risk of being accused of advocating for gritty, grim-dark realism, some entries could use some grime.

I got into Star Wars as a child, but I grew up. I just want to see Star Wars do the same.

One thought on “Star Wars: Only Sith Deal in Absolutes

  1. Great reflection piece! I hope that the new Star Wars movies introduce new antagonists, as well. After six movies of Sidious pulling the strings, I look forward to seeing new villains for the protagonists to fight. And as you say, I'm looking forward to what the Anthology films will explore, especially in terms of different genres.

    However, at a conceptual level I have to disagree with the idea that "adult" fiction requires grit or "realism," whatever that is. An important part of the Star Wars films is their mythic quality, which in many ways is an explicit rejection of realism (if by realism we mean a world that looks something like ours). I much prefer that Star Wars call out to archaic or mythic touchstones than some modern realistic mentality.

    For example, I wouldn't want to see the Galactic Empire portrayed as a modern bureaucratic nation-state - it's much more effective when portrayed like an ancient empire, with a small governing elite that has relatively little interaction with the general population. Similarly, the fight between the Jedi and the Sith is meant to hearken back to the struggle between good and evil that is central to many myths throughout history.

    Of course, I'm all in favor of quality story-telling, with good plots and effective character development, but I'm not sure that grit or realism necessarily makes for a better or more adult story.

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