There are certain things one takes for granted from youth. I remember being taught that Beethoven was a difficult man, but because of his brilliance he was misunderstood. I remember being taught the British were the bad guys in the Revolutionary War; all America wanted was to be left alone. I remember being taught that the political party of my parents was, without exception, right and the other party was just a bunch of idiots.
Reality is, of course, very different. Beethoven, despite being brilliant, was a complete jerk who often went weeks without bathing. The British were the aggressors in the Revolution as long as you’re talking to an American; a British friend of mine has a vastly different opinion of what happened. All political parties are a bunch of idiots; some idiots are just louder than others.
It can be a difficult transition from the blind, unquestioning acceptance of youth to the nuanced, potentially unclear determinations of adulthood. Despite how far removed from youth one might be, these uncertainties can still pop up from time to time. Often it’s a minor consideration. Beethoven’s attitude and treatment of others has, admittedly, little bearing on my life. However, every now and again, larger and more contentious issues can arise – the types of issues that can ruin friendships and shatter world views. Today, I am putting myself out there. I am willing to risk friendships and shatter worlds so that a truth may be revealed. Today, I proudly and confidently declare:
The Empire may not have been that bad.
We have been indoctrinated to believe that the Empire was the representation of evil. It’s not hard to be convinced of that when you have Darth Vader and the Emperor walking around looking like Angry Black Robocop and Death with eczema, respectively. This seems like a PR problem to me and less about policy. I’ve racked my brains and, with one very notable exception, the “evil” that is done by the Empire is extremely localized.
Alderaan aside, what was so bad about the Empire? Let’s look at A New Hope.
Vader kidnaps Leia. So what?! She stole military secrets. Any government would fire warning shots across the bow of a ship trying to escape with that sort of information. She was clearly responsible, so Vader took a Prisoner of War. (A war started by the Rebellion, by the way.)
Stormtroopers attacked and killed the Jawas and later Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Again, the government trying to get back military secrets. While they may have killed some people (and space hobos) they’re trying to protect the lives of the citizens of the Empire. (And Uncle Owen was a douche anyway.)
Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, and Obi-Wan are attacked while trying to escape the Death Star. They broke into a military base and helped facilitate the escape of a prisoner. The deserved to be shot at.
The Death Star travels to Yavin 4 with the intention of destroying the Rebellion. It’s a rebellion. Of course the Empire is going to attack them. Of course the Empire is going to fight back. It was like everyone on Yavin was surprised that the Empire was going to fire on them. “How could they?!” Shut up, Mon Mothma! You started it!
As I said, the exception to all of this is the destruction of Alderaan. As terrible as that is, you could chock that up to Grand Moff Tarkin being way too trigger happy. The Death Star represents the ultimate deterrent. No one is going to attack the Empire when the response could be the complete destruction of everything and everyone you’ve ever known. This may sound like an over-the-top plot line from a late 70s/early 80s sci-fi film, but I offer as evidence “1945”. Even the United States dropped the atomic bomb (an IRL ultimate deterrent) twice. The Empire only fired once.
Other moments of evil are very specific and small scale. Vader breaks the neck of the crewman aboard Leia’s Corellian Cruiser. Vader chokes out that dude in the conference room. Vader kills Obi-Wan. Newsflash: Vader is a dick. One could even argue that his anger is a pretty reasonable response to being hacked apart and thrown into a volcano by his best friend and teacher. Don’t judge the guy for having PTSD.
Most of the information we have about the “evils” of the Empire is just propaganda from the Rebellion. The evil acts we see are almost exclusively military actions. Why were people so horrified that the Emperor fired on the Rebellion at the end of Jedi? The Rebellion provoked the response by flying to Endor and picking a fight. Just because he can shoot lightening out of his hands, he’s not allowed to defend himself?
In all-out war, both sides are going to do things that are pretty crappy. Don’t forget Kevin Smith’s argument about the contractors aboard the Death Star who were murdered by the Rebellion. The Empire blew up one planet. The Rebellion killed skilled, civilian laborers…twice.
Dickie is a huge fan of Star Wars. He is not now, or at any time in the past, siding with the Empire. This article is merely a thought exercise and not a reflection on his personal politics.