On Thursday I was discussing over text with a colleague the latest episode of the new Book of Boba Fett series on Disney+, when he said he could not wait for the Obi Wan series and season 3 of the Mandalorian.
He then said: “So many Star Warses.”
I had a lightbulb moment of mischievousness and replied: “But would it not have been better if the Sith did not exist so we would just have Star Peace in that galaxy far far away.“
The reply to that was a face palm emoticon. Haha.
But this does get me thinking. After all, we are not going to pay for movie tickets or Disney subscriptions to watch Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru happily petitioning the Emperor for child support payments from Darth Vader so that Luke can drive around in his land speeder and stay another couple of harvests whilst they talk him out of going to Space Academy off world. Star Wars sells tickets and Star Peace is, well, boring.
Ever since the mythically blind poet Homer composed The Illiad 2800 years ago, our culture has been hardwired to appreciate what we now call ‘Space Opera’.
That consists of what existentially is epic theatre, with spectacular grand scale battle scenes and an agonistic (to borrow from Nietzsche – you can tell from a lot that I am writing here that I have read a lot of him) struggle between two opposing sides.
Homer and the later Athenian tragedians did not really think of good versus evil in those struggles – it was a struggle between opposing heroes fighting in circumstances that had been decreed by the Gods. The Greeks could appreciate that just because someone was their enemy, that did not diminish their Arete (warrior excellence) and worthiness to be considered a hero.
Most early kingdoms and city states saw matters in terms of a primeval struggle for success against their neighbours and rivals – a struggle for land, slaves, resources. Their enemies in war were not particularly different from them, Greek city states being frequently fratricidal for example, but they were not evil.
I believe that the idea of good versus evil is one which comes to us from Judeo-Christianity, and which itself was significantly influenced by the moral dualism of Zoroastrianism, that Judaism was significantly exposed to when the Persians defeated the Babylonians and ended the Jewish captivity in Babylon.
When you read the Old Testament, much of it is interpreted through a Zoroastrian lens of good versus evil (ie the people chosen by God versus the enemies of God). When you take away that lens, such as when you read Josepheus’s Jewish Antiquities, it reverts back to a historical record of the struggle of a particular people with no special claim to righteousness successfully defeating their local rivals.
The destruction of Carthage by Rome at the end of the third Punic War was not seen by the Romans as a particularly just cause, and their general, Scipio Amelianus, wept as the city burned.
Compare that to the Biblical account of the destruction of Jericho. We get the same total annihilation (except for the city’s traitors who are rewarded for seeing the justness of the Israelite cause), but Joshua does not seem to have any moral reservations. He is, after all, when we see him through this Zoroastrian lens, on a mission from God.
So when the Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity and the later Emperor Theodosius made it mandatory throughout the Roman Empire, we all became Christians and our hard wiring changed somewhat. We not only wanted our stories to be epic and heroic, but we wanted them to feature great eschatological conflicts between good and evil.
We have had some great epic predecessors to Space Opera since then. Le Mort D’Arthur springs to mind, and The Song Of Roland. In more recent times, the masterpiece by Tolkien. Or even perhaps Tolstoy’s nationalistic interpretation of the Napoleonic Wars, War and Peace?
What they have in common is that there are epic grand scale battles, and there is a clash between good and evil, which mostly ends with good triumphant.
Living in this modern age of rocket ships and nuclear power, the sky is no longer the limit for our imaginations. We want our epic stories to involve space battles on a huger scale than those terrestrial ones our ancestors enjoyed. Hence Space Opera.
Star Wars is the best example of Space Opera. Another great example is Battlestar Galactica, which (particularly in its 1970s version) could be considered a retelling of Xenophon’s memoir Anabasis.
We enjoy these stories, because we are hard wired to try and make sense of conflict, which has been part of the human condition since we came down from the trees (or left Eden – you decide), in terms of good versus evil.
The gaping problem with this is that history, and warfare, is rarely in reality a case of good versus evil.
In early times it was a case of the struggle for dominance and control of resources between neighbouring peoples and political units.
In recent history, it is usually a case of ambitious and greedy men with the levers of power trying to either line their pockets at the expense of others, such as in the colonisation of large parts of the world, or to extend their own dominion for the sake of power. The whole idea of good versus evil is frequently used to justify such aggressiveness, whether it is to spread their religion to non-believers to ‘save’ them, or because of the more modern religion – political ideology.
[As a side note, remember poor Finland in WW2 – lumped in with the Axis Powers even though all it wanted to do was to mostly successfully defend itself against an aggressive totalitarian state led by a murderous tyrant who had used the cover of war to occupy and conquer several of its own near neighbours. Finland was not a country of evil aggressors, and Stalin was not one of the good guys, despite eventually being forced to oppose Hitler.]
I will enjoy all the various new Star Wars series that are about to be on offer. But the whole idea behind our enjoyment of Space Opera relates to a part of our human nature that is not exactly reassuring, that we are somehow morally better than some of our fellow humans for some reason, and that our aggression against them is justified.