Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Star Wars: Battlefront (Veteran's Day)

Today, November 11, is Veteran's Day. I thought I'd mark the occasion by discussing how Star Wars has treated warfare and soldiers throughout the saga. Despite the name "Star Wars," the saga actually has very few prominent characters who are soldiers. The main characters tend to be Jedi, Sith, smugglers, or politicians. Moreover, in the Prequel Trilogy, the opposing armies consisted of Clone Troopers and battle droids, not ordinary men and women in uniform.

That changed somewhat with The Clone Wars animated TV show. The series started to individualize the clones, allowing them to develop unique personalities. The clones came across more like regular men than exact duplicates of bounty hunter Jango Fett. The fact that they're clones does mean they can identify more closely with each other, and as a result they exhibit a high degree of camaraderie. There's very little grumbling in the clone ranks (although there are a few cases of defection and desertion).

The Clone Wars also explored how and why clones disobey orders. In the Umbara arc, rogue Jedi Pong Krell tries to covertly sabotage the Republic war effort. The Clones initially obey his orders, as they are programmed to do. Interestingly, the tipping point leading to their decision to openly turn against Krell comes when the Jedi tries to trick one Clone squad into attacking another. This attempt at forcing them to commit fratricide was the final straw. 

In fact, the show depicts the Clones as so loyal to each other and to the Jedi that it might have conflicted with how easily the Clones turned on the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith. The Clone Wars solves this problem by revealing that Palpatine used a biological chip to program the Clones to obey Order 66. In other words, the government robbed them of moral agency. This can be seen as analogous to the way that some armies attempt to brainwash and indoctrinate their troops into committing atrocities. Fortunately, despite Palpatine's best efforts, some of the Clones, including Rex, discover the chip and remove it before it activates.

The new novel Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company is one of the first tie-in media to focus primarily on ordinary soldiers in the Star Wars universe. This is a new approach for the franchise and one that serves it well. The book explores the darker side of war, not only the inevitable deaths but also problem of keeping up morale in the ranks. There are times when the soldiers of Twilight Company are short on supplies and even shorter on leadership. It's probably the most realistic depiction of the life of an ordinary soldier in the Galaxy Far, Far Away we've gotten so far.

Author Alexander Freed obviously did his homework in terms of understanding what motivates soldiers to fight. Star Wars has typically portrayed soldiers as idealists fighting for a cause. However, Twilight Company provides us with a diverse set of motives. Some of the soldiers are idealists. Others just want revenge for past wrongs. Still others view military service as a way to escape downtrodden conditions back home. The book follows Twilight Company Sergeant Hazard Namir, who in a refreshing twist isn't particularly committed to the Rebel cause. War is simply a way of life for him. He cares about protecting his men and women, but is skeptical of the politicians leading the Rebellion.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens also looks likely to provide even more characters who serve in uniform, either for the Resistance or the First Order. From the trailer, Finn seems to be an Imperial soldier who deserted. Poe Dameron, an X-Wing pilot, is captured and tortured by Kylo Ren. On the other side, Captain Phasma has already become a popular character, which is fascinating because thus far most Imperial soldiers have remained nameless and faceless. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until December 17 how these men and women of the galaxy's armies are portrayed on screen.

Until then, take a moment to thank our veterans (and those in the Galaxy Far, Far Away) for their service.

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