Oct 3 2012 2:30pm

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Totally Illiterate

Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?

To be fair, finding a science fiction or fantasy universe richly populated with its own indigenous art—and more specifically, its own literature—is rare. As Lev Grossman has pointed out, “No one reads books in Narnia.” Harry Potter himself doesn’t really have a favorite novelist, and most of the stuff Tolkien’s Gandalf reads comes in the form of scrolls and prophecies...not exactly pleasure reading. Fantasy heroes don’t seem to read for pleasure very often, but usually you get the impression that they can read.

Very popular science fiction does a little bit better here, with characters on both Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica being pretty into novels and poetry. Notably, both of these universes have some kind of news media (as does Harry Potter.) And it’s in this lack of news media where the possibility of widespread illiteracy in the Star Wars galaxy starts to become more and more likely....

If you simply stick to the Star Wars films, there is no news media of any kind. Despite the fact that we see cameras circling around Queen/Senator Amidala in the Senate, they don’t seem to be actually feeding this information anywhere. Are they security cameras, like the ones that recorded Anakin killing little tiny Jedi kiddies? This theory achieves a little more weight when you consider that the conversation in The Phantom Menace Senate scene is all about how Queen Amidala can’t verify the existence of a coming invasion. She’s got no pictures, and stranger still, no reputable news source has even written about the blockade of Naboo. Even if we put forth that cameras in Star Wars are only for security and not for news, that still leaves the question of why there are no journalists. A possible answer: it’s because most people don’t read, which means that over time most people in this universe don’t ever learn to read.

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Totally Illiterate

“But wait!” you might be saying, “I remember seeing little pieces of text on the screen that Artoo sends to Luke to read. Also there is writing on the tractor beam controls, and people in the ships are looking at buttons with letters on them!” Well, I’d like to point out that even in the case of Luke Skywalker, these letters and pieces of writing are directly related to tasks. Pilots for the Empire are probably functionally literate, because they go through some kind of training academy. However, I think the visual evidence suggests a culture much more reliant upon technology and droids than is immediately apparent. 

Uncle Owen needs a droid who can speak “bocce,” and then says something about the binary language of load lifters. Okay, so Uncle Owen needs a translator and someone to do math for him. This doesn’t sound like a guy who has gotten a suitable education. I suppose it’s possible that Luke picked up some reading here and there, but we don’t see any books or any evidence to suggest he’s a fluent reader. It seems like all the characters in Star Wars learn how to do is punch certain buttons to make their machines do what they need to do, and everything else is left up to droids.

In our own culture, pictograms have rapidly replaced words on traffic signs, restrooms, etc. The buttons being pressed by the Death Star control room workers might not even be letters. They might be pictograms representing different functions; functions like “death ray blast” and “trash compact.” Plus, how could those guys read anything in those helmets, anyway?

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Totally Illiterate

Attack of the Clones sees Obi-Wan Kenobi go to the Jedi Library, but again, this research facility seems less about books and more about pretty colors, interactive holographic maps, etc. The amount of actual reading even someone like Obi-Wan does is still limited. Now, I imagine Jedi can probably read and are taught to read, as are rich people like Princess Leia and Padme Amidala and Jimmy Smits. But everything in Star Wars is about video chat via holograms, or verbal communication through com-links. Nobody texts in Star Wars!

It seems like this society has slipped into a kind of highly functional illiteracy. Surely, for these cultures to progress and become spacefaring entities, they needed written language at some point. But now, the necessity to actually learn reading and writing is fading away. Those who know how to build and repair droids and computers probably have better jobs than those who can’t. This is why there seems to be so much poverty in Star Wars: widespread ignorance.

The idea of education becoming obsolete due to cultural changes isn’t without a science fiction precedent. In the Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” Vina speaks of a culture that “forgets how to repair the machines left behind by their ancestors.” I’m postulating that the same thing happened with literacy in the Star Wars galaxy. People stopped using the written word, because they didn’t need to, and it slipped away from being a commonly held skill.

And to bring up evidence from the expanded universe material a little more: in those stories even ancient Jedi records exist in the form of holograms. I’d say the switch to visual/audio communication from written communication has been underway for a long time in the Star Wars galaxy. It’s also possible people in Star Wars are simply not as imaginative as we are. Maybe the humans and aliens populating A Galaxy, Far, Far Away are totally boring people who simply used the written word for the purposes of getting their basic culture off the ground – for commerce only, rather than for reflection or pleasure.

The final nail in the coffin which proves widespread illiteracy is how fast stories of the Jedi mutate from a fact of everyday life into legend, seemingly overnight. This is because the average citizen of the galaxy in Star Wars receives his/her/its information orally, from stories told by spacers in bars, farmboys on arid planets, orphans in crime-ridden cities, etc. Without written documents, these stories easily become perverted and altered quickly. This is the same way Palpatine was able to take over in Revenge of the Sith. He simply said “the Jedi tried to kill me” and everyone was like, “okay.”

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Totally Illiterate

Padme points out that liberty dies “with thunderous applause,” but really their liberty is dying because most of them can’t read and are powerless and disenfranchised. In fact most of the surviving characters at the end of the prequels are the bad guys, and they can probably read. The Jedi seem to be the most educated people in the prequels, but that changes when they all get killed. This would be like a real life Empire going and burning down all the colleges and schools and killing all the teachers. The academy, the keepers of literacy would be gone. And once that happens, it’s easy for a tyrannical empire to take over, to control the information. Maybe Padme should have said “this is how literacy dies...”

But, what’s sad about Star Wars is that its inhabitants (save for our heroes) seem so complacent and lacking in imagination that this sort of thing was bound to happen in one way or another. In reality, if a whole culture relied exclusively on a group like the Jedi to not only guard justice and truth, but also be the only educated, literate people around, that culture would be seriously screwed up. Meanwhile, these people simply rely on their droids to do everything else.

Obi-Wan may have put a lightsaber in Luke’s hand, but really he and Qui-Gon should have been going around teaching people on poor planets to read years and years prior. After all, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good book in your hands.

Ryan Britt is a staff writer for

Star Wars on ‹ previous | index | next ›
1. Lsana
I agree with most of what you said, but I'd have to argue at least a couple of points:

"Okay, so Uncle Owen needs a translator and someone to do math for him. This doesn’t sound like a guy who has gotten a suitable education."

I have a machine to do math for me. Several, in fact, one of which is doing math for me right now. This isn't because I'm uneducated, but because I need something that can do more calculations faster than I can reasonably do them by hand. I could imagine a similar thing is going on with Uncle Owen's farm equiptment, and that he wants a "centeral computer" that can coordinate and repair things faster than he could.

Likewise, with speaking Bocce, the ability to speak a foreign language is hardly universal, especially when speaking it isn't critical for every day life. Based on Luke and Beru's conversation, I got the impression that having something around to translate Bocce was convenient but hardly necessary. It would be similar to someone in the American Southwest not speaking Spanish: hardly uncommon, even amongst the educated.

"If you simply stick to the Star Wars films, there is no news media of any kind."

Isn't there? Correct me if I'm misremembering, but I seem to remember that there were reporters around at the beginning of the Revenge when Obi-wan and Anakin brought Palpatine back.
2. JRoss73
Wheel of Time characters read for fun - at least Perin and Rand do. They have read Jain Farstrider, Matt on the other hand might never have picked up a book in his life. JR makes mention of libraries in several settings for example, The Queens Blessing has a library.
S Cooper
3. SPC
There was a short story "Literacy" by Donald Moffitt in Analog back in the 90s that made a huge impression on me. It walked through the transition from literacy to reliance on robots to read for you. I was really upset by it as a teenager.

In-universe, I wonder if the lack of reading has to do with the sheer volume of cultures and languages coexisting? That anyone working in contact with outsiders just can't expect anyone else to be able to read their language, so writing any single language isn't worthwhile? The lack of news media is a more troubling omission, though. You've made the Star Wars universe a more sinister place.
Charles Moore
4. Shadeofpoe
You know, while I appreciate the trollish-ness of the argument and respect any attempt at flaming Star Wars fans, I kind of take issue with your argument. At what point is reading a critical plot device when dealing with the core plots of the trilogies? Is that before or after they are running for their lives or fighting a civil war?

I mean we never see anyone read in Jurassic Park, should we then assume Doctors Grant and Malcolm are illiterate? We also never see the characters of Star Wars use the bathroom, can we then draw the conclusion that they have no digestive system?

