It’s called Star Wars. Not Star Trek, not Star Peace, not Star Friends, not even Star Tales. This gargantuan fictional universe is labeled with a title that guarantees the ability to travel space… and near-constant warfare.
We can debate the relative okay-ness of this focus from a moral standpoint, sure. But in reality, I think that Star Wars is accidentally teaching us the greatest lesson of all: It’s depicting what a universe looks like when you dedicate all of your research and technological advancements to war and destruction, and unwittingly showing us what an incredibly dark place that universe is. Because the Star Wars universe is a fun fictional playground for sure, a great place to build weird and wonderful stories… but it’s not a good place. Not by a longshot.
If there’s one thing that the Star Wars universe is super into, it’s creating bigger, louder, faster ways to kill people. The Jedi’s lightsabers are far more effective than any plain sword—a laser beam blade means that cutting off an opponents limbs or slicing them in half takes practically no pressure or force (teehee) on behalf of the person wielding the weapon. They never get dulled or dirty, and they can also deflect blaster bolts, which can be ricocheted back at the person firing them. Blasters carry power packs that move well beyond extended magazine territory. Many of the more common ships come equipped with weapons, and when they don’t, it’s often incredibly easy to modify them for that purpose. (Part of the reason people were so fond of YT-1300 freighters like the Millennium Falcon was because they were so easy to alter and customize, as Han and Lando would both attest.) And if something handheld or ship-sized won’t do, that’s fine, there are moon-sized ships with lasers that can blow up whole planets! Planets with lasers that can blow up whole star systems! Because we need that, obviously! Death droids and armed starfighters and space bombs are definitely not enough.
Someone might take this opportunity to point out that there’s plenty of other fascinating technology in the Star Wars universe. But this is where the point of the argument comes clearer than ever—because all technology in the galaxy that’s not created to either perpetuate or facilitate battle is garbage.
Allow me to explain.
In the Star Wars Universe, technology designed for war is highly valuable, and usually of higher quality than the ad hoc, poorly devised, and in some cases actively derided tech available for other purposes. Nowhere is this more clear than with everyone’s favorite duo of the series: C-3PO and R2-D2. Threepio is a marvel when you consider all that he can do, but his expertise is geared toward communication and diplomacy as a protocol droid. The fact that Threepio makes it possible to land virtually anywhere in the galaxy and communicate (as he does with the Ewoks when the Rebels get caught on Endor’s moon) should be a cause for constant praise. Instead, Threepio is treated like an annoying hindrance no matter where he tries to make himself useful. But Artoo—along with other various astromechs from the R3s all the way up to the more current BB models—is beloved by everyone. He’s the handiest tin can on this side of the multiverse. Unsurprisingly, astromechs are created largely for the purpose of enacting repairs on various ships and copiloting starfighters. Starfighters. You know. Tiny war ships.
The reason why Artoo and Beebee are so handy is because they were created for the purpose of helping pilots maintain their ships, even while under attack; we see Artoo do this constantly, from his run with Luke on the first Death Star to saving Padmé and her cadre from the Trade Federation blockade when they flee Naboo, clinging to the hull of her ship while it’s in space flight. Their droids brains are capable of intense problem-solving that most other droids don’t ever get the opportunity to experience. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that Lando’s buddy L3-37 started her life out as an R3 unit, later adding components from other droid brains into her own programming along with her own custom code. Droids that do work on the battlefield do have variable intelligence, but that’s down to purpose—the battledroids that the Separatist armies use are likely deliberately dim, making it easy to order them to die.
Then there’s the armor and arms issue, or more specifically the fact that everything distinct about the Star Wars galaxy is often represented by those two categories. The Mandalorian people (who have been featured heavily in The Clone Wars and Rebels series) have an incredible planet and rich culture known the galaxy over. But the real reason why they’re known best? Their iconic beskar armor. Said armor is not only unbelievably durable, it’s also often kitted out with a ridiculous array of weaponry, including wrist lasers, flamethrowers, rockets, jetpacks, grappling lines, blades, and more. The armor is so much a part of Mandalorian identity that when Duchess Satine Kryze turns Mandalore onto a more pacifistic road during the Clone Wars, the backlash she faces from various corners is nearly constant. Eventually, the Duchess is murdered by Darth Maul, and her pacifist message seems to die out with her; we can see by the time of the Rebel Alliance that Mandalore has largely retained its warrior ways, and Mandalorian combat armor is every bit as essential to their way of life as it ever was.
