(Originally posted on my old blog in June of 2005…presented for your amusement, with some minor edits for style and clarity.)
I just rewatched “Return of the Jedi” with Andrew, and in the course of the interactions with the Ewoks, I realized that the entire Ewok plotline reveals the moral rottenness at the heart of the Rebellion.
Let’s start from the beginning: what is the relationship between the Empire and the Ewoks before the movie begins? I submit that the internal evidence of the film makes it clear that they were peacefully coexisting. Several elements contribute to this conclusion, which is admittedly based on limited data, but which seems entirely uncontradicted by any available evidence:
1. When the rebels encounter the Imperial scouts on their speeders, the Imperials appear to be conducting routine patrols in the territory around their base. The guys on the ground seem to be about to eat lunch, while another group sits casually on their speeder bikes some distance away. This is not how soldiers on patrol in a combat area act; obviously they don’t expect any trouble from the locals.
2. The effectiveness of the Ewoks in battle against the Imperial troops, despite their inferior technology, clearly indicates that the Imperials have not battled Ewoks before. If they had, they would have developed tactics and doctrines suited to warfare against the indigenes. (I suggest orbital bombardment.) Instead, their deployments and approaches are clearly oriented around repelling a high-tech assault from orbit, rather than dealing with a native insurgency against their occupation.
3. The Ewoks, a hunter-gatherer society, appear to have no dislocations in their lifestyle. Their town, although only a short distance from a major Imperial facility, is apparently permanent, well-settled, and prosperous – numerous healthy young are in the community and Ewoks of all ages appear to be well-fed and happy. There is no sign of malnutrition or indications that the Ewoks have been displaced by the Imperial presence.
4. The Ewoks are unsurprised, and do not become hostile, when they encounter humans and a Wookie. Their reaction to other hominids is entirely contextual. When Leia is found helpless by one of the Ewoks, he pities her plight and gives her aid; he does take her “prisoner” but it is clear that she is well treated. When Luke etc. are caught in an Ewok trap, they are treated as food. This clearly indicates that the Ewoks are judging each visitor to their territory on their own merits and on the basis of the immediate context, and not assuming a hostile status with “those evil humans”. Otherwise they would have killed Leia immediately, having seen that she was connected with the speeder-riding Imperials. All of this leads to the conclusion that the Ewoks have met and dealt with Imperial humans before, and don’t bear them any particular malice or friendship.
So, it is clear that the Empire decided to use this moon for its strategic location, and took no hostile action against the native population of the world. They aren’t hunting Ewoks for food, they aren’t enslaving them for labor. I assume that the Empire took some Ewok land to build their base, but it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted them. (Perhaps they paid the Ewoks a fair price for the land.) The Empire didn’t start colonizing the obviously lush and productive world or stripping it of its resources. They just built their base and proceeded with their legitimate military business. They defended their base against Rebel attack, but did little or nothing to forestall military activity by the natives, indicating that they did not expect such activity.
What happens when the Rebels enter this picture of interspecies cooperation and harmony?
The first encounter is when Leia meets an Ewok hunter and is taken back to their home. Her actions appear friendly – although her attitude is somewhat contemptuous of the natives’ intelligence – but we don’t really know her intentions. Perhaps she didn’t mean to be an infiltrator and a spy on the native people. We just don’t know.
The next thing that happens is that Luke, Han, Chewie and the droids are captured by an Ewok hunting party when they stumble into a trap. The Ewoks believe that C3P0 is some kind of divine being to be honored (though not particularly to be obeyed or feared), and decide to turn the bounty of their hunt into a feast for their god.
When C3P0 and Leia’s remonstrations are ineffective, Luke uses his Jedi power to trick the Ewoks into believing that C3P0 really is a god and really does have divine powers. The immediate motivation for this action – avoiding becoming lunch – is morally acceptable. However, the party does not stop with saving their own lives and proceeding with their own mission. Instead, they use C3P0’s divine status to turn the Ewoks into their own private army. They demand food and equipment, guides, and the return of their own equipment, legitimately seized by the Ewoks when the Rebels trespassed on their territory.
What’s worse, they enlist the Ewoks into their own futile rebellion against the legitimate authority. They take a largely helpless indigenous people who, by virtue of the humanity and decency of the local Imperial power, enjoy peaceful relations with the legitimate government, and turn them into doomed rebels. They convince them to mount a surprise attack against an overwhelmingly superior force, and the resulting battle results in the deaths of dozens of Ewok warriors – in exchange for a marginal shift in the tactical situation for the rebels.
In my world, there is a word for people who use trickery and deception to convince simple primitives of their own divinity, and then use that divine status to turn peaceful hunters into jihadists against a vastly superior foreign power that has never harmed them.
That word is “evil”.