@1 And isn't the beginning of Revenge done in the style of a WWII newsreal? Or am I confusing that with the cartoon?
5. StrongDreams
An interesting premise. Lucas certainly (and I'm sure without meaning to or even realizing what he had done) created a universe where the illiterate can get along almost as well as the literate. It's certainly a fascinating way to explain why the Jedi went from a fact of daily life to mockable legend in less than 20 years.

FWIW, Middle-Earth inhabitants do read. Their literature is the sagas of earlier ages. Frodo and Bilbo not only could read and write but they composed poetry. Although I would certainly expect the peasants to be largely illiterate, as in our own middle ages.
6. Herb99
@2, yeah. One of the oft-overlooked nuances of WOT is that it features a post-medieval created world. Printing presses make a big difference.

A real world analogue to the killing of the Jedi might be the Burmese junta running off the Indian-Burmese population, and thus the bulk of the country's middle and professional classes, to disastrous effect.
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
First off - "Now, I imagine Jedi can probably read and are taught to read, as are rich people like Princess Leia and Padme Amidala and Jimmy Smits..." made my day.

Second off, for all of its flaws, the post-apocalyptic tabletop RPG Rifts has a great explanation for the lack of literacy in the "civilized" areas - it's a deliberate attempt to control the masses. By putting everything in verbal or visual mediums, the, people can't read old stories about how things were 'before' and it makes it so much easier to filter what's going out. If the government tells you that they know what's best, and they're the ones that feed you and protect you, obviously they must know what's best for you, right? Might be more in-line with the Empire's mindset, if not the Republic's, but still.

Hell, look at our current situation. Cursive writing has fallen out of the standard curriculum at a lot of public schools, limited keystrokes in a text have given us an entire tech-dialect (not even considering how many grown adults I know that send texts that are a combination of "nmdim" & "jsyk" and "rotflmao" and an ungodly amount of typos because they don't bother to go back and fix what they tried to type in the first place) , and my phone already has an app that lets me send icons instead of words.

On a less depressing note, it may be more along the lines of the street signs. How many different languages are spoken on all the different planets in the galaxy? It has to be easier to use pictograms than try to teach Basic to a guy who's only going to go back to his native tongue as soon as he leaves Mos Eisely.
8. boojum
Bilbo not only writes poetry, he writes a novel! Well, officially There and Back Again is a memoir, but he does fictionalize bits of it, and I kind of imagined it as a book to read for enjoyment as an adventure story rather than a history.
Scott Sherris
9. ssherris
I think this humanizes Star Wars quite a bit. It makes the world seem less plastic and more real, which is good for a fantastic space opera. Definitely it colors "good" vs "bad" a bit. If the Jedi were complicit in keeping the masses ignorant, than were they really much better than the Sith? In fact, we just accept that the Sith are bad because we're told they are (by the Jedi). Do ordinary SW citizens lives get worse when Palpatine takes over?
10. sabbx
In "Attack of the Clones" we also see some arcane blueprint/ schematic writing with the images of the yet-to-be Death Star. There is some basic level of literacy and techincal competence by some characters as we see Han and Chewy pilot and navigate the Milennium Falcon without the aid of 'droids.

They also do their own repairs for the most part, though R2 D2 is shown to do a better, quicker job. Maybe they are "old fashioned" but at least they've read the manual.... Lando is seen reading from a mainfest in "Empire" if memory serves as well. (I didn't do a rewatch, so if that's faulty, mea cupla)

The Old Republic Galaxy had a lot of social problems: social apathy, lack of political involvement, tolerance for slavery, unethical use of cloning (even before Palapatine's power grab. IE: One of "Attack of the Clones" most disturbing scenes is the killing of Padme's stand-in, a sentient being whose murder is quickly forgotten by the authorities) and a features a relationship between Anakin and Padme' whose beginnings would have had her in a courtroom in our culture.

But to your point, the Old Republic was also a place where Jar Jar Binks won elected office. Somone was surelyt asleep at the switch there.
Ryan Britt
11. ryancbritt
@1 Yeah, the newsreel stuff is from the newer The Clone Wars cartoon.

I like the sheer number of cultures bumping up against each other notion. I mean, it could happen in Star Trek, too. What with the universal translator and all. Also, I really, really want to read that Analog article now! It sounds wonderful.

@4 Well, Jurassic Park takes place in the "real
world" (It's a documentary! Just kidding), not a galaxy far, far away, with a totally different culture, history and political set-up. Also both Grant and Malcom are refrenced to having written books. And yes. Obi-Wan Kenobi has no digestive system, hence it was easy for him to disappear. ;-)

(I see your points, but rather than seeing the article as "trollish" maybe it's more like fan fic?)

@7 "and my phone already has an app that lets me send
icons instead of words." This stuff is exactly what made me start writing this article. That's what I was going for. Thanks!
12. Jeff R.
I have to say that I'm deeply, deeply disappointed in the editors of the recent EU books for allowing paper ("flimsy") into their stories. There are few things that define the SW universe as strongly as its paperlessness. (The extreme rarity of wheels would be the other big one...)
Maitrey Deshpande
13. LittleWolf
Ok, this made for an interesting thread to read, but clearly, if we stick to the 6 episodes only, there are hardly any references to reading. But as @4 points out, there has been no need to show any reading at all. I can't remember what happens in RotS.

But the expanded universe is replete with reading (only HoloBooks though), and especially journalism. The HoloNet is a galaxy-wide news network which regularly keeps everybody updated. So there goes your theory, if the EU is considered canon (which it should be in this case, since the 6 episodes couldn't possibly show everything).

One notable example is in the novelization of RotS which had Greivous appearing on screens everywhere saying he would "disembowel" Palpatine if his demands weren't met.
Robin Hildick
14. zabraxus
Paul F Tompkins brought this exact point up in his podcast, released earlier this morning. Is this a coincidence, or should he be getting a little credit in this article?
15. Aeryl
Funny fact!

In the New Jedi Order series, a group of Jedi go traveling beyond the known galaxy, find an advanced civilization that will allow them to use their library to research the area.

And they spend a page trying to find the dataports on the large data bricks, i.e. books.
Ryan Britt
16. ryancbritt
Total coincidence! Send me the link to the podcast?!
(I've been working on this piece for a bit, in secret Great minds?)

@15 That is amazing!
Robin Hildick
17. zabraxus
@16 - here you go. Episode 18, he starts talking about it about 5 mins into the show. The rest of it is worth a listed too. He's a funny guy.
18. rowanblaze
As do others, I think your premise is flawed, given that novel reading is hardly an essential task for an action flick about freedom fighters against an evil empire, or the backstory of the empire's rise.

I am one of the more math-oriented people I know. But I use a machine to translate binary language, too, it's called a computer. How much math is involved there? (Actually a lot, but it's deep under the hood.)

I find it more amazing that so many people in the SW universe seem to understand multiple languages, but never feel the need to speak them. A perfect example is the interchange between Han and Greedo, before Han shot first. ;)

As far as no one believing Amidala's stories about the Blockade of Naboo, how many issues do we face in today's society where there is clear evidence one way or the other, but people still dismiss it. For example, the vaccine/autism connection: debunked, but some just see that evidence as issued by a conspiracy. Or how about the debate over global warming? Even with photographic evidence, Amidala would have faced denials from the Trade Federation, protestations of Photoshopping, etc. Which is the point, it wasn't about the evidence, it was about the bureaucracy, and the inability of the Senate to actually get anything accomplished.

@10 I'm not sure how a crush a 10-year-old has on a 15-year-old, that is in no way reciprocated until a decade later when both are well past the age of consent would possibly end up in a court in any western society.
Douglas Freer
19. Futurewriter1120
It is kinda sad that people in lots of SF and Fantasy novels don't read. even when they do read, it's usually for training or something of the like. One I can recall is in the Eragon series where Eragon is given a book on the history of the country. He mostly uses it to find the meaning of something he encountered that will help in his journey or to find a spell for some reason.
For me, I'm going to break that mold since the main character of my High Fantasy story reads for pleasure, not for information and battle reasons.
20. cleggster
This has been comment on before. I don't remember the name of the artice, but I read it years ago. Well before Attack of the Clones came out. In it was mentioned that the total lack of paper was deliberate. It was stated that Lucas wanted to show an alien society, and one way was that society were so advanced that they didn't need to write things down. Everything was recorded or holoded. Keep in mind that I did not hear this from the lips of Lucas directly.

