Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Heirs to the Inquisition

Are you excited for The Force Awakens? Of course you are! You are a human being, on planet Earth, so you're excited. (This is the part where I say, there are probably no spoilers in this, but if you are trying to go in totally blind, uh, spoiler warning).

One of the things I have heard/seen commented on is that, just like in Episode IV, the Force, the Jedi and now the entire Galactic Civil War are basically just myths and/or entirely forgotten. How can that happen? How, in the 30 years between III and IV, can the Jedi be forgotten? And the same span of time after VI, can that whole war be forgotten?

This brings about one of the things I love about Star Wars (the original trilogy, because, you know... the prequels suck). In the entire trilogy, the entire narration only shows us locations on the periphery of civilization. Never mind that the EU and video games and the prequels fetishize them- there is no reason, as a normal being in the Star Wars universe, you would have any reason to go to these planets. They are the Topeka, Kansas of Star Wars. So if you lived in any real population center, you probably won't hear about what went down on Hoth, Cloud City or Tatooine.

via Rolling Stone
But clearly the Empire had a stranglehold on government- the senate was disbanded in the first five minutes of A New Hope, and the, you know, blew up Alderaan, which people certainly would have heard about- but that is exactly what the Empire wanted, and why people would have forgotten the Jedi.

Because as we never see the real civilization of Star Wars, we never see the government of the Empire in operation. But we do know how they keep the 'local star systems in line', as Tarkin put it- through fear. And as soon as Palpatine took full control, it's a sure bet that he began a campaign of fear- and as a Sith, his chief concern would be to scare people out of any memory of the Jedi.

This would hardly be without precedent- think of the various tyrannies throughout history. Ever heard of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition? It's the fancy, official title for what we call the Spanish Inquisition. And that was just the Spanish Inquisition- it was a continuation of the Medieval Inquisition, and the inquisition was a large undertaking. Its purpose was to maintain the orthodoxy of the Catholic church.

Their objective was to control information, and they controlled it through torture and fear. Did it work? From Wikipedia:
According to actual records the Spanish Inquisition was widely hailed as the best run, most humane court in Europe.
Which may have had some truth to it, but that makes it much more depressing since burning supposed heretics alive was sort of their thing. The Inquisition is far from alone in history, in its object or its methods.

And in an obvious nod to those real events of history, the group of individuals tasked with wiping out the last of the Jedi in Rebels are called Inquisitorius. So we can infer a lot about the Empire, its methods and its objectives.
via Wookiepedia

So how do the Jedi vanish into myth in the space of a few decades? By just that- by fear, by fear- those who mention them, wish for the good old days, speak out- we don't have to wonder how the Empire would deal with such ones. And pretty soon, the average person is in the habit of never speaking of the Jedi, then after a while, maybe they start to wonder if the Jedi were ever real.

But what about Episode VII? How is an entire war forgotten? That seems like it would be memorable, right? And the First Order doesn't seem in a position to scare everyone into line. Plus, Rey has been scampering about the wreckage of a massive battle.

But that battle happened before she was born. So maybe what we see in the trailer is simply her own incredulity, coming from spending her whole life on a backwater planet, instead of a larger campaign of fear. This- to me- seems the more likely, since Kylo and his Knights of Ren seem more interested in spreading Vader's Dark Gospel rather than keeping it secret.

So it seems the First Order will follow in the same pattern as its predecessor, and so many other tyrants and despots in history- attempting to rule through fear and strangle the information and truth the average citizen has access to.

The sad part is that this is not solely the province of fiction.