Alderaan: Billions Unmourned

I woke up this morning to one of the worst puns I’ve ever had to endure: today is Star Wars Day. Why? “May the 4th be with you.”

No idea who thought that one up, but it did bring to mind an argument I tend to have with my friends, usually after hunting and slaying a couple dirty martinis.

One thing always bugged me about Star Wars: the problem of the billions of unmourned people on Alderaan.

Remember? The peaceful planet? Destroyed in order to show off the power of a fully operational space station/weapon to a young princess? (Who, incidentally, was the only one left who was left impressed with the Death Star, as, well, everyone else was dead.)

I was almost four years old when Star Wars came out. I don’t honestly remember watching it in the theater, but I remember countless viewings on HBO when I was a teeny bit older. There was one viewing—definitely not the first—when it actually hit me what they had done. I had remembered the lightsaber battles, and the blasters, the horror of watching Obi-wan fall, and the scary-as-hell Vader. But the first time I actually comprehended the destruction of Alderaan it was like someone had slipped a horrible new scene into my favorite movie. How had I not realized the complete genocidal travesty of that one command before? I couldn’t believe it. They actually blew up a whole planet, vaporizing billions of lives.

What absolutely killed me after that, and it still boggles my mind to this day, is that after that scene, no one gives a shit about Alderaan again. Even when Leia finds out that there’s an extra special spice in the story—that the guy who blew up the planet and tortured her was her dad—the movies do not mention it again.

I’ve argued this, often at length, with friends. One friend decided to assume that there had been substantial group therapy—perhaps an Alderaan Ex-Pats Club—between the first and second movies. And then after Return of the Jedi, Leia was surrounded by teddy bears, and everyone knows that time spent with a pet can lower blood pressure. But really, the poor woman was written as a robot: she had her little, “No, Alderaan is a peaceful planet!” outburst, then she internalized the pain from then on.

Mick Bradley says essentially the same thing in this hysterical blog post. He also brings up another question: if Leia had been the hero, would we have cared more about Alderaan, her loss, and her torture?

I often wonder if it’s the disconnect we have when it comes to numbers. Watching an enemy take out one person, it’s close to us, we can identify with that person, it’s real, visceral. (Take the famous tank vs. solo protester at Tiananmen Square .) When it’s a crowd, or a city, or a planet, the horror is on another level. The emotions can still be pain and grief, but there’s a level of shock and disbelief that go along with it. Perhaps the psyche pads our acceptance of the event, because if we really comprehended what was going on, we might go mad.

It would have just been nice to have Leia mention Alderaan once or twice. For example, people wear black armbands to mourn a hell of a lot less than a whole planet. What about Alderaan cuisine? Did she miss it? “Damn but I miss the squonk burgers we had on Alderaan. That was the only planet that had squonk, you know.” And then C3PO would quip that squonk can be found on two other planets in the galaxy, and Han would turn him off and it would turn into a comic relief bit, with them ignoring the pain of the woman who had lost everything.

Can you imagine if Leia had been less of a robot and more like Bruce Wayne? That wuss saw only his parents killed in front of him. Dark Leia could beat the shit out of Batman, if you have “number of loved ones killed in front of you” as the fuel for your rage.

It would have been good just to have closure, that’s all. To blow up a planet and then never mention it again it just sloppy storytelling. Although it did have me yelling at Bail Organa at the end of Episode 3, “When you go back to Alderaan, make sure to pull out all investments and get a nice summer home off-planet! Trust me!”

(Admittedly, I’ve never read any novel tie-ins, but I did do some research on Wikipedia and learned that in later books Leia was not so ready to accept her heritage, nor the fact that Daddy had redeemed himself from having a hand in billions of deaths just by killing one dude. So it’s good someone picked up that plot thread, but for those of us who have only watched the movies, Leia’s grief and rage are an unfinished story.)

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