During the past few years, political scientist Csaba Tóth of Republikon Institute created a great and much needed tradition, as he began to analyze science fiction universes through the political scientist’s eyes. Following his first book, The Political Science of Sci-Fi (A sci-fi politológiája), in 2017, he covered other universes through so far unknown lens in his book Fantastic Worlds (Fantasztikus világok). This article wishes to continue this tradition (WARNING: The article contains spoilers of The Last Jedi).
The new Star Wars movie made its debut a few weeks ago. According to the more or less concordant opinion of critics and fans, it was brilliant. It has given more meaning and detail to characters and plot of the previous movie, The Force Awakens. It might also have provided hope to those who were disappointed by the first part of the trilogy, and were disillusioned with Disney’s Star Wars-machine. It has definitely outdone the previous movie: finally, there are many exciting and detailed political conflicts in a fantasy-sci-fi setting. This analysis is devoted to The Last Jedi’s politically most relevant moments. First, let us investigate the Resistance.
At the beginning of the movie, the resisters barely escape the First Order’s revenge attack: they successfully escape their former base. The whole plot of the movie, from their perspective, is a constant defense and escape after Poe Dameron’s doubtful counterattack. During this runaway, the flagship’s command bridge gets under attack, whereupon all of the leadership dies, only the chief commander, General Leia Organa, survives, however, she falls into a coma.
The sudden lack of the leader shows us the resisters’ internal organizational mechanism: they do not elect the commander but appoint her, despite the obvious opposition of some. One might believe that this anti-democratic approach is far from the ‘good guys’, whom are the fighters of the Light, freedom, and justice. But this is not the case. To dissolve this paradox, we need to understand the Resistance’s internal structure – in other words, the power structure.
From The Force Awakens, we have learned that the victorious Rebels from Return of The Jedi founded the New Republic. But then the struggle against the First Order, which was born of the defeated Empire’s ruins, called the Resistance to life. Practically, there is a galactic civil war going on among two different military forces, with different ideologies, amongst good and evil. Neither party is dominant, nor represents a legitimate power considering the whole galaxy. This conflict is not comparable with neither the rising of the Separatists, nor of the Rebels.
However, in The Force Awakens a major turning point was reached: the First Order’s newest super weapon destroyed one of the most important, advanced, and central planetary systems of the New Republic. Hence, the number of the Resistance’s political supporters has significantly decreased, just as, obviously, their military potential. The relationship between the New Republic’s senate and the Resistance is unclear. However, it is certain that the former is a purely political institution, while the latter can be considered as political due to its military power.
This is why the Resistance, similarly to the original trilogy’s rebels, is rather a military alliance than a classic or a modern, peacetime democratic system. This is well illustrated by the fact that despite the fact that Leia is sometimes referred to as ‘queen’ or ‘princess’ – although her planet has been destroyed 30 years before – basically, she is the Resistance’s general, a military commander. In the army, leaders are not