Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Would a Conservative Star Wars Look Like?


The new Star Wars installment in the canon, The Force Awakens, Rolls Over, and Hits the Snooze Bar, drew the ire of some on the Right for having a woman heroine and a black Storm Trooper. The spin-off, Rogue One, generates more of the same because it's even more ethnically diverse. (Not to be confused with the film about the Mary Kay lady who goes over to the Dark Side, Rouge One.)

Since a lot of the themes in Star Wars, like the notion of heroic resistance trying to overthrow an oppressive empire, lend themselves to liberal political themes, the suspicion has arisen that Star Wars is essentially liberal propaganda. So what would a conservative Star Wars look like?

The Empire are the Good Guys

There's an alternative Lord of the Rings story, The Last Ringbearer, originally written in Russian by Kiril Eskov, that posits that Mordor was the civilized part of Middle Earth and that its overthrow represented the triumph of the superstitious, ignorant and backward outer world. Think about it. All we know about Middle Earth is what the trilogy tells us, and history is written by the victors. What if it's all Elvish and Gondorian propaganda? What if the "cleansing of the Shire" (an add-on mercifully left out of the already ponderous films) was actually a last gallant attempt by Saruman to establish an outpost to preserve a remnant of civilization?

So turning Star Wars on its head makes sense. All we know is what the Rebels have told us in the films. What if they lied? What if it's all Rebel propaganda? Remember how Obi-Wan described Mos Eisley as "a wretched hive of scum and villainy?" What if that describes, not just one backwater spaceport, but the whole of the Galaxy? Here are a few scenarios in which the Empire might be the good side. Note that these aren't mutually exclusive.

The Empire is Bringing Civilization to a Backward Galaxy

Early in A New Hope, Luke grumbles about being stuck at his uncle's farm instead of being able to enroll at The Academy. Exactly what Academy isn't made clear, but it's obvious that on these backwater worlds, chances for advancement are slim. (We ought to bear issues of scale in mind. A well-developed planet would be richer and more advanced than Earth, and probably quite capable of having its own MIT or Harvard.)

We could picture the Empire as a sci-fi British Empire, deposing corrupt local governments or co-opting them, imposing the rule of law and civilized customs. Naturally, die-hard adherents of the old regime seek refuge outside Empire-controlled space. They might engage in guerrilla raids for revenge, for profit, or as part of a larger strategy to recapture their homelands. Needless to say, the Empire would have to, er, strike back. And in a modern twist, we might find anti-colonialists opposing the Empire simply for being an Empire.

The Empire is Stamping Out Criminal Warlords

Two words: Jabba the Hutt. What? You want to count "the" as a word, too? Okay, fine, whatever, pedant. Jabba pretty much runs Tatooine. So we've got a planet under the thumb of a criminal overlord. Now multiply Tatooine by however many other planets in the Galaxy and you can see what the Empire is up against.

Law and Order: Galaxy. Courageous Imperial expeditionary forces swoop down on criminal lairs, rescuing hostages, freeing slaves, and wiping out criminal gangs. Or the SVU version, where we see the breakup of rings trafficking in sexy alien slave girls. No Miranda, no lawyering up, and they do have ways of making you talk. Sure, a civilization advanced enough to have star ships should also be capable of getting information by brain scans or really effective drugs, but the rough trade is more fun.

The Empire is Fighting Murderous Religious Fanatics

The Jedi base everything on the religion of the Force, and they slice and dice people handily with light sabers. Sounds a lot like ISIS. Also the Jedi don't convert everyone but keep their secrets among a select elite. So it's a cult, too. Ferreting out covert Jedi agents would make for some good plot lines. The Jedi don't marry, so we can imagine they'd impose a pretty puritanical society, ruled by embittered and sexually frustrated Jedi. Sounds more and more like ISIS all the time.

Now portraying the Empire as agnostic or even secular wouldn't be conservative enough. They need a religion more palatable to American tastes. It would have to believe in a Supreme Being and would have to reinforce what conservatives view as acceptable conduct. Picture something like the 1966 film Khartoum, where Victorian Brits face a fanatical army led by the self-styled Mahdi.