But it makes sense. If basic recording tech was omnipresent and infallible, why you you ever need a pen? I think this speaks to something else I noticed about the Star Wars galaxy. It has sufferred from social stagnation for centuries.

They use the same technology and have the same social mores in New Jedi Order as they do back in the first war with the Sith. Any new tech is always a prototype and is never implemented galaxy wide. In other science fiction settings, social stagnation is usualy the result of some kind of disaster or collapse. Here, society chugs along just fine. As long as you accept no improvments. You could blame this on illitereacy. Without a galaxy wide press, how could people know how about any new advancements. Without recorded histories, written or otherwise, how would you know that nothing has changed in you corner of the galaxy in...forever. And why would you care?
21. Nevets73
I take issue with referring to the Lord of the Rings as not having a deeply developed background that includes literature and poetry. It's obvious to any reader of those books that this is not the case. In fact, in a setting which deals not only with literacy (Samwise is very proud to be able to read, something that not every hobbit can do) but many chapters deal directly with poetry based on the deeds of heroes from previous ages of Middle Earth.

Language was one of the driving forces behind the Lord of the Rings, and this article, while very accurate where Star Wars is concerned, gives short shrift to a great series of books by J.R.R. Tolkien.

It also ignores several book references in the Harry Potter series, too.
22. Susurrin
Do ordinary SW citizens lives get worse when Palpatine takes over?
YES! At least I'm pretty sure that's what most of the innocent people on Alderaan thought as the Empire (palpatine's regime) blew them to space bits!
23. Cybersnark
@18, given how interested real-world Empires tend to be in book-burning and censorship, I'd argue that a resistance movement against a fascist state is the perfect place for literature. The Empire was all about "human high culture" --circulating a few great works of Wookiee literature or Twi'lek manga or even Rodian music (R-pop?) would've been a slap in the face of the "old white male human club."

The old West-End Star Wars RPG had modules that heavily featured the press --not just the (Imperial-controlled) Holonet, but a wide range of fringe and pirate broadcasts (often prophetically, considering that this RPG was published in the 80s, long before the likes of 4chan, Anonymous, Youtube, and Ebooks). Moff Balfour (the man in charge of the Imperial Propaganda & Censorship Bureau) was a recurring antagonist/target/nuissance across several adventures.

In fact, a lot of colour text was written in the form of in-universe "comment threads."

Hell, the X-Wing Alliance video game had an in-universe (non-interactive, sadly) Email system used to deliver plot points. The Rebel Alliance had their own network (which could apparently reach the Imperial network --one Reb-mail gave out Darth Vader's address ).
Alan Brown
24. AlanBrown
This is an interesting observation, and if the one comment above is correct, Lucas deliberately was depicting a society that had moved beyond reading and writing to record information. We could spend a lot of time speculating how that might impact the nature of the civilization and politics portrayed in that world.
I think that you must be awfully thin skinned, however, to think that such speculation is 'trolling,' or somehow criticizing Star Wars and its community of fans.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
25. Lisamarie
Aw, I feel like everybody already commented on what I wanted to say. But I have enjoyed reading the comments :)

-I also took exception to the description of Owen as uneducated. Granted, he probably was, assuming he lived his whole life as a moisture farmer on an isolated planet. But I would not assume that an educated person can speak binary (seriously, I have a masters degree, but when I do software development, I'm not writing it in binary! That's what a compiler is for), or necessarily know every language.

-I actually do think this is a really interesting topic, although I never assumed there was no reading at all in Star Wars, just that they didn't show it. Although I did visualize all reading done on a Kindle/tablet like device since it is mostly paperless. And as others have mentioned, there are definitely mentions of various things in the EU, as well as newsfeeds and journalist. In fact, doesn't Cindel Towani (from the Ewok movies) end up becoming a journalist in one of the books?

-I took the lack of verification for the Naboo invasion to be a kind of statement on the corruption in the government and how the Trade Federation had everybody in their pockets and could basically get away with such blatant crap and then worm around it. As for the Jedi becoming 'laughable', I think propaganda machines can be a powerful thing. And I'm willing to bet that with their ivory tower tendencies (that proved to be their downfall) not a lot of common people had much actual knowledge of Jedi, or cared one way or the other.

-As a Star Wars fan, I did NOT take this as trolling or criticism (and not sure why somebody on a genre site would be so excited about a particular fandom getting flamed. There are definitely fandoms that get a lot of press at Tor that I don't care for personally but I don't have any desire to see them criticized either)

-At 9, where did this idea of the Jedi colluding to keep people in the dark come from? This is one of those trends I'm a little weary of. I appreciate being able to see where the Jedi were flawed, but I don't go for the 'maybe the Sith weren't that bad/the Dark Side is just another point of view/The Jedi are really sinister' angle (although, seriously, taking babies, wtf??????). I don't think Star Wars is meant to be that ironic or have an unreliable narrator. When the opening crawl tells us the Empire is evil, we believe it, and I am pretty sure we're meant to take the Jedi at face value - flawed, but ultimately the good guys, and the saga is a good vs. evil story. Might as well decide maybe Sauron isn't such a bad guy just because Gandalf tells us so. As for was the average citizen's life worse under Palpatine, aside from Alderaan, there are lots of EU examples to show that it was (especially for nonhumans) for a large group of people. Maybe not for every single person every where or even the majority...but he definitely wasn't a nice guy with a different point of view.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
26. Lisamarie
Oh yeah, and I just remembered whiel riding the bus to work today - I am pretty sure that in the movies there are at least two written alphabets established:

-Aurebesh which I believe is seen on Coruscant on posters, marquees, etc.
-Futhark, which is the alphabet on Naboo.

Man, I'm a DORK for remembering this stuff, haha.

Also did some googling to make sure I had the spellings correct and it turns out that futhark refers to the 'formal' version (that we see on the ships in the movies) and there is also a handwritten version called futhork.

Edited to add: I found this Wookieepedia link that even mentions some Aurebesh in a readout on the Naboo ship that Anakin can read (basically Artoo telling him to go home right away) - so apparently, even Anakin, a slave boy on Tatooine, has some rudimentary reading skills that are beyond technical schematics.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
28. Lisamarie
Oh yeah, and I just remembered while riding the bus to work today - I am pretty sure that in the movies there are at least two written alphabets established:

-Aurebesh which I believe is seen on Coruscant on posters, marquees, etc.
-Futhark, which is the alphabet on Naboo.

Man, I'm a DORK for remembering this stuff, haha.

Also did some googling to make sure I had the spellings correct and it turns out that futhark refers to the 'formal' version (that we see on the ships in the movies) and there is also a handwritten version called futhork.

Edited to add: I found this Wookieepedia link that even mentions some Aurebesh in a readout on the Naboo ship that Anakin can read (basically Artoo telling him to go home right away, to which he responds 'go back?') - so apparently, even Anakin, a slave boy on Tatooine, has some rudimentary reading skills that are beyond technical schematics.
Ryan Britt
29. ryancbritt
Sorry about the pot shot at Lord of the Rings. I didn't mean to imply those people couldn't read or anything like that. Yes, Bilbo is a damn author! Awesome! I heart Bilbo. (There and Back Again is a better title than any of the SW prequels and we all know it.)

@Comments and notions that the expanded universe has elaborated on books, reading ,etc.: Even if we do take ALL the EU as canon, I would still argue that there is every reason to believe widespread illiteracy exists among poor planet and populations and that even our literate heroes are not as literate as they should be.

@Those defending me for not trolling: Thank you! Obviously I love Star Wars. I mean, there's a Greedo action figure looking at me right now. (Greedo doesn't have a favorite book.)

@Lucas saying he intended to depict a paperless universe: Well, I just don't know how to feel about that.
30. Michael Roach
I was going to post a long winded comment disproving every point you've made but I think one singular example might be sufficient.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2oo2) 32 minutes, 0 seconds

Obi-Wan sits down in a diner to meet with an old friend to ask him about a Kaminoan dart and there is a small menu there beside the condiments. This place is pretty low class, so why would there be a menu there if most people are illiterate? Presumably it would be the lower class citizens that cannot read so why would they even bother?

If someone wants to say this isn't enough proof, I will go on.

