“Hope can not save them!” – Iden Versio
Warning: Potential spoilers for various novels including Aftermath: Empire’s End, Lost Stars, and Inferno Squad.
When I was a kid I knew one thing was true about Star Wars– the Rebellion was good and the Empire was bad. It truly was a cut and dry issue for me. If you had told me back then that there could be decent or honorable folks in the Empire, I’d have told you you were crazy. That said, it’s funny how our beliefs and ideals change as we get older and we realize not everything is black and white.
Recent Star Wars media has been exploring what it’s like to serve in the Empire and I believe it’s actually been a great boon to the franchise. Let’s explore this idea a little more, shall we?
“We need to demonstrate martial ability. The Empire is a hammer striking down disorder, not a knife slipped between unsuspecting ribs.” – Rae Sloane
While the old Legends Expanded Universe definitely had what TV Tropes dubs “villain episodes,” (e.g. Darth Bane, Darth Plagueis) the new canon has had enough purely Imperial-focused stories for me to start thinking that it’s intentional. Off the top of my head we’ve had Lost Stars, Lords of the Sith, Thrawn, Marvel’s Darth Vader (2 series total) the recent Battlefront II tie-in Inferno Squad and a number of short stories. That’s a lot of material in the span of 3+ years!
Now I know a lot of old-timers will say “why can’t we go back to a time when the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad?” We could, sure, but a little concept called character development suffers when you offer villains that are one-dimensional, mustache-twirling caricatures. Morality in real life can be a complex issue, so why shouldn’t modern fiction follow this same trend?
I think there’s a very good reason to include sympathetic Imperials in the Star Wars franchise. It is entirely possible to have good intentions and still fight for a cause that isn’t just. The new canon has had a good spread of both well-intentioned extremists and run-of-the mill Imperials (or some who blend both categories.) Most of these Imps simply believe that the Rebels are anarchists and terrorists looking to destroy their way of life.
Ciena Ree from Lost Stars is a good example of this mentality. She was born on Jelucan — a backwater Outer Rim planet that (in her eyes) the Empire raised to prominence and technological modernity. She joined the Empire because she felt it was the right thing to do. Of course, she later realized that truly honorable people were a rarity in the Imperial ranks and she struggled to rationalize atrocities such as the destruction of Alderaan. The conflict within herself and with her heel-face-turned Rebel boyfriend made for an excellent story.
Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is very similar in that she had a childhood incident which inspired gratitude toward the Empire. Unlike Ciena, Sloane’s belief in the true Empire never wavered despite her bearing witness to the destruction of the second Death Star and seeing dishonorable acts committed against the fledgling New Republic by her former boss, Gallius Rax. Sloane carried these ideals with her until well after the Battles of Endor and Jakku and she became a key player in the founding of the First Order.
Finally, I’d like to mention Iden Versio, the star of Christie Golden’s recent and excellent novel Inferno Squad and also the playable character for the upcoming Battlefront II‘s (yes, Imperial-focused) campaign. Iden shares similarities with Ciena and Rae in that she is very pro-Imperial and laser-focused on her goals. However, unlike those two, Iden was actually born into the Empire and its way of thinking through her father, Admiral Garrick Versio. If you’re planning on playing through BFII’s canon post-Return of the Jedi story, I would definitely recommend picking up the aforementioned novel. (In the meantime I’ll just keep looking forward to Iden and Luke’s meeting as teased in the trailer. Talk about an antipodean clash of ideals!)
I really didn’t want to make this a character analysis piece so I tried to keep the previous segments brief . That said, I did want to illustrate how it is possible to have “heroic” archetypes on the antagonistic side and still have them be relatable human beings. Maybe it shows how much I’ve evolved as a person that I really enjoy these Empire-centric stories as much as the traditional good guy tales.
These stories do a great job in convincing me why these characters follow an obviously (to us) evil regime. When information and media via the HoloNet is censored so heavily, of course our Imperial characters will believe that the Rebellion is just a group of rabble-rousers. Perhaps their ignorance only makes them more tragic. That’s what I believe.
That’s all for now! Hope you enjoyed it! I apologize for the scarcity of my posts the last few months. Life is just crazy lately.
*Honorable and obligatory mention for Timothy Zahn and the absolutely delightful April 2017 novel Thrawn. I wanted to mention the titular Chiss Grand Admiral with the other Imps that I’ve enjoyed, but I didn’t want to bloat my character mentions. Seriously though. Read it!
**Ironically the New Republic ended up being nearly as corrupt as the Empire although for completely different reasons.