Other authors, David Brin foremost among them, have written pieces speculating about the odd moral universe that Mr. Lucas has created. I find myself in agreement with Brin’s conclusions, if not with his excessively egalitarian reasons for preferring the Imperial cause.
The actions of the Rebel characters in Episodes IV through VI, and the actions of the Jedi and/or Republican loyalists in Episodes I through III, add, rather than subtracting, to the weight of this conclusion. There are a number of extremely troubling actions or scenarios that buttress the belief that, while the Empire certainly has its flaws and demons, the Rebels are significantly worse.
The major question that Lucas always seems to avoid: “and then what happens?”
Again, the Ewoks are illustrative. OK, the Rebels win (at great cost to the Ewoks, and little cost to themslves) and the Empire is defeated, for the moment. Then what happens? Are the Rebels going to leave C3P0 with his new followers? Certainly not – he’s still useful. The Ewoks will just have to find a new god. Sorry about wiping out half of your warriors and leaving you vulnerable to the next hostile bit of megafauna wandering around the forests of Endor – oh, and sorry about destroying your culture’s beliefs about the Deity as part of the plan to cynically exploit, use, and then discard your people – bye, now. We’re off to the big victory party on Coruscant.
Rebellion? What rebellion?
There does not appear to be any popular support for the Rebellion.
This seems a rather bald-faced assertion to make, but my review of the films seems to lend considerable support to the idea. There are a handful of rebels in Episode IV – from the visual evidence of the triumphal scene, a couple of thousand at most. They have built a base from which their ancient and decrepit starfighters apparently raid legitimate commerce to support themselves. A few thousand rebels and a handful of ships, out of a Republic of thousands upon thousands of worlds?
Despite their major victory over the Empire, there does not seem to be any particularly large flocking to the rebel banner in Episode V. Again, we have a handful of rebels building a base in an out-of-the-way place, hoping to avoid detection by law enforcement. The behavior is much more typical of a criminal syndicate than that of a rebel movement that allegedly represents the true feelings of the populace of the Galaxy. With FTL communication and hyperdrive, why have a central base? Why not hide individual ships among the bulk of the citizens on all of these thousands of worlds – swimming in the human and alien sea of bodies? Clearly, because there aren’t any reliably Rebel population pools to hide within. The isolated frontier is the only place where the Rebels are safe from the people who will turn them in to the lawful authority.
Finally, in Episode VI (actually, at the very end of V, but it is more fully explored in VI), the Rebellion has a significant star fleet, indicating some real support. But wait – the ships are not human frigates provided by Rebel worlds. Instead, they are Mon Calamari battlecruisers, from a foreign nation outside the Empire. The Rebels have not found new support in the Empire – they’ve found patrons from outside it. We have no data as to the motivations of the Mon Calamari in providing the Rebels with a fleet in being – but we note that they do not hand over the ships, but instead continue to control them, and indeed hold positions of authority within the Rebel movement. It seems like the Mon Calamari have bought themselves a useful thorn in the side of their larger Imperial neighbor – but that they don’t trust their new “allies” sufficiently to give them the ships and then disassociate themselves.
(Correction: As noted in the critical posts linked below, the Mon Calamari are actually part of the Empire, and the battlecruisers they give to the rebellion are their contribution to the cause.)
As is wise, because…
Why would anyone ever trust a Jedi?
If I had mind control powers, my current ethics would require me to use them in very circumscribed and limited ways. The idea that I could enter the mind of another sentient being and change their thinking is somewhat horrifying in its implications – what of autonomy? What of moral choice?
I doubt that I would live up to my own ethics; I am certain that I would abuse my powers for my own ends, at least sometimes, no matter how hard I tried. (“You don’t need my rent check today…”)
The Jedi, as displayed by their most loyal propagandist, Mr. Lucas, apparently don’t even bother to engage in this much worry about the propriety of violating the mental sanctity of other sapient beings. They don’t approve of death sticks – well, then just make the person quit using them. There’s a troublesome negotiation with people having different needs and priorities? Just mind control one party until they take the line that helps the Jedi. Don’t have a good enough offer to convince the crime lord to forgive the employee who failed to do his duty? Try and control his brain to make him think he should do business with you anyway.
About the only understandable use of the mind control power in the entire six-movie arc is when Obi-Wan uses it to avoid a fight with the Imperial troopers in Mos Eisley. Even there, he’s using it for wicked (i.e., rebellious) ends, but we can sympathize with his position, and understand his use of the power, even though it was wrong.
Knowing that the Jedi run around using mind-control to smooth their path in every possible circumstance, why would anyone extend this group any trust whatsoever? It might be necessary to ally with them – but to make them the defenders of your entire civilization? Good lord, just give the keys to Palpatine and get things over with. Interestingly enough, the evil, wicked Sith Lords and their terrible wicked empire never ONCE violate the integrity of anyone’s mind to trick them into internalizing another’s thought. Vader attempts to cajole, or to bargain, or to intimidate, or at need to use force – but never once does he try to trick people into thinking that he’s their friend when he is not.