Also, the holonet is mainly news oriented (with text, no less) and journalists do exist in the Star Wars universe. I applaud your ideas on this, but ultimately its ridiculous.
31. Redopz
#28 Thank you! I read this whole page with that in mind, and started getting angry that nobody mentioned first.

Sorry, to lazy to reread but somebody mentioned this one first. The HoleNet was a defined source of news.

There are also ads in Attack of the Clones in the form of billboards. I can remember seeing them behind the assasin (can't believe I remember all this and not her name) as she is shooting at the droid Obi-Wan is hanging on to as well as when they crash in the streets and start chasing her on foot. I believe, but this one I can't remember for sure, but I think there was also text on the sports match in the bar. That whole chase seen debunks this without leaving the movies.
32. Redopz
Awkward.... Read 28 comments, saw 29, ignored the one saying what I said. Good job #30
33. Redopz
Sorry for triple posting, but I meant to say I still enjoyed the article. Ignoring the prequels (and who doesn't) it's pretty well thought out, and it's almost impossible to be up on the entire EU.
Ryan Britt
34. ryancbritt
WELL. I'm sure I can get out of this one.
1. The place is obviously a "retro" diner, meaning there are menus not with pictures, but writing. That doesn't mean people can all read! (I mean there are "ethnic" food places in America with non-english words for effect!)
2. The holonet doesn't really exist in the movies, and seems like a construct of the novels to reconcile the fact that information exchange in this galaxy is really, really unclear.

Just saying! :-)
Ryan Britt
35. ryancbritt
The existence of a written language like Aubersh isn't something I'm denying. There is written language in Star Wars. I'm just saying it's not part of most people's daily lives. It's always very minimal and related to tasks. An alphabet doesn't PROVE that most people are literate; no more than blasters prove most people are violent.

Yes, I'm operating from a fun/extreme premise here, but there are plenty of examples in real life of people being able to understand parts of languages they're not remotely fluent in. Anakin is like a super-genius, as is Luke, but that doesn't mean they're fluent readers. And I would argue (as I have) that they couldn’t be, because of their economic/social background.
36. illililliil
Owen needs a droid who understands the "binary language of moisture vaporators," not "load-lifters." (C3PO then responds that he programmed load-lifters very similar to the moisture vaporators.)
I need a hobby,
Ryan Britt
37. ryancbritt
Good call.
Owen also needs a beer. Am I right?
38. Cargo Culture
Isn't Luke reading a book while R2-D2 is getting the oil bath?
Ryan Britt
39. ryancbritt
@38 Isn't he playing with his toys? When C-3PO is getting the oild bath? In the first movie?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
40. Lisamarie
I thought Luke was playing with his skyhopper model...

@30, um, for 1 I think you are reaching a bit there and trying to force things to meet your conclusion ;)

Also, I am not sure I would call Anakin a super genius (or Luke). Yes, very talented in the Force, and definitely a mechanical genius. But that has nothing to do with reading. I am sure on poor planets people are less literate, but that is the case on Earth too. But I don't think you can really make a case one way or the other that the main characters are less literate than they should be.

Do not get me wrong - I think in general reading is one of those things that tends to get left out of movies, fictional cultures, etc (although a lot of fantasy tends to be pre-printing press variety so it kind of makes sense there). So it's fun to analyze the implications of that. I just don't think that Lucas was intentionally creating an illiterate society. To be honest, he probably didn't think about it that throroughly. I can't fault him for only showing task-related reading in the movie, although it perhaps there could have been some background people reading, or something. Intentionally paperless, maybe, but that's a little different. It is interesting to ponder what would happen to written language as the need for actual text decreases (since there are holograms, etc) though.

Also, sorry for the double post above, I was having some issues this morning.
Chris Chriserson
41. Captchas_are_annoying
Nice article, but I think the basic premise is flawed. I do not agree that (in this context) illiteracy is equivalent to ignorance, or that people are unsophisticated or uncultured for not being able to read.

Obviously, this is true in our culture, where media, textbooks, and even day-to-day communication is primarily done in a written format. However, the method in which the information is communicated is largely irrelevant - the point is that information can be transferred. The people of the Star Wars universe transfer informaton via hologram - so therefore writing is unnesecary. Given that they have a mechanism to transfer information, I see no reason why advanced education could not take place, or indeed be widespread, without the written word. Holo-storage makes just as much sense as written books as an information storage/transfer mechanism. If we assume the existance of an alternative to writing, then there's no reason (to my mind) to declare the people of this universe uneducated purely by virtue of the fact they cannot read.
Ryan Britt
42. ryancbritt
You know, I think your distinction there is important. I think that's why I said "functional illiteracy."

So, maybe you're right and they're not uneducated per se, but I suppose here though I'd fall back on my argument that they seem maybe a little unimaginative, because there is a lack of reading and writing. But that's just how I see it! :-)
43. phenix19
i feel i should point out that there exist numerous alphabets in the sw galaxy, the most prominent of which, aurabesh (used to represent written basic), was on clear display throughout coruscant in the prequal trilogy, as well as numerous places throughout the eu. furthermore, in various eu sources, books (both fiction and non-fiction) are mentioned, however they only come as holobooks or datapads.
44. PaPaLunchbox
Somewhere, George Lucas is reading this and going "Yes! Someone finally gets it!"
45. Abigail@StoryFactory
What a fantastic thought. Really interesting article- thanks for that.
46. Keith McCaffety
This is fascinating. It would be expected, however, that a culture in a another galaxy woud have very different priorities and expectations. Did mass literacy evolve at all? Would it have been valued if it did? Same goes for news media.
47. Susurrin
So, maybe you're right and they're not uneducated per se, but I suppose here though I'd fall back on my argument that they seem maybe a little unimaginative, because there is a lack of reading and writing. But that's just how I see it! :-)
And what an awesome scene it would be in Empire when Han stops his banter with Leah to go work on the script for a stage-play he's planning on putting on.

I'm sorry, but as far as the original trilogy goes, they kind of revovle around ALOT of life and death moments and any of the characters reading a book would undercut that tension.

As for the prequels...well they included Jar Jar, so I'm pretty sure that we can't take anything they put up too seriously.
48. Mavwreck
Just two corrections:

1. Needing translation for the "binary language of insert droid type here" doesn't mean Owen needs help with math. As far as I know, the "Binary" language was a fast and simple way for droids to communicate with themselves. I was always under the impression that having droids that couldn't speak a more organic language was a cost-saving measure.

2. Holocrons were much more than just recordings; they were interactive programs that could help make sense of the data they contained, have conversations with the user, and even make judgments about whether or not a user should be given certain pieces of knowledge. They were more of a recorded teacher than a data source.
50. zetch
love this article. freakin love it.
51. zapzipzing
I find your narrow definition of reading / writing most disturbing.

Pictograms , hieroglyphs, ideograms , Abjads
Abugida, symbologies are still forms of writing.

Written text exists in the Star Wars movies. The blueprints to the Death Star are more than just pictures. Engineers, Scientists need to read.
So do Navigators, Pilots. Even a Wookie must be able to read.

Galactic Basic is really english with aleast 2 different scripts: Roman alphabet and Aurebesh a substitute alphabet.

Luke reads R2D2 transcribed text in his Xwing.
Han reads up on Besbin & Lando with Leah in the Falcon in ESB.
Han sends a stolen shuttle code to The Empire Command Ship in ROTJ.
Obi wan turns of the Tractor beam (written in english) in SW ANH.

Lando can't get a sensor reading on the 2nd DEATH Star shield up or Down in ROTJ because the Empire is Jamming the Sensors.

Moff Tarkin "Signs the Princess's Death Warrant"
52. WTF
Yeah, I listen to the Pod F. Tompkast too.
53. Laugher
Now, I imagine Jedi can probably read and are taught to read, as are rich people like Princess Leia and Padme Amidala and Jimmy Smits.
I laughed.
54. hubrisnxs
In Legacy of the Force, they took on the issue of slavery, and overcame it through use of the media (which was more diverse than ours is), which assumes that many of the populace is educated.

Anyway, long story short, the Extended Universe takes on literacy and many other issues than the original article alludes to; if you only read one book, then, yeah, I'd agree.

WOT, as someone said earlier, shows how devestating massive cataclystic battles have. Age of Legends era was pretty much the modern age here on earth, by many descriptions, so...
55. PsychoX
Just finished reading the entirety of the Harry Potter series, and I do recall Harry reading "Quidditch through the Ages", Quidditch being one of his favorite pasttimes. With that said, I believe it is safe to say at least one character read for pleasure and as an extracurricular activity.
56. Dave Zucker
While this is a cute idea, the argument is patently false on its face–admittedly so–and the consessions poorly structured to make it seem as though any logic is being used.

