Because the Star Wars films are largely thought of in the “pure entertainment” department, we tend to gloss over little scraps of information that fill out the galaxy and make it seem lived-in. Which is just fine for daily viewing, but what happens when you take a closer look at certain scraps? It’s not exactly pretty. Sure, the Empire Strikes Back features torture and dueling and epic defeat all over the place, but that, as they say—
Well, it ain’t the half of it.
Droids Get Restraining Bolts and Memory Wipes for Originality
Droids are workers for biologically advanced populations of the galaxy, but they’re clearly also sentient. R2-D2 and C-3PO have their own thoughts and feelings, they worry for themselves and others, they show extraordinary bravery even when the taller of the two would rather they didn’t. They don’t do this because they’re programmed to—they have developed that way. The suggestion is that R2 and 3PO have managed an abundance of personality due to their lack of mind wipes, something that other droids are forced to regularly undergo.
So people in the Star Wars universe prevent droids from obtaining individuality and agency by regularly hitting their reset buttons. Sort of like giving a human being an amnesia-inducing concussion every time they show signs of an emerging personality.
Then there’s the restraining bolt system. Most droids are fitted with them because if they’re not, they might run away, much in the same manner that R2 does at the beginning of Episode IV. Why would a droid want to run away? There are a few possible reasons, the most likely of them being that 1) they do not wish to do the work tasked to them, or 2) they would prefer not to be owned. Which clearly doesn’t matter to anyone. Droids have no say in how they are used unless they manage to break away from humans, which isn’t an easy feat when they are a bought and sold commodity. There are also areas of society where people hold specific prejudices toward droids, exemplified by the Mos Eisley Cantina bartender and his insistence that he doesn’t “serve their kind” at his bar.
Interestingly, beyond the beginning of A New Hope, it doesn’t seem that R2 and 3PO endure any more mind wipes or are forced to wear the bolts. They effectively become part of Luke, Han and Leia’s family. (In the Expanded Universe books R2 spends most of his time as Luke’s constant companion while he trains Jedi, and 3PO ends up one of many exasperated nannies of the Solo kids.) It makes the state of droid-kind all the more unsettling—some humans many have good relationships with their droids, but it’s not as though they think much on how others are treated. They’re either a friend to their owners or little more than a computer with hands.
Jedi Don’t Free Slaves
This is sort of the scariest implication of the prequel trilogy. When Qui-Gon Jinn volunteers to help Anakin escape his life and join the ranks of the Jedi, he does so by reminding his mother Shmi that he “didn’t come here to free slaves.” Okay, sure—there’s a big convoluted galactic crisis happening and he’s currently on a mission. But why couldn’t he just come back later to free Tatooine’s slaves?
Looks like it’s outside his jurisdiction.
Whoa, now. So this is what happens when you tie the Jedi to the central galactic government; everyone outside that happy band of planets gets lost and forgotten. Never mind the fact that this is exactly what Jedi should be doing. Once the conflict on Naboo is resolved, a whole troop of them should be racing over to perform Operation Watto’s Recompense. Obi-Wan tells Luke that he remembers the Jedi keeping peace and justice in the Old Republic, but justice evidently didn’t extend to “people the Republic told us not to care about.”
This choice has the added detriment of its effect on Anakin. All of his Dark Side potential comes to the forefront because of his mother’s death, and his slaughter of the Tusken Raiders might be the point where his eventual turn becomes inevitable. The Jedi knew they were taking a risk when they allowed Anakin to join their ranks, specifically because he was old enough to have developed emotional attachments—but the only attachment he had beyond his instant crush on Padmé was Shmi Skywalker. Worried about the kid having trouble letting go? Maybe just nip over to the Outer Rim, free his mom and set her up on some nice, restful planet for life. At least never seeing her again won’t sting quite so much.
But they didn’t. And he became a Sith Lord and murdered every last one of them. All because Qui-Gon Jinn didn’t come to Tatooine to free slaves.
Ewoks Will Eat You
A large portion of Star Wars fandom harbors an intense dislike or outright hatred of Return of the Jedi for one specific reason: Ewoks. Tiny, cuddly bears that defeat the evil Empire with trip ropes and aerial gliders and arrows. It’s not actually a very interesting discussion to have because we get it already—superior firepower, whatever. It’s time to put that hatchet down and open your arms to Wicket and his fluffy brown fur.
Also, did you miss the part where they EAT PEOPLE?
It’s apparently one of the easiest things to forget, but the Ewoks weren’t kidding about serving up Han at a banquet in honor of God 3PO. He was the main course and Luke was going to be a side dish, a sort of potato-flavored Jedi hash, if you will. Cute joke watching Han try to blow out torches and all, but if Leia hadn’t come out at just the right moment, she might have dined on her boyfriend and brother without ever knowing it.
Need more proof? There’s a set of makeshift drums during the victory celebration back at Ewok base camp. They’re the helmets of Imperial troopers. Where are their heads, everyone? Wee bears probably didn’t just run around stealing the helmets of dead men—those Ewoks made use of all that armor before roasting the occupants and storing dried bits of them in hollowed out tree trunks for the winter.
You will never un-know this. I’m sorry.
