Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Massive Military Buildup

Where does the officers corps of the imperial army in Star Wars come from? In the prequels the Clone Wars are fought entirely by Jedi, drones, and the clone forebears of storm troopers. The clones even have separate names, ranks, responsibilities. But at the end of Sith Tarkin is overseeing construction of the Death Star, dudes have uniforms, rank, a whole bureaucratic substructure independent of the Senate, the Jedi, even Vader. And there's no sense at all of the storm troopers in the Original Trilogy having any kind of officer corps.

Part of the drama of the original trilogy is the tension between Vader and the uniformed non-clone military. Also, the fleet is composed along racist lines: no unhelmeted clones, no non-Caucasian aliens. (The Bounty Hunters are dismissed as "scum.") Where do these guys come from? Are they conscripts? The mobilized remains of a brownshirted imperial militia?

Along with the retarded faceless droid armies in Phantom Menace and after, not exploring the encroaching militarism of the Empire is a serious oversight. It's not just a political failure that produces the empire -- it's the seizure of the mechanisms of force and the elimination of the Jedi as a competitor on the legitimate use of violence. As someone interested in how armies work, and fictional representations of soldiers and officers, I love the intimations in the OT and feel that very large gap in that part of the story.

Armies I think have to be seen as an emerging theme of the comics as well, and in some sense superhero stories are inherently anti-military. Obviously the recent Iron Man film addresses this head-on, but you also have The Hulk, Captain America, Nick Fury and SHIELD, and so on.

There is a utopian imagination at work whereby we seem to dream of a world where right-minded, ultrapowerful civil servants (whether Supermen or Jedi) eliminate the need for standing armies, traditional manifestations of force, and hostile international/intergalactic relations.

The great counterexample might be the Green Lantern Corps, a kind of armed invisible UN that is designed to keep the peace but also act as a kind of nuclear deterrent against interplanetary (as opposed to merely global and local) aggression. The Green Lanterns effectively seem to recognize each planet/sector as sovereign and world wars as local affairs in which they need not interfere.

And so, as with Star Trek, international or interethnic conflicts get allegorized as conflicts between actual aliens, while Superman, Batman, and friends are available to deal with local petty crime.

Star Wars may be the only manifestation of an honest-to-goodness civil war where the conflict between superhuman beings (the Sith and Jedi) are played against the backdrop of a purely human conflict between two organized armies. The events intersect but they do not determine one another. Even the destruction of the second Death Star has nothing to do with the Jedi or the Force really; it's Ewoks and rebels killing storm troopers, and a non-Force wielding fleet whomping the Death Star and Imperial troops.

So: how do these armies get started? (The rebel army is even more of a mystery.)


PoN said...

Yeah I completely agree. Of course, the failures of the new trilogy are legion.

The Empire in the OT definitely has that Nazi overtone, which helps make it so sinister.

I was dissatisfied with the portrayal of the Clone Wars. I guess it hangs together, but it seems somewhat weak that the Empire grows its incredible military power in vats at the edge of the universe. Also, if clones were on the side of the victors, they'd call it the Nasty Alien War, or somesuch. The side that fought against the Clones would know it as the Clone Wars.

The last of the new movies does allude to the rise of Palpatine, but we don't get to see him crowned Emperor.

Allow me to suggest an alternate Clone Wars/Rise of Palpatine storyline:

The Republic faces an external military threat, some planet(s) whose forces are comprised primarily of Clones. Tensions grow, and despite the best efforts of the Jedi, war erupts. Heightened tensions within the Republic lead to curtailed liberties. The situation grows worse when key government officals and citizens are discovered to have been replaced by cloned version of themselves! Paranoia runs rampant.

There is no Sith, and the Jedi are the quasi-mystical/religous organization that is poorly understood.

Palpatine, a former Jedi on Coruscant, manipulates the political situation. He's a cross between Hitler, Robespierre, and Stalin. He ascends through politics and is elected Chancellor. He leads a villification campaign of aliens and the Jedi, they are traitors, dishonest, secretive, etc. Palpatine is elected dictator-for-life, which is the effective birth of the empire.

While the Clone Wars wind down, a series of purges begin, which result in the almost total destruction of the Jedi. Aliens and some liberal humans join the Rebellion. Others try to work "within the system" to reverse the tide (like Leia's adopted family). But bit by bit, the last vestiges of the Old Republic are swept away.

PoN said...

I didn't really answer your question, but I couldn't help myself...

Tim said...

Makes a lot more sense to me. Your point about the name "Clone Wars" is well-made, as are the dramatic possibilities. I've long advocated that the entire trilogy should take place during the "clone wars." Why they decided to make the first army a droid army is totally beyond me.

logand said...

Perhaps some of the earliest Imperial officers were clone troopers. The clones didn't have many officers because they weren't needed - the individual clones were perfect soldiers, with excellent discipline. Low-level officers are mostly needed in an army to keep discipline and train soldiers, neither of which would be required with clone troopers. They did have officers though, we see commanders in Ep. II & III.

The troops/officers we see later are mostly young, except for the higher-up commanders who form a kind of aristocracy, who are probably chosen not for military experience but for loyalty to the Emperor. There is a 20 year time period between the prequels and the imperial army we see later, enough time to begin to develop a professional officer corps. If officers began training when the Imperial army was created, they would be around 35-40 by the time of the later films, which fits (I don't recall seeing many older officers).

The reason for this bureaucracy is clear - the Emperor needed an independent power structure which would be outside of the existing Republic bureaucracy, so he created one within the military.