Asside from the "technical literacy mentioned," the Expanded Universe is full of references to reading and writing on "datapads" and children having favorite stories both read to them and read themselves. Chancelor Palpatine sets down one such pad in Episode III on camera. The idea that only the high-and-mighty indulge in reading as a result of a lack of viewing by audiences is ridiculous, proving only that characters reading on camera is too boring to watch. Who would sit through four hours of a Jedi studying in silence?

And as much as scrawling handwriting on "flimsi" is uncommon, it's not due to a lack of proficiency, but rather the wastefulness of non-renuable materials. iPads are killing the book publishing industry, not the written word. Saying a starfaring society is illiterate because they find books to be antiquated is like saying our society can't create music because no one uses casette tapes.

Taking only the movies, this argument is invalid.

Taking only this article itself, it is contradictory and self-defeating.

I love what you tried to do, I just wish you did it better.
57. Mog
If nothing else I suspect this relies on reading far more deeply into the whole Star Wars universe than George Lucas is actually capable of doing.
58. Dave Zucker
Oh, and adendum: Jedi were not at all common in the Republic era. They had become something of a legend already, a rarity not typically seen by normal sentients, roughly akin to buddhist warrior monks.

Most people never saw one, only heard about them from news media typically drowned out by (PRINT) drink ads and holo dramas.

When the news said Jedi betrayed the governement and were hunted down, it affected pretty much nobody. Only a few Jedi-dense worlds like Coruscant or Ossus really would notice much of a change.
59. Brian FL
Since we never see anybody shit in the Star Wars movies, maybe you could extrapolate that into an article about (the lack of) intergalactic plumbing.

Also, nobody eats.
60. Helen Marshall
But, genuinely, why would Star Wars characters need to read? In a universe as rich and biologically diverse, why would reading (that is, visually taking in symbols arranged to make sense on a page) necessarily be the binding form of information transmission? Particularly when multimedia forms of information transmission might be more apropos or useful?

Ants don't read but they have ways of developing highly complex forms of communication and societal interactions. It doesn't seem entirely implausible to think that perphas reading might be physically uncomfortable or not suited to the way in which certain alien species process the world.

Does a spacefaring race (or society) need literacy? Does it need to take the form which we are familiar with?

Remember, both Battlestar Gallactica and Star Trek assume some relationship to human civilization as we know it. Therefore it makes a certain amount of sense to see them continuing forms of artistic expression that we recognize, and interacting with forms of culture that we recognize.

But the Star Wars world is a big world. A world where people can communicate through holographs, through telepathy, etc. In a universe where linguistic difference is likely to be far, far greater than on earth, would the reading of stationary, non-malleable letters be as useful? Or would audio translation be more useful? Or video displays?

I think writing would still need to exist because even in the Star Wars universe which is, ultimately, a hi-tech society (or set of societies) you still have low-tech areas. And writing's great advantage is that it is low-tech.

But education and literacy may not necessarily be linked. Certainly, they are for us. But if you had a group of aliens with eidetic memory, would education be limited to literacy? Or aliens that communicated via physical touch? Or the release of chemicals? I think there's room for myriad forms of communication, learning, retention of information, and preservation of data in the Star Wars universe.
61. BJM
In reference to the news media, it is shown in Episode II in the Coruscant bar that has video displays from all over the galaxy. So, they may not read but there is a network of media.
63. NewsMan
What then is the Academy mentioned by Luke (A New Hope) for then? It certainly wouldn't be a military academy.....
64. Michael Roach
@34, sorry for the late response but no, those are not pictures. That is the universal written language in Star Wars. It's almost ignorant of you to think that it is not a written language. Is Japanese kanji not a written language because it doesn't look like ours? As intelligent as you are, I must assume you're purposely overlooking hundreds of examples that debunk this, or you're just trolling.

HoloNet does not only exist in the extended universe but in the same movie I provided my first example of, here is another:

Obi-Wan and Anakin chase the changeling into a bar (there is a sign with letters, but not my point), the approach the bar and there are 3 large screens with sporting events on them. This is HoloNet, and not only are there sporting events on TV, but text as well.

Someone else made this point but do you think Han and Chewie would be able to manage flying and maintaining the Millenium Falcon with no way to read manuals to learn how to fix problems?

If you aren't ignoring the extended universe, which you shouldn't as it is canon, in SWTOR there are actual news casts with news anchors, and as I pointed out before, there are many journalists in the SWU.

Another point, the chase scene in episode II which ended in the bar in coruscant, tons of examples of text. Many of the signs they pass have written words on them, you wouldn't waste marketting dollars on something like that if most of the population was illiterate.

Like I said before, I applaud your ideas, but this is ridiculous.

One more final point, when Luke Skywalker is flying to Degobah with R2D2 in the X-Wing, R2 is communicating with him by having text appear on his console, and guess what, he reads what was said! And for a second time, no, these are not symbols, it is a written language, just the same as English, French, Japanese, Russian, etc.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
65. Lisamarie
@63 - it IS the military academy. In the cut scenes, his friend Biggs comes back and tells him how he plans to jump ship at their next outpost and join a freighter bound for the Rebellion. Luke doesnt' like the Empire but he knows it's his only way off the planet (and I think he had also planned to meet up with Rebels as well).
Ryan Britt
66. ryancbritt
I think we're confused as to my thesis: I'm not denying the existence of written language or limted literacy in the Star Wars galaxy (Surely, some people can read), simply asserting that widespread literacy doesn't seem to be likely based on what we've seen.

I'm then taking that premise and pointing out that a galaxy where MOST citizens aren't literate or are functionally illiterate (I'm looking at you, Chewie, Owen Lars), would be an easy one to dominate/manipulate. (Which is what happens!)

Anyway you slice it, audio/visual stuff dominates the comminication in Star Wars, not text.
67. Alissa G
Spellcheck: the first step on the slippery slope to illiteracy.

Please note that young Boba Fett checks out books from his local library to read while waiting for his father to return from assignments.
Ryan Britt
68. ryancbritt
I'd like to note that I'm aware of the hyperbolic nature of the article. I am winking a little bit here, people! It's intended to be fun. However, I think what I point out could be true, from a certain point of view.

As for relying on the expanded universe here to save us (yes, I used an EU example in my article, oops) these are mostly novels, and novels have to be written from a more realistic standpoint than a film. Naturally, the novelists incorporated the written word into Star Wars more, because they, as word people, like the written word. But let's get real: the inconsistencies in the EU are even crazier than the inconsistencies from the prequels to the classic movies.
69. madmonq
I think we can skip this whole discussion and cite the prequels as evidence that George Lucas is illiterate.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
70. Lisamarie
I do totally get that the article is meant to be a little tongue in cheek and I think it's all in good fun :)

But I do (after thinking about it a bit) still ultimately disagree wtih your thesis that you can assume that, due to the twelve hours of life we are shown in the SW universe (most of which is in life or death situations), we can assume that literacy is NOT widespread. Nothing we have seen shows that they CAN'T read beyond what they do. If anything, I think the snippets of language we see (such as the sports bar, advertisements, etc) shows that there is an assumption that people read things. But maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean by 'functionally literate'. Do you have to read for pleasure to be 'literate'? What would you say about our society - I feel like not a lot of people read for pleasure, gossip magazines aside. I'm not even going to touch on the prevalence of texting and what I think that is doing to language ;)

Also, I don't know that literacy would so much be a factor in manipulation of a society, since they obviously do propogate information and have news and media. It's just that it's obviously biased, people are complacent, the government is corrupt, etc. But that happens with written word and in literate societies as well.
Ryan Britt
71. ryancbritt
Exactly! I don't think I could have put it better.
Margot Virzana
72. LuvURphleb
The Fate of the Jedi series did have reporters and news programs on the GTN and 'journalists' so by the time the Galatic Alliance was in existence they did have a field so to speak. Perhaps the Yuuzhan Vong War caused people to rely more on rumor.
Of course i will agree that you dont see any of them reading or writing. The reporters just have a mic and a camera man so they can give the stories a fresh and just happening look.
It really is too bad that the people in the galaxy cant ready. Suppose all that advertisement we see in the prequels was just for pretty colors.
Mayhaps the reading was lost after SWTOR took place since the people in the game are constantly reading or writing for work or scienc
Ian Lowe
73. phenix19
@70 just look at the Nazis; Germany was a literate culture. . . .
74. StrongDreams
Let's restate the premise: The Republic became an Empire, and Empire citizens had a pretty lousy time of it, because the Empire controlled all the sources of information.