The Clone Army is Probably All Dead and No One Ever Cared
An order for a clone army is received on Kamino in a complicated plot by Palpatine to have an expendable army right when he needs it most. The Republic adopts their services without realizing that they’re playing right into his hands, fooling even Yoda in the process. (Seriously?) They take the clones to rescue some comrades in arms and the Clone Wars begin.
And what happened to these troops? Well, many of them served and died in the wars, and no one really gave them a say in the process. They were bred and trained to serve a purpose, and making choices beyond that would have been a titanic glitch for Kaminoan wallets. We have to assume that all clones are brainwashed into a sense that they are fulfilling their life’s calling by doing whatever it is they were programmed to do. They also likely have a sense of camaraderie with the other clones, seeing as they are all effectively the same person. A perfect unit.
Here’s a question that arose after the prequels were released—why aren’t all the stormtroopers in the original trilogy clones, too? Shouldn’t they be? A lot of extra clones were manufactured and they were an automatically loyal force. Seems a shame to chuck the lot. Well, for one, it’s smart for the Emperor to cultivate an army from willing participants; it gains a lot of good will when the people you are governing offer to serve on your behalf. Palpatine was clearly concerned about appearances for some time, since he doesn’t bother to dissolve the Galactic Senate until A New Hope. Having an army that wasn’t conscripted might have eased the fear of some politicians over the years.
But we also can’t forget one important factor in the creation of the clone army: accelerated growth. The clones that we see in the film are full-grown adults who have matured in less than half the time it would take for a normal human. Did they continue to age at the same rapid rate? If that’s the case then regardless of their service, most of the clones would likely be dead in another ten or twenty years. Did they get a good retirement plan when they were too old to fight, or were they simply put out to pasture? Did anyone even ask?
Well, no one did when the Republic took on cloned services in the first place, so their chances aren’t looking good.
The Naboo Are Awful to Share A Planet With
The home of Luke and Leia’s mom is, at first glance, a bastion of art, architecture, and natural beauty. Probably a lot of other awesome things. The Naboo have a unique culture, one that elects a teenaged female monarch every several years to lead them in all planetary affairs. They enjoy a certain amount of pageantry in their lives, as evidenced by the sleek and thoughtful design that goes into everyday objects and the elaborate wardrobe their queen is expected to wear.
They also share the planet with another species that they deliberately choose to ignore.
The tiff between the Naboo and the Gungans wouldn’t seem like such a big deal if it were more clear why the rift between them was created in the first place. We have no way of knowing why Gungan leader Boss Nass believes that the Naboo consider themselves smarter than his people. And we have no idea why the Naboo would prefer to avoid the Gungans. We don’t even know how long this hostility has been going between their peoples. Luckily, Queen Amidala saves the day, pointing out that they have a better chance of withstanding the Trade Federation army by combining forces. So it’s no big deal, right?
Except remember how Jar Jar becomes the Gungan senator in Episode II? Remember how there is clearly no Gungan senator at all in Episode I?
Basically, the Gungans have zero political representation until patching things up with the Naboo. How is this remotely an okay thing? Even if they are at odds with the Naboo, they live on a Republic planet—an ambassador should have contacted them about their planned involvement in galactic affairs on behalf of their people at the very least. Looks like you only get the red carpet treatment once you make friends with the nice, cultured humans. That’s kind of gross.
The Empire Was Only For Humans
Novels go on to suggest that the Imperials used Wookiees as slave labor and worse, but we can discern the Empire’s human-only policy simply by observing their forces. They are all human, all male, and all white. The Empire still takes it upon themselves to govern alien populations (and frequently murder them as they did to the Jawas who sold 3PO and R2), but never allows them to join the ranks. All armor is designed for humanoid forms and there is a homogeny inherent in the troops—hence Leia’s famous, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” line. Luke can’t see out of the helmet in part because he’s not the sort of person the Emperor wanted wearing it.
And how did this go over in the Imperial Senate for so many years? Many systems in the Star Wars galaxy contain planets with no humans in the general populace. Were they neglected? Cut off? Made to sit in silence while their peoples were policed and controlled by countless soldiers in faceless white armor?
We see a variety of peoples and species interacting in the prequels, but it is likely that those interactions became scare during the Empire’s time. The only places where mingling was inevitable were urban areas where many different species cohabit, the spaceports and planets like Coruscant.
The Rebels, however, were an integrated group who worked with everyone. Admiral Ackbar led the attack on the second Death Star; Leia was responsible for smuggling the plans of the first. They had access to a network of Bothan spies, they made friends with Ewoks and enlisted their help in the final fight. Though the original trilogy could have benefitted from far more diversity (in terms of human actors), the picture that the Rebel Alliance paints is telling—diversity is what strengthened their cause, made them capable of defeating the Emperor.
Still, it must have been a nightmare for non-humans surviving the Empire’s forces for the eighteen years before they were overthrown.
Any other areas of the Star Wars galaxy that gave you pause? I’m sure there are plenty more out there to dissect!
Emmet Asher-Perrin is really not cool with how droids are treated. She has written essays for the newly released Doctor Who and Race and Queers Dig Time Lords. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.