Friday, June 7, 2013

Star Wars Rebels - a new hope for politics in Star Wars?

Will we be seeing more of this guy?
OK, I'm late to the party on this one, but as you've probably heard Disney and Lucasfilm have announced a new animated Star Wars series called Rebels, based in the years before Episode IV. For fans craving their Star Wars fix, this could be a godsend. However, the series also has the potential to do some interesting things with the Rebellion as well.

The Prequels were notably for introducing moral ambiguity into Star Wars politics. We saw the Old Republic as a rotted political system riddled with corruption and unable to keep the peace. To paraphrase Padmé, many applauded the death of democracy.

By contrast, our image of the Rebellion has stayed pretty pristine ever since we first saw it in 1977. The Rebels were depicted as noble and politically sincere. The Rebellion stood for justice and freedom. In the Original Trilogy, Rebel leaders were generally depicted in bright colors. Many of the more prominent leaders were female, suggesting a maternal political order. One need only think of Princess Leia's pure white gown in A New Hope or Senator Mon Mothma's white outfit in Return of the Jedi to see the almost angelic nature of the Rebels. Even the military leaders, such as Admiral Ackbar, wore white. The comparison to the Empire, headed by older males dressed in black or olive green uniforms, couldn't be clearer.

The Expanded Universe has not done much to tarnish the Rebellion's reputation. The most notable source to touch upon the origins of the Rebellion is The Force Unleashed. However, that story did not tarnish the Rebels. In fact (SPOILER WARNING) the Rebel leaders are depicted as redemptive figures in that they convert Darth Vader's apprentice, Galen Marek, to the Light Side of the Force. The closest we got was Senator Borsk Fey'lya, the Bothan senator who seems to care only about his political advancement. However, we only see the character in the post-Return of the Jedi EU, never during the Rebellion. Part of the implication could be that while rebels are pure in motive, power corrupts.

The new Rebels show has the potential to upend this story. One of the biggest controversies in the political science literature about rebellions is whether rebellions are motivated by greed or grievance (see here for a publicly accessible article about this debate). In other words, in the real world, are most rebellions motivated by the need to redress justice or the desire for political power? The literature seems to conclude that greed is almost always a motivating factor, but not always the only one.

Could we see Rebels start to play with these ideas in the new show? Might we see some Rebel leaders who are less than pure (who don't wear white garments)? What about the old, corrupt senators who lost power under Palpatine's New Order? How did Rebel leaders convince a diverse array of interests and aliens to unify under the Rebel Alliance (the title implies some agreement to join forces)? Will the Rebels engage in terrorism? There are some interesting opportunities for the show to depict not just the rise of the Rebellion, but also how it managed to overcome the corruption and problems plaguing the Old Republic.

Of course, I'm sure the majority of the show will be about early Rebel operations against the Empire. And starfighter battles. But I also wouldn't be surprised if Dave Filoni and team try to reshape our perceptions of the Rebel Alliance.

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