(This week and next we are discussing blockbuster films and violence, partly inspired by our friend’s IndieGoGo campaign.)
First, let’s establish bona fides. We LOVE Star Wars.
A few years ago, Michael quizzed his then fiance with a hypothetical from Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs:
“You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson's gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's "deeper philosophy."
“Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?”
His fiance’s response? Yeah, because that’s how you are with Star Wars.
It’s true. Ever since our father made the fateful decision to rent Return of the Jedi at the local video store (okay, now I feel old), Michael C and I have loved Star Wars. We started a Star Wars collection, stored in six boxes at our dad’s house. We’ve read supplementary material (meaning the books now called Star Wars legends). And not just the novels, but the guides and technical manuals on weapons, planets, vehicles and more. Though it’s always been more of Michael’s thing, we’ve watched those damn movies countless times. Hell, we went and saw Phantom Menace in theaters when it was released in 3D a few years ago. (Except for the race scene, “Duel of the Fates” and Darth Maul, still terrible.)
I say all this to prep for potential backlash when I say the following:
The violence in Star Wars is pretty damn immoral.
We started this series in response to an email we got from someone about adding a tax to violent movies a few years ago. If you add a tax to violent movies, Star Wars should be the first one.
Why? Because Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia and Lando literally murder hundreds of people and aliens, and no one seems to give a damn. Consequences, what consequences? Most obviously, Luke is a mass murderer, blowing up a space station with millions of people on it. (I’ve read accounts that it had 31 million people.) That means Luke, aided by Han, killed 31 million people in A New Hope. Wow. (H/T to Clerks, of course, which made this point first.)
Doesn’t that qualify you for the dark side? More importantly, how does this never come up again in the series? Zero guilt.
But that’s too obvious, as evidenced by the Clerks reference. A much more personal mass murder occurred after the destruction of Jabba’s pleasure barge. Han, Luke, Leia and Lando just kill hundreds of people on Jabba’s pleasure palace, and two scenes later no one seems affected by it. It’s just shocking, really. To murder innocent people--slaves and servants as well--and no one remarks, “I feel really guilty. I just murdered, like, 400 people. Many were slaves.” (And let’s pause to consider that many were space groupies, just hanging out with Jabba, sleeping on his Jabba’s floor, which is odd. And uncomfortable.)
Hell, the only guy who feels bad about violence is Malakili (Oh, sorry, the guy who owns the rancor Luke killed). And it’s because Luke killed his pet, not a person. Sure, Luke almost goes to the dark side wanting to murder the Emperor. Not sure how he’s not already there.
Star Wars is a pop film. Pulp fiction. It’s the original summer blockbuster. It’s fun. It also views the world in binary terms: dark side versus light side. And if you’re on the dark side, you can die without moral complications. If you work for the Emperor, ditto.
There are two historical precedents to judge whether Luke should have absolutely no moral qualms about killing: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The pilots involved felt no guilt about their involvement. Which makes sense, to some degree. Japan attacked America first. They wouldn’t surrender. A land invasion would have cost possibly millions of American lives. Just like destroying the Death Star, which had already destroyed a planet in service of an evil emperor.
Except that something still has to, or should, gnaw at you. Those were civilians in Hiroshima. And surely some of the soldiers on the Death Star weren’t evil, just doing their job. Even in the clip from Clerks above, what’s upsets them is the death of contractors, not those in the Imperial Army, which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you take conscription, poverty, patriotism and a myriad of other factors into account for why someone joins the military. Hell, knowing the poverty levels on many planets, I’d be sympathetic to anyone who joined the Imperial Guard. (Unless they’re all clones, but do clones have souls?)
And none of this excuses killing everyone on Jabba’s palace...
Which brings me to the worst part of this whole thing, the most nihilistic thing I can write: I just don’t care. These moral issues don’t change my love of the original trilogy; I think it’d be bad parenting to not show a kid the original Star Wars trilogy. But if you really think about it, from a moral viewpoint, Star Wars is morally reprehensible. Though I think these movies are pretty corrupt morally, I love them. Having realized they are corrupt morally, I still love them. And not really any less than before.
In many ways, really, that’s the the actual problem.