This is true for the majority of the galaxy—peoples and groups are known for their armaments above all things. We know the Mandalorians by their combat armor; the Jedi by their lightsabers; the Sith by their often red lightsabers. The Sand People of Tatooine have the gaderffii (or gaffi stick); the Wookiees have the bowcaster; the Gungans have distinct plasma weapons; even the Naboo, who pride themselves on artful design, use that design sense to create beautiful weapons, from Padmé’s small silver blaster to their sleek, canary yellow starfighters.
On top of all this, technology with seemingly benign programming is often fitted with some form of destructive capacity. In Star Wars: Resistance we find a droid named 4D-M1N, who performs many day-to-day administrative tasks for Captain Doza, and also occasionally acts as a guardian to his daughter, Torra. When there is an unannounced guest in Torra’s room, Fourdee activates into what Torra calls “attack mode”, and it takes a great deal of wheedling and finally a stern order from Torra to get her to power down. Remember, Fourdee is primarily a droid who works as an assistant, but she still had to be outfitted with defense systems and knowledge of how to fend off intruders. She’s part executive aide, part security guard—because in the Star Wars universe, even if it has a very clear noncombat function, if it doesn’t also have lethal capacity, then what is it even for?
Which brings us to the other side of this issue: Most technologies in the Star Wars universe that don’t have some capability of being used in war… well, they kinda just suck.
There are so many areas where it seems like average Star Wars tech should outdo itself given how advanced the military-grade technology is, but in practice it doesn’t appear to make much difference at all. Repair droids who aren’t astromechs—like the pit droid crews used in podracing—have nowhere near the sophistication of their battle-ready cousins. Communication devices like comlinks are often handheld for no good reason. (Armor helmets have built-in comms, it can’t be that hard, y’all.) There’s also the issue of the Death Star’s “stolen data tapes” (tapes, for Life Day’s sake), the plans that are so key to the Rebellion’s success. Which are somehow being kept at a facility where important Imperial schematics and documents are on record in a library tower that must be manually accessed by a claw machine, housed on a tape that looks like it would fit happily into a VCR.
And then there’s the pointed lack of adequate women’s healthcare that arguably causes the rise of the Empire single-handedly—after all, Padmé’s death in childbirth doesn’t seem like it should be a common occurrence in a universe where cybernetic limbs (and cloning!) are readily available. But it’s fine, because there’s a droid babbling nonsense soothing sounds at her while it scoops up her newborn babies and she lies there sobbing. This is something out of a sad historical drama, but it’s happening in a fictional universe full of FTL travel and laser guns. We can cite the period of time when Star Wars was created all we want, but in order to find an “in universe” explanation for these ridiculous affectations, we have to assume that people are actively refusing to create the systems needed to make the galaxy run more smoothly because they have no incentive to do so. The money is in finding ways to blow stuff up and (maybe) surviving being blown up yourself.
Even life-saving software doesn’t seem high on anyone’s lists. On both the Death Star and the Colossus platform in Resistance, people enter areas where trash is disposed—one of them a compactor, the other an incinerator—and find themselves nearly murdered by the apparatuses when they activate. This means that these trash disposers, which have entrance points to permit living beings in and out of them, have no software for the purpose of detecting certain types of life and powering down on detecting that presence. It would seem the most obvious type of software to have in area so casually dangerous…and yet there’s nothing whatsoever. The same goes for the big ol’ door in Jabba’s rancor pit—the idea that Luke Skywalker can just hit the control panel with the rock and a giant metal slab comes right down on the creature’s neck tells you a whole lot about a galaxy where sliding automatic doors are everywhere. This brand of negligence seems intolerable, the sort of oversight that high-powered executives would lose their jobs over, but no one is ever surprised when these things happen.
We know why they’re not surprised. It’s because these things are commonplace. Because you can expect to find hundreds of items to help you kill someone for the price of a couple lunches, but you can’t trust a door not to behead you.
In fiction, we can laugh about these little exploits and call them “adventures,” but in reality the Star Wars universe is a place where the only thought, care, and money available is poured into warfare and death. And it makes the galaxy an unforgiving and perilous place, where many people are struggling to eat, breathe and survive. It may be cool to look at, but it’s not the sort of environment anyone should be striving for—in fact, this lived-in landscape is something that we should be avoiding at all cost. While we may all want our own lightsabers on any given day of the week, Star Wars itself is a cautionary tale.
Originally published in December 2018.