The Conversation

To Make Star Wars Great Again Bring Back Black Markets and Oppressive Government

If you haven't seen it, a design company in Portland has created a video called 4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again. They've also set up a website and a petition which they are hoping 1 million people will sign.

I like the video. It's very well produced and I'm sure the creators will get a lot of traffic. That said, I think you can boil all of these rules down to one underlying concept. The Star Wars universe was driven by a realistic sense of capitalist enterprise, specifically the idea of secondary and black markets that exist outside the Empire's control.

Without the underlying gradient of economic necessity almost none of the connections in the first 30 minutes of Star Wars would happen. Luke Skywalker lives on a moisture farm in the middle of nowhere. Early in Episode IV, Luke purchases two droids. Why? Because they are needed for work on the farm. Now what Luke wants to do is go to Toshi station to pick up some power converters, but he can't because he has to work and get the droids ready for work.

By the way, Luke's family buys the droids from the Jawas who are essentially junk collectors making a meager existence off whatever they can collect in the desert, fix up and resell. They are all capitalists trying to survive in a tough environment.

When he does have spare time, Luke spends it flying his beat up T-16 Skyhopper and his beat up X-34 Landspeeder. The reason his stuff is old is not because there is no new stuff in the Star Wars universe, it's old because Luke is broke. Used stuff that he rebuilds himself is all he can afford.

And when one of those droids goes missing, Luke has to do whatever he can to find it, even risking his life out among the sand people to bring it back. His family can't afford to have it disappear.

Han Solo smuggles contraband beneath the floorboards of the Millennium Falcon for money. Han also borrowed money from a loan shark named Jabba who sent a thug named Greedo to collect. Han shoots him because he can't pay what he owes and it's the only way to stay alive. He offer the bartender a coin to make up for the mess.

When they arrive in the "wretched hive of scum and villainy," Luke sells his X-34 landspeeder in order to raise money for the trip off world. He tells Obi-wan "Ever since the XP-38 came out, they just aren't in demand." Get that? There is a brand new landspeeder model out there, we just never see it. Capitalism is assumed as an important reality throughout this story.

When Han, Chewie, Luke and Obi-wan finally meet for the first time it's to negotiate a price. Luke thinks the price is too high but Han counters that his ship is very fast and he doesn't ask questions. Obi-wan is willing to pay some now and some later. It's a grey market business deal.

Now, contrary to the suggestion made in "4 Rules" everything on the Death Star is squeaky clean and shiny. There is no bartering on the Death Star just new shiny soldiers on a new shiny planet killer. Unlike the good guys, the bad guys seem to have unlimited cash, probably collected in the form of taxes from people like Luke's Aunt and Uncle.

Once they discover the presence of the princess, Luke has to bribe Han to get him to come along on the rescue. He doesn't care about the rebellion, he cares about paying off Jabba and staying alive.

Yes, the character arc for Han in Episode IV is that he goes from being someone who only cares about money to someone who risks his life to save Luke during the big battle of Yavin. If there is a message from Han's story it's that some things are more important than cash. George Lucas is not Ayn Rand.

Nevertheless, many of the things that Star Wars fans find so appealing about the story and which "4 Rules" is focused on are really about a kind of black market realism. Black markets certainly do take place in cities but not in the big shiny buildings or in Senate chambers or libraries, etc. Those are the product of the mainstream markets which is not where a rebellion fits tonally. Star Wars takes place in the spaces between the Empire's colossal command of resources.

As for the look of things (Rule 2) people on Tatooine were poor. Unless the characters in episode VII are poor, having dirty ships and second hand gear won't make much sense.

Even rule 3, the force is a mystery, is about an idea that comes from outside the mainstream. Remember Vader choking out the guy in the meeting on the Death Star? "I find your lack of faith disturbing." Even among his own underlings, Vader was an outsider who practiced a weird semi-extinct religion. You could call it a black market idea.

As for this not being a "cute" place (Rule 4), that's again because the black marketplace is not an environment for kids in any world. Star Wars was not a world where you could order hot Tea from a replicator. In fact, the Star Trek universe, where everyone on board seemingly had what they needed or wanted or could imagine (the holodeck) is closer in tone to the Empire.

For Star Wars to feel like Star Wars again, it needs to be about people living on the edge in the grey and black markets. It also needs to recall that a story is only as good as its villain. That means it needs to feature characters who work and feel the constant pressure to survive day to day while avoiding the heavy hand of an oppressive government.


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