The Empire is Breaking up an Ossified Bureaucracy

Look at episodes II and III, where we get a serious look at Coruscant. The entire planet is a city. A breeding ground for crime and government handouts. 

Check out this dialog from A New Hope:

Governor Tarkin:

The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

General Tagge:

But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?
Governor Tarkin:
The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
How libertarian can you get? We need a bureaucracy to govern. No we don't. We just let local government run everything. Billions of bureaucrats are thrown out of work. Many, embittered, join rebellions.

Maybe There's Something Worse than the Empire

The Yuuzhan Vong, for example. This was an extragalactic race that revered pain and death and hated mechanical technology. All their own technology was biological. Their professed reverence for life didn't stop them from killing 365 trillion sentient life forms when they invaded the Star Wars galaxy. (A semi-canon race: see Wookieepedia)

You can pretty much see that willy-nilly destroying all the inorganic technology on a planet would condemn most of that planet's population to death. Taken to its logical conclusion, even a stone scraper would be forbidden.

On the other hand, imagine collaborationist movements yearning for a return to an imaginary pre-technological Eden. You'd have the collaborationists and the Yuuzhan Vong spouting the most chiched eco-babble, all the while merrily slaughtering all opposition. And the Empire would be the Good Guys in this war, while defending against extremist environmentalists.

The Empire are the Bad Guys

Face it, it's always more fun rooting for the underdog, plus we're so used to seeing the Empire portrayed as evil that it would be a serious shock to start thinking of them as good. So have no fear, there are ways to make the Empire evil but liberal.

The Empire is Communism Resurgent

Communism managed to roll up everything conservatives abhor, like opposition to private property, opposition to religion, stifling dissent, and bureaucracy, plus elevating groups that were considered inferior. So all that really needs to be done is spin the Empire as standing for those things. Make it sound as if there's some grand theory behind the Empire to make it clearer just what the Empire is. As one Marxist advised, screenwriters should try to get a few minutes' good Marxist content into each film. Well, that can work both ways. Portray the Empire at its most ruthless, and "get a few minutes' good Marxist content" in as well to drive the point home. They're not incinerating Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru because they're mean, but because Owen and Beru are reactionary, revanchist, anti-social elements. Uncle Owen's moisture farm is taken over and run as a collective. (And eventually wrecked, since ideological correctness takes precedence over technical competence and nobody is accountable for damages.)

Coruscant, once hub of a prosperous Republic, now becomes a grim Marxist prison state, permeated by a secret police, its proud buildings crumbling under neglect and inefficiency. Innovation and scientific inquiry are stifled, with researchers blacklisted if they fail to follow party orthodoxy with sufficient fervor. 

The unifying philosophy of the Empire might be the Sith, now out in the open and preaching some mishmash of pseudo-populist and social welfare notions. Recruits who actually have The Force are trained as Sith, those who don't become informants, secret police or privileged party functionaries.

The Republic (and the Empire) are Bureaucratic Morasses

The Republic ruled everything from Coruscant, and its fall was merely the inevitable result of a bloated government collapsing under its own weight. The Empire broke up the central bureaucracy, throwing billions of bureaucrats out of work. What happens to them? Maybe they starve because the Empire lacks resources or the interest to save them. Maybe vast areas of Coruscant become shanty towns, or once occupied government buildings are taken over by squatters. Maybe they're sold as slaves, or just dumped on some empty planet someplace.

Meanwhile, the Empire, somewhat leaner but still just as mean, continues to run things business as usual. Planets as populous as Earth are still run the way the Republic ran them. So the outlying planets are free of Coruscant but still as bureaucratic as ever. Picture an episode where a colonist is expelled from his land because he can't pay his taxes, meet some regulatory standard, or maybe some protected species lives there. With his life's work stolen from him, he joins the Rebellion. Or he objects to the way the Empire educates his children and flees with his family to an outlying, Rebel-controlled system.

So the "separatist movements" in The Clone Wars are really the Good Guys. They're not interested in toppling the Empire, but merely in being left alone.