I have to say, I'm gratified by the response* to my recent essay in the Washington Post highlighting the fact that the destruction of Alderaan was justified. Consider, for instance, the results of this Twitter poll:
Who do you support? https://t.co/2gX0QDSHVd
— Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) October 30, 2015
Some people might be disheartened by the fact that space terrorists still manage to command a majority, but I'm remarkably thrilled by the outcome. Despite decades of neo-Republican propaganda, the Rebels managed to squeak out just a four point victory. We're shifting the Overton window here, people! By the time Episode VII comes and goes we might have turned this thing around altogether.
Of course, there will always be holdouts; my friend and editor at the Post Alyssa Rosenberg is, unfortunately, one of them. Here's part of her response to my commonsense arguments about Imperial superiority:
Sonny’s also completely wrong about the idea that the Empire, which was highly racist against aliens and rarely promoted even talented women, was some sort of meritocracy. Even if you reject the evidence of the Expanded Universe, just take a look at the crew aboard any Imperial ship: are you really telling me that in a Galactic Empire chock-full of alien species, the most qualified people are all pasty white dudes?
OK, so, first off we can just ignore all the Expanded Universe stuff because none of that is canon anymore. For the purpose of these arguments, I, like my master in arguing for the Dark Side Jonathan V. Last, deal with simply what we see on the big screen. And you know what we see on the big screen?
A rebellion dominated by pasty white dudes.
Oh, sure, there's Leia, who just happens to have been at the head of the rebellion because she was born into the family that leads it (some meritocracy there). But as far as I can tell she's the only woman in the entire rebellion save for this (pasty white) chick. I mean, FFS, don't think a single of the original Star Wars film comes close to passing the Bechdel Test.
But let's look at some of the other key figures in the beloved rebellion, shall we?
The crowd shots we see aren't all that different:
But my favorite shot of the supposedly "diverse" rebellion? It has to be this one.
Not only is the crowd uniformly white and male, this is literally a shot cribbed from Triumph of the Will:
Look at them side by side:
Here's another interesting comparison:
It's no wonder that they didn't give the non-white, non-human Chewbacca a medal at the ceremony; frankly, I'm a little surprised he made it out of that Hitler Youth rally alive.
Obviously the rebels couldn't have intentionally based their triumph on Hitler's rallies, given that this all took place long ago. They never would've seen Triumph of the Will. But you know who probably did see Leni Riefenstahl's work while studying film at the University of Southern California?
So maybe—just maybe—George Lucas was trying to tell us something when he modeled the pasty white rebellion's victory celebration on a chilling, infamous tribute to Hitler's Germany? Read between the lines, sheeple.
Yeah, sure, the rebellion would add some token minority/alien representation later in the form of Lando Calrissian and the Mon Calamari, but this is a rebellion almost exclusively for white human dudebros, fought by white human dudebros. It's interesting, though, to think of the way non-minority characters are represented in the film. Most famously, of course, you have this guy:
What does Lando do?
- He betrays one of his dearest, oldest friends for fiscal gain.
- He attempts to seduce said friend's lady right in front of him.
- He leads a terrorist assault on a not-yet-completed Death Star that likely killed thousands of innocent contractors.**
The only other prominent anti-Empire human minority is this guy:
Mace Windu is supposedly a good guy. But his biggest contribution to the series is his attempt to extra-judicially assassinate the duly and properly elected chancellor of the Imperial Senate. This act of treachery results in Palpatine being given emergency powers and leads to the dissolution of the Senate. If any one person is to be blamed for the end of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, it's probably Mace Windu.
The idea that the Empire was entirely hostile to non-white humans is also odd. You have to ignore the fact that Palpatine inaugurated the Empire to wild applause from thousands of non-human members of the Imperial Senate, a moment that prompted much whining from one mother of traitors:
Who was Palpatine's first disciple?
That's about as unpasty as it gets.
Who did the Empire go to when they needed someone to track down Han and company?
And who was the man behind the mask? This guy, grown older:
His father, Jango Fett? The basis of the cloned Stormtroopers, who are also decidedly non-white:
If Palpatine were so committed to a gloriously pasty future, why would they use this decidedly non-white human as the basis for literally his whole army?
It's hard to tell how Episode VII will shake out, of course, but what's interesting is that the Empire seems to have continued its commitment to diversity following the destruction of the second Death Star:
The elephant in the room? Well, who was the iconic figure that opposed the pasty white rebellion? Oh, just this decidedly non-pasty dude:
Who was voiced by this dude:
All of which is to say that noted comics and sci-fi/fantasy scholar Hooper X is totally right about the gross racism of the rebellion and Return of the Jedi‘s closing minutes in this clip from the Kevin Smith documentary Chasing Amy:
"They're [the rebellion] gonna drive out the black element to make the galaxy quote-unquote ‘safe' for white folks."
Couldn't have said it better myself, Hooper.
*If I can be a little serious for one very brief moment: I expected the outraged reaction from a certain subset of liberal politics/Star Wars fans. They get very upset when someone plays with their toys in a way they don't care for ("noooooo Han has to hit the Stormtroopers, the Stormtroopers can't hit Han you're doing it wroooonngggg"). More amusing were the folks who huffily proclaimed that essay as emblematic of why journalism is dying. I can't imagine the reaction would've been the same if I had written, say, I dunno, the seven-thousandth think piece about racism in the Star Wars universe. Heaven forbid a blog about pop culture and politics discuss pop culture and politics! Eat a Snickers, bros, you get a little melodramatic when you're hungry.
**In the Kevin Smith documentary Clerks, a New Jersey contractor argued that anyone working on the Death Star should've known the risks before taking on such a job. This is the grossest form of victim blaming and I can't believe some people accept it as a valid argument.