What’s so evil about the Empire, anyway?
I will grant that building Death Stars and blowing up planets is not going to make any good-government types knock-kneed with pleasure. But the Empire is at war – is it such a stretch to go from a battleship that can bombard a world to a craft that can just blow it to smithereens? We note that the Empire does not use the Death Star willy-nilly – for example, by blowing up worlds systematically until a cowed populace turns in all Rebel sympathizers and destroys all Rebel ships they encounter. Instead, they use this massive weapon with discretion and specific targeting: eliminating the one world that is a hotbed of Rebel sentiment, and trying to use it to destroy the world where the Rebel base (and apparently no one else) is located.
Other than that, they don’t seem to do anything that’s out of line for a government struggling against a violent insurgency. Grabbing Cloud City? Hey, even after “modifying the deal”, Vader was going to leave it independent, showing great restraint in dealing with people who were obviously willing to shelter Rebel leaders.
You know what’s absent from the depictions of the Empire? Any indication that it was out there crushing dissent and stopping people from leaving. The Empire tolerated outposts of people not reporting to it, as long as they weren’t actively rebellious. There’s nothing to indicate that Rebel sympathizers who wanted to recreate their morally nebulous priest-state out on the Outer Rim would be harassed or persecuted. Why didn’t the Rebels just leave?
Because they wanted power over the entire Galaxy, that’s why.
But the Empire betrayed and destroyed the Republic!
The Republic was weak, ineffective, and highly corrupt. Its policy of using the Jedi to squelch dissent and prohibit allegedly free peoples from choosing to no longer associate with the Republic was despicable. Its “democratic” features were a democracy of aristocracy – there were more queens in the Senate than appear on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. Here I come into agreement with Brin a little more; if you’re going to be a monarchy, fine, but having a collection of monarchs who get together in a parliament of kings is not a democracy. It’s oligarchy, the worst possible governmental model. No wonder the populace embraces Palpatine. At least he’s an honest dictator.
The Jedi code is a moral disaster – or, why would anyone trust a Jedi, part 2
Aside from the evil of their mind control usage, the Jedi “moral code” appears to be a conflicting melange of whatever feel-good pop psych was current in southern California on the days that Lucas was working on the script. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” indeed. Isn’t that a bit…er…absolute? They don’t give any positive examples of the code in the films, so we’re forced to go by Jedi behavior that is unremarked on by other characters as being objectionable. What can we observe?
Lying to kids about their ancestry is fine. You meant to tell them someday, right? (Around the same time you took C3P0 back to be the Ewok god.)
Secretly conspiring against the duly elected leader of your Republic is fine. Hey, I’ve got a bad feeling about him – that makes it OK to engage in criminal conspiracy.
Abandoning the mothers of Jedi to a continued lifetime of thinly-veiled sexual bondage is fine. It might take as long as a week to go back to Tattooine and free the mother of your most promising young Jedi…so let’s not think about it. Besides, the little whiner should cut the apron strings, already.
Ignoring violations of the Jedi code is fine. Doesn’t matter that you know your apprentice is nailing the Queen and has gotten her in the Jedi Family Way. Don’t turn him in, or insist that he make things right by resigning his Jedi status and becoming an ordinary family man, or abandoning his family for his higher calling. No, let him continue to muddle down the path to blatantly obvious moral crisis and destruction. It’s more convenient that way.
Building clone armies of soul-deadened warriors is fine.
Finding out that a mysteriously-not-dead member of your organization contracted for the work for reasons unknown, and deciding “what the heck, an army is an army” is fine.
We’ve hit it already, but overriding the free will of others is fine.
Dumping the politically toxic offspring of your own craptastically negligent junior members on unsuspecting relatives – and apparently giving them absolutely no warning – leading to their entirely predictable deaths, is fine.
Leaving dozens of young trainees defenseless in a centralized and public location in a time of great conflict is fine.
Killing people for the crime of not wanting to be in your corrupt and failing state anymore is fine.
The Jedi are (were), basically, selfish and evil.
The Empire is (was), basically a normal human political entity, flawed but not unredeemable.
George Lucas has a moral compass that’s about 90 degrees skewed from what most of us would consider right.
We’ve been rooting for the wrong side. I’ve always wondered why I had a secret liking of Captain, later Admiral, Piett. Now I know why; he was a decent guy trying to do the right thing in a troubled universe. And he was on the side that, on balance, represents the good guys in the fight.
UPDATE: A couple of people – foolishly imagining that their opinions are of worth when they conflict with mine – posted some criticisms of my position here and here. Some of the points are valid and I’ll address them at some point.