See, it doesn't really matter if people can't read, as long as there are non-written methods for storing and transmitting information. (For example, a significant force in Luther's Reformation was political woodcuts aimed at the illiterate.) What matters is that information be free. Let's agree that the galaxy at the time of the 6 movies is post-paper. Whether information is transmitted by means of the written word (e-books) or holograms, and whether ordinary citizens can read the books, or learn from videos, is irrelevant if the Empire controls all the information.

And there really is no evidence, at least in the 6 movies, that there is an underground trade in prohibited information. In 2012, no one could get away with blockading a major city and pretending it didn't happen, no matter the political machinations, because 20 people would have videos on Youtube and Twitter. If there was an anti-Sith rally on Coruscant, how would people in the Rim find out about it? Where is the galactic equivalent of Common Sense or Punch or liberal magazines that helped end the Vietnam War?

The problem is not with how citizens of the galaxy consume information, but what information is available to be consumed, and who controls it.
75. bpjoyce10
"The final nail in the coffin which proves widespread illiteracy is how fast stories of the Jedi mutate from a fact of everyday life into legend, seemingly overnight."

this seems to be a device used in a lot of dystopian sci-fi. like, han solo would have been a teenager when the jedi were still in power. all of a sudden, 20 years later, he claims it's a bunch of smoke and mirrors? that would be like a 35-year old today doubting whether or not the USSR existed, or a 55-year old not being able to remember the beatles... even without written histories of these things, why, and at what point, would you completely forget these things were ever real?
Pamela Adams
76. PamAdams
My thought is that reading- taking in information through the eyes- is a lot faster than holos/voice transmission etc. This is even true today- I can read a book myself much faster than the audiobook can play.
77. Internet Peasant
"In reality, if a whole culture relied exclusively on a group like the
Jedi to not only guard justice and truth, but also be the only educated,
literate people around, that culture would be seriously screwed up."

There was a society like this: Europe in the middle ages, with the priesthood, monks, and nuns standing in for the Jedi. In the 1200's the Church opened schools in every parish and put a lot of effort into establishing a university system, and everything turned out great.

So if the Jedi would have only made education a priority, that might have stopped this whole Empire Striking Back business.

That said, your theory is in trouble if you want to take the Star Wars expanded universe into account: there are details about alphabets, universities, study programs, tech manuals, and popular reading materials, amongst other things. But then again, given a universe with "millions of planets and trillions of citizens" as Lucas has stipulated, even a trillion literate, university-going people are probably a very small minority in a universe filled with Ewoks and moisture farmers.
78. CraigZ
Babylon 5 had a newsprinter for "Universe Today". Delenn bought a copy with an expanded "Eye on Minbar" section and Garibaldi bought one with expanded baseball coverage.
79. Philaster
Literature is everywhere in LOTR and the Hobbit, poems are composed ad hoc as well as recited for entertainment and for the purposes of cultural history. Bilbo frequently refers to translating poetry and/or writing it down for both pleasure and posterity. Don't forget also that both novels are themselves supposed to be the translations of the original surviving texts of the period, that is, they are themselves the (fictional) product of written literature of the time. You cannot escape written literature in Tolkien's books, they are saturated it it.
80. jic
While the idea that most people in the Star Wars universe are functionally illiterate is interesting (although it was the norm on Earth for most of human history), most of the problems mentioned in the article are not so much the result of the inability to read as the lack of *any* reliable method for information to spread among the general population. As the article itself said; there does not seem to be any news media, society is governed by a tiny information-rich elite, and most people seem to get their facts by word-of-mouth. If that happened with all the technology that we are shown is almost everywhere in the universe, it would probably also happen even if everybody could read and write.
81. Overlord
Maybe it is because a movie watching people read a book or poetry wouls be extremely boring.
82. Daddy-O
"After all, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good book in your hands."

What if it's a book on religion or weapons?
83. DragonDave
Harry Potter himself doesn’t really have a favorite novelist
And yet the world of Harry Potter is a fiction containing an entire collection of fictional stories - the stories of Beedle the Bard!

And any lack of reading-for-fun from Harry Potter likely has more to do with the quality of his adoptive parents', for we know Dumbledore to be a keen amateur student of literature, having written the forewards for the tales in Beedle.

Pick your examples more carefully! :)
84. JamesS
DragonDave, I second your comment. Hermione lived for nothing if not reading (at least in the early installements, before she discovered elf's rights and even later, Ron), and the trio spent many a long hour researching one thing or another in the library. It may not have always been reading for pleasure, but one can't deny library research as perhaps the purest of reading. I believe there were also mentions of giving books as gifts -- a history of the Chutley Cannons was one, I believe.

The theme of the article was very interesting, and there are lots of examples that support it from the Star Wars universe -- no need to throw Harry & Co. under the bus.
85. Reapicheep
@StrongDreams--your point was exactly the one I was planning to make. Thanks for sparing me the trouble.
86. Ryan5179
I also enjoyed the premise and don't mind poking fun at Star Wars, but wanted to take issue with a point.

The idea that things are quickly forgotten in oral societies is off. Mythologized, maybe, but definitely not forgotten. Telling important stories over and over again generation to generation gives the stories of a culture an immediacy that universally literate cultures with advanced information technology lacks. Teens in the United States, for example, where literacy is at 100% and people live lives saturated with information and text of every kind, often don't have much concept of what happened even 5 years before they were born. When they learn about these things, they seem distant and alien.
On the other hand, people that live in cultures with a stronger oral tradition, Middle Eastern or Arabic cultures for instance, talk about things that happened 2000 years ago as if they happened yesterday. The live those events through the passionate retellings of them by their friends, family and loved ones. The ancient history is very real to them, something important to be cherished and remembered- perhaps in part because it is not so often written down.
Compare how young people in the USA feel about the Japanese or Germans with how Arabs feel about Jews or how Greeks feel about Turks.
87. Randy Harris
You never see anyone go to the bathroom in Star Wars either, but we can assume they do at some point. I can only recall one scene in all six movies where anyone eats anything, but we can assume they do that too. Just because we don't see books in their hand doesn't mean they don't read, it just not part of the story line. Han reads about the cloud city on his computer. On STNG Picard is always reading a book in his ready room. In one scene he is packing James Joyce for his vacation.
88. Kaleberg
The lack of books and reading was one of the things that really bothered me about E.T. I really wanted to like the movie, but the illiterate culture was too soul deadening.
joel perry
91. finndo
right, so I only managed to read through post 65; however...

1. yes luke was playing with a toy during C3P0's oil bath, but I swear there was a point he was "lounging" on a bed reading from a tablet like device when someone came into the room with him.

2. It would be nice if someone told me what "EU" means

3. pictographs do not constitute reading, as each image can have multiple meanings, and mean different things in different societies. This prevents exact transfer of knowledge and would only give each reader a general impression of what is going on. Watch the original StarGate movie as Daniel tries to translate the images and pay attention to what he says to the other characters.

4. go to mcdonalds and look at the menu, yes it has words, but you order by number

5. have you never heard of an illiterate auto mechanic who learned to be a mechanical genius because "he was just good at figuring it out" (re: Han and Chewie working on the Millenium Falcon)

6. you also have to remember, the characters depicted in fictional stories are almost always the exceptions to the normal, no one wants to hear about a guy who goes to work everyday, eats, relieves themselves, comes home and cooks dinner, then drinks a beer while watching sports, goes to bed, then gets up and does it again. The characters in a good fictional story are the ones who break the mold, manage to get away from the normal. As this post states "largely illiterate" not entirely.

7. I interpreted "The Academy" as a military and educational facility, similar to the Star Trek Academy. Luke even says he wants to fight the Empire when talking about "The Academy"

8. In the digitized version of New Hope, there are "people" eating in the Mos Eisley Cantina

9. I think I recall seeing books in Obi Wans "cave" in New Hope, but not sure about that one.

10. I also recall seeing scrolling text during the Pod Races in EP1, most likely showing the current order of the racers to the crowd

11. even a monkey can be trained to recognize a few words over signs, buttons, and switches (Re death star operators and pilots)

12. remember the x-wings have a computer "View finder" that tells the pilot when to fire the "bomb" to drop it in the shaft to blow up the death star, assuming the pilots are too stupid to do the physics/math in their head something any crop duster would not have had much of a problem doing (ie luke)

13. also in the updated Mos Eisley cantina scence I believe there is someone reading something, might have been a pictoral menu though...

Ok, I am done now. have a nice day.... :)
92. Tyber
Well, it's an interesting article, but its premise is simply false. I can see at what you point regarding the movies, but I don't remember any big scifi movie where reading books is an integral part of the plot.

So to disprove your thesis - especially as you include the EU - I'll just give some examples which can be easily verified by using Wookieepedia:
- The books "The Jedi Path" and "The Book of Sith".
- The Jedi Archives in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant (they read the information as you do Wikipedia) and the Great Library on Ossus
- There are masses of datapads being used, just as the already mentioned flimsiplast sheets.
- Holocrons on the other hand are not used to preserve writings but the Jedi Master and his teachings him-/itself because it has a personality imprint of said master.
- The HoloNet News are a mainly written source (that was already said somewhere above); see the Adventure Journals and the SWTOR website for reference (The Blockade of Naboo was a plot device, duh).
- There are some articles published in the now dead Hyperspace segment of which rely heavily on the literacy of people: The Xim Week (excerpts from a reader detailing on Xim the Despot, published by a character from a Han Solo novel which also references some in-universe literature), an article detailing a battle plan on Sith territory called "The Knight Errant Gazetteer" and finally an article about texts, language and literacy itself: The Written Word.
- There is also an article called "Dining at Dex's" which contains the already mentioned menu of Dex's diner.

Just sayin'... ;)
93. Tyber
Oh, I have another thing to add to the list:

All published Essential Guides are written from an in-universe perspective and are thus literature for "both" galaxies. ;)

And I'd like to point out that I get the hyperbolic tone of your article, but its premise bugs me too much to let you go through with it. ;)
94. Stonicus
Symbols are a form of writing. Even if the "fire laser button" has a picture of a laser blast, that's a symbol that conveys information. It's not terribly efficient or scalable, but a language none-the-less.

The mere fact most droids and ships (X-Wing, A-Wing, R2-D2, R5-D4, etc...) are called by numbers and letters implies a galaxy-wide knowledge of at least the basics of an alpha numeric language. Also the TIE fighter. TIE is an akronym meaning Twin Ion Engine... people are able to form akronyms and understand them, implying again a base universal knowledge of language.

For their to be a functioning economy, people would need basic math skills for computing change and what-not.

@91: EU means Extended Universe, which is Star Wars stories beyond the movies, and aren't necesarily considered canon.
95. Stonicus
Ack, forgot to add a point in my last post...

Han is looking at his screen after evading the Empire in ESB.
Han: No. Well, wait. This is interesting. Lando.
Leia: Lando system?
Han: Lando's not a system, he's a man. Lando Calrissian. He's a card player, gambler, scoundrel. You'd like him.
Leia: Thanks.
Han: Bespin. It's pretty far, but I think we can make it.

For Han to know which system is Bepsin, we have a few options.
1) Every planet in the known galaxy is simply dislayed in their relative locations, and Han has memorized where every system in in relation to one another.
2) Every planet is numbered, and Han has memorized every planet's name and its corresponding number.
3) It says the word "Bespin" on it and Han reads it.

I pick 3 as most likely...
96. Herp A Derp
"This is the same way Palpatine was able to take over in Revenge of the Sith. He simply said “the Jedi tried to kill me” and everyone was like, 'okay.'"

Lolwut? A cctv might have helped, but somehow doubt that Mace Windu would have had time to write a dying memoir rebutting the emperor's version of events.
97. James Davis Nicoll
From one of the expanded versions of Arlo Guthrie's The Motorcycle Song, an example Mace could have followed:

Luckily I didn't go into the mountain - I went over the cliff. I was goin' at 150 miles an hour sideways and 500 feet down at the same time. I knew it was the end. I looked down, I said ''Wow! Some trip". I thought it...well I knew it was...I knew it was my last trip, and in my last remaining seconds in world,I decided to write one last farewell song to the world. Put a new ink cartridge in my pen. Took out a piece of paper. I sat back and I thought awhile. Then I started writin'
98. Elmtree
Interesting article. One angle I don't see here is the inherent inefficiency of voice communications. You can skim over thirty news headlines in ten seconds and take it all in, but you can only watch CNN for so many hours in a day. That's what the bar at the bottom of the screen is to help you with.

More seriously, I think all the characters we see can read. It's never hinted that (for instance) when you induct rebels into the Alliance you need to check if they're literate to decide if they need remedial training. What I can imagine is a world in which, after thousands of years of using multimedia technology, text feels culturally 'dry' and holograms 'real'. That might feel instinctively right to Lucas.Leia doesn't type a letter to Obi-Wan, she takes the time, with stormtroopers chasing after her, to film a long pitch to him. That feeling that text is boring might, in turn, reduce people's interest in politics and news media, and make them more susceptible to manipulation.

And of course there have been people imagining post-literate societies of proles where the leaders run the TVs as brainwashing machines. I think this says more about writers' contempt for TV than their futurology skills, societies that are literally and completely giant sealed-off forced labour camps excepted. North Korea and whatever the Nazis planned to turn Poland into are the only places that count as that, I think. The Khmer Rouge came close but their vision was much more agrarian than high-tech.
99. Your Mom
Well, my son, you have stirred up a hornets nest. Good for you! As a retired teacher, I have seen how technology effects children's learning. Some is good and some is bad. I loved the article. I guess some of your readers are just are a little too sensitive. I got the tongue and cheek and the wink, wink but you made a good point. Keep stirring them up!
William Fettes
100. Wolfmage
I believe there are books and other pedagogical aids in the Han Solo trilogy expanded universe. Dewlana gives Han a fairly comprehensive education with everything necessary for him to understand basic commerce, piloting, and later, enter the imperial navy.
101. Foose
"No one reads books in Narnia."

Mr. Tumnus had an extremely fine book collection, the breadth and arcane subject matter of which excited my cupidity as an impressionable 9-year-old, and on which as an adult I have modelled my own collection. Clearly he had obligations as a host which forbade him opening a book while Lucy was being entertained to tea, but I think it's pretty clear he read.
Michael Burke
102. Ludon
I've enjoyed both the article and the comment thread to this point.

To those asking how the Jedi could fall from fact to myth so fast. Let me point out that if a lie is told often enough it (usually) becomes accepted as truth. Take the lie about "The Liberal Media." The media is still pretty much in the middle but the middle happens to be to the left of the (political) right. Therefore, "The Liberal Media" has through repitition of it being 'to liberal for our point of view' has led it to become accepted as fact.

And the availablility of media to 'disprove' the statement doesn't always help. The Tea Party made noise to prevent reasonable discussion at local meetings during the healthcare debate. There is plenty of video of those meetings. Yet today I hear people responding to comments about those activities as lies pushed on us by the liberal media.

So, I can see plenty in the world around me to support the notion that the Jedi could fall that fast.

Now, on to the comments about the papreless universe. While Lucas went to great lengths to show us a used and lived in universe, the lack of paper, plastic or other temporary notes/markings broke the spell for me. I worked for too many years in a room that was full of electronic communication equipment. Temporary changes in routing assignments were always taking place and notes would be placed near the routing switcher touch pad and/or switching computer advising (reminding) everyone of the change. Other changes led to continual adding changes writen on Avery Labels to the patch bay labels. I don't remember seeing anything like that in any of the Star Wars movies. One of the movies in which I felt it was done right was the largely forgotten Brainstorm. Just look at how notes accumulate on the equipment in that lab. That's how it is around electronic equipment and I shouldn't expect it to have been different in the SW universe.
103. Flavio Scramignon
That is a nice point you made there but consider. If you think about writting and the "technology" involved in doing so, it is not less fancy than video and holograms and those gadgets. Keeping writting text also requires lots of effort and a huge technological background. Books get old and need replacement. We tend to think of books as the "natural way" of keeping information without realizing they are thenselves a huge leap in technology. Or maybe the people in the star wars universe realized, for the good of their planets, that destroing trees to keep information is just wrong.
104. Zack Patterson
If you only look at the films, and none of the EU, which the writer seemingly has, then the point is valid. But reading just one series of EU books would immediately debunk all of this.

One other thing that he fails to point out is that all 6 movies take place under the government of two oppressive governments, in which free media would not be welcome, and they only take place over roughly 40 years of history.

While I don't think the galactic populace would have physical printed text, I do think that written language, beyond that of basic function, especially in the language referred to as 'common,' would exist, but likely not to the extent of our society.
William Fettes
105. Wolfmage
Oh, also there is a role for the written word in Star Wars via flimsy

So the thesis isn't quite accurate.
Joshua Cohen
106. aphex
Oh, also there is a role for the written word in Star Wars via flimsy

So the thesis isn't quite accurate.
Except that it wasn't claimed that there was no role for the writen word in the Star Wars universe, merely that most people were likely illiterate.
107. mattgg
Star Trek had reading. At least the Next Generation had Jean Luc reading for pleasure quite a bit.
108. Sebatian Michaelis
Princess Leia is quite literate. In fact, if you read the first Star Wars novel, it was supposedly based on her writing (the Journal of the Whills).
109. Alchemist91
I like the author's comments on literacy and democracy--some insightful thoughts with regards to the interconnections of liberty and literacy, to be sure.

I should point out that a number of characters in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire are literate (e.g., Tyrion Lannister, Eddard Stark, etc.), and the Starks themselves are dismayed when their library is burned down.

With regard to the film adapations of Star Wars, these are more action-oriented, so having characters sit down and discuss the latest galactic literature is unlikely to appeal to the viewing audience. In my case, I just assume that there is a literary culture, but that it is secondary to the central story depicted in the films.
110. David Brin the author
Many of you know that I've been somewhat critical of the Star Wars universe (which I started out adoring, after The Empire Strikes Back.) My indictments of this down-spiraling mess include infamous denunciations in Salon Magazine, which led to my being the "prosecutor" in the wonderfully fun debate volume STAR WARS ON TRIAL. (Defense counsel was one of Lucas's novelizers, Matthew Stover. We had a terrific time calling witnesses and cross-examining them... one of the most hilarious nonfiction books in years!)

Hence I was pleased to see this fresh perspective on the dismal condition of humanity and the Republic, by Ryan Britt, who maintains from evidence in all the movies -- and the novels as well -- that Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate.

Indeed, what likely happens in Episode Seven? (After Return of the Jedi.) Simple. The droids get tired of working for morons and do what they should have done from the very beginning.

With cordial regards,
David Brin

PS... all you Yoda fans out there... name for me ONE time when the nasty little oven mitt says something that is unambiguously "wise." Instead of faux eastern-mysterious and domineering and always secretive and grouchy, can you name one time that he is ever even helpful? An archetype of persistently awful, nasty and evil behavior (he sends the Jedi into a suicide charge and then instantly replaces them with his new, more obedient clone army), Yoda is no role model!

And now that I have provoked wrath from all the Lucas fans out there... be sure to vote! ;-) and here's to good science fiction.
111. Jonathan Andrew Sheen
Frankly, I think you're giving the society of the Empire and the Old Republic a hell of a lot more thought than George Lucas ever did, and I'm not at all sure Lucas' galactic civilization can support that much thought.
112. Joseph Lott
@ 111 Oh I am sure, that lucas never did put that much thought.
I think it can be said how ever that while not everyone is totally illiterate most are 'functionally' illeterate in the star wars universe.
My wife and I watched the original triology not to long ago, and for her, it was the first time. She remarked 'isn't intresting how they can't seem to manage their own technology, they need droids to communicate with it.'.
I certainly would agree that this society in the SW universe has progressed so far, that they have long given up the need to read and write, or even understand the details of their technology. There will of course be a few elite who do, and certainly certain techs might be known to certain people, but mostly these people are living in ingnornce of a world left for them.
113. Simon K. Templar
This is typical only of someone who looks at Star Wars in the scope as narrow as the movies alone, yet if you read the expanded universe literature, or EVEN at least the sourcebooks relating to the movies themselves, you'll realize that half the stuff you wrote here isn't true.
For one, there is a system of writing called aurebesh, and most humans and aliens used this on a day to day basis. It was the galactic trade writing system, not to mention what you'd mostly see on computer interfaces and control panels.
1. Amidala predicted the invasion through deductive reasoning. Blockade + communications disruption = the Trade Federation probably doesn't want you to send out a help signal before they choke you into submission. By the time the invasion had even begun, however, it was all over the holonet, starting from Coruscant.

2. Your argument about holograms and holocrons is absolute bullshit. For one, holograms (aka. holocommunication) was the primary method of conveying video messages. For what reason, it isn't specified in the movies. A holoCRON is a holographic chronicle. It's a medium type used by jedi and sith to store vast amounts of information. Think of it as an advanced type of database, and quite consequentially, the jedi had holobooks in their archives. This is visible in the movies.
Finally, considering art... you haven't the slightest idea on this subject. If you didn't realize, Palpatine attended a Mon Calamari opera in EP3. And that's only a movie-obvious example. You are visibly completely illiterate on the subject of the Star Wars universe if you insist on writing asinine stuff like this, your knowledge not spanning very far from the perception of a drooling fanboy.
Bruce Baugh
115. BruceB
I hope this doesn't come across as dog-piling, Ryan, but...

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 2:
Lucy thought she had never been in a nicer place. It was a little, dry, clean cave of reddish stone with a carpet on the floor and two little chairs ("one for me and one for a friend," said Mr Tumnus) and a table and a dresser and a mantelpiece over the fire and above that a picture of an old Faun with a grey beard. In one corner there was a door which Lucy thought must lead to Mr Tumnus's bedroom, and on one wall was a shelf full of books. Lucy looked at these while he was setting out the tea things. They had titles like The Life and Letters of Silenus or Nymphs and Their Ways or Men, Monks and Gamekeepers; a Study in Popular Legend or Is Man a Myth?
Personal and institutional libraries in use show up elsewhere, too, but that's the very first mention (in order of publication) of reading in Narnia.
117. Aziza
I try not to pay any attention to Star Wars, but I sure do hate illiterate people. They're so boring, and pretty much anyone who types like - well, like most people - I will just refuse to ever talk to again. Better to burn bridges than waste time with imbeciles.
119. MinkyUrungus
How did I know an article like this was gonna bring out the 'spergs?

120. Dennis Cutter
OK here on good old earth we have lost the use of many languages that are gone for good as the last people speaking them or writting them are gone. Look at the Eqyptians. They lost the use of their own language for centries at a time. Humans can do a great mamy things using only spoken language that can be very complicated as long it is passed down from one person to the next. With machines taking over the task of our storage of knowladge you would think we could escape the lost knowladge issue but data is lost or not thought important or obsolete and is lost all the time even now.
121. Sadako
A 'paperless galaxy' isn't a terrible thing, and doesn't imply illiteracy. #102 points out how even on our planet, which has a relatively high worldwide adult literacy rate of 84%, people can have a plethora of different political views, be completely ignorant about various subjects, and have their opinions swayed based on what media they choose to take in--and what information their government allows them to see. (Hell, North Korea has 99% adult literacy, but the objectivity of what they're allowed to read is going to be 0%).

Think about how much it costs in materials, time, energy, and space to get a book from the printer onto your bookshelf. Paper is a delicate, heavy, and costly medium to publish on, and if you need to make an update to a book, it requires reprinting the whole thing and reissuing it. It's very inefficient, and even moreso when you're talking about shipping to a whole galaxy. But in the SW universe, they could instantly transmit an entire library of e-books across the galaxy, download them onto their space-Kindles and read them while they're flying in spaceships for hours on their way from planet to planet--just because we only ever see them playing round holographic monster chess and doing lightsaber practice doesn't mean that that's the ONLY thing anyone ever does on long space trips.

I'm assuming that paper went out of use thousands of years ago in favor of ubiquitous tablet-like readers and re-writable digital storage media. Paper would probably be a luxury good, but paper isn't the only way of distributing the written word, even on our planet.
122. nagurski
If a nine year old slave from Tatooine can read, I don't assume its all that rare of a skill. If you don't remember, during the space battle in Episode 1, R2D2 spoke to Anakin several times and Anakin read the translation on the screen before responding to him. It is completly ridiculous to assume that in a spacefaring society where just about everyone can fly a starfighter that illiteracy would be a widespread issue.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment