20/20 Star Wars and the narrative of Rebellion

Because there are no bad ideas, only bad executions. This is a series where I take a hindsight look at products that could have fared better with a few tweaks.

Remember when Star Wars: The Force Awakens first came out and it blew most everyone away and even the guys who cried “rehash” were at least having a good time? At the time, while I wouldn’t agree with them wholly, there was a small part of their overall message I had to agree with. That the First Order and Resistance seemed to be doing exactly what the Empire and Rebellion did the first time around was something that did annoy me a bit. Not that my problem was with the First Order, no ironically I had a harder time buying the Resistance.

Image result for star wars the resistance

See, I understand that the similar feeling to the original films was intentional. Getting audiences to slip back into the headspace of stormtroopers, X-wings, and TIE-fighters was definitely a priority. In doing so though, the creators decided to reconstruct the big evil army to smaller good army dynamic as well when it logically should be reversed. Now, let me clarify, I understand that they establish very well how this came about. The First Order building its strength in secret and Leia being the only prominent leader willing to consider that they’re a threat. So the Resistance is largely her private militia of people she was able to rally to the cause. My problem is that such a scenario had to be constructed working backward in the first place in order for it to work, it derived the Force Awakens of a new and interesting dynamic, and this meta-narrative of resistance is overall something I deeply object to.

Star Wars codified “the Empire” in our minds. The idea of an evil, militaristic regime running essentially the whole world. The Rebellion was the only hope for democratic government, freedom of thought, and equal rights for the Galaxy. At the end of Return of the Jedi though, the Rebellion has won. The Empire has been defeated. Subsequent material tells us that the Republic retook its place as the ruling body of the Galaxy. So forgetting the Resistance and any manipulations by the First Order, why shouldn’t the Galactic Republic military proper be put in charge of stopping the First Order? Because the Republic is now so much more powerful and established while the First Order is relatively small so it wouldn’t be dramatic?

That thinking fails to understand a few things in storytelling. Tension dictates that the villain needs to be a credible threat to the hero, this much is true. Making the hero an underdog and the villain more powerful and capable is only one way to do that though, not the only way. Having the First Order be effective despite their smaller number is part of what makes them formidable in the first place. Their stormtroopers are more than just Wilhelm screaming flunkies, scoring real victories over the heroes in open battle, and they managed to cripple the Republic with an act of genocide that puts Alderaan to shame. Having your movie villains be essentially real-life villains, i.e. terrorists, actually makes them more frightening as it makes them more desperate and more willing to go to lengths than maybe even the Empire considered itself above.

Image result for star wars the first order

Now granted, this would mean that the film’s action would play out more like Zero Dark Thirty, or relatedly Rogue One, than A New Hope and we’ve already established that recapturing the magic of the originals was a pretty big priority. Fair enough. I think there’s another reason at play here that I suspect was unintentional yet certainly is present in many of the film going public’s heart. Anti-authoritarianism. The Resistance is very palatable to a modern audience who fantasize about being their own form of insurgent against top-down systems of governance. If the protagonists we followed were officially attached to the representative democracy of the Republic it would make them, shock and horror, a part of the system. This would not only draw viewers back into the mindset of the much-maligned prequel films but also connect the Republic to real life democratic superpowers. To many, having these characters be the heroes is unthinkable. The only real heroes are those who fight the powerful, not are powerful themselves.

In any case. My fix to this would simply be, have the Republic military fight the First Order. The actual plot is more about both sides wanting to find Luke than anything specifically military until Starkiller base is mentioned. So resources are more spent on finding First Order cells and bases than they are tracking a droid with information about a war hero who (by his own design) has fallen into obscurity. This gives wiggle room for proper Star Wars battles when the First Order shows up to obtain what they need and the Republic military swoops in. Plus it still means we can follow Rey and Finn as they’re more chilling on the fringes of the Galaxy anyway. It’s a small fix but, to me, it’s not a huge problem. More a slight annoyance that could be buffed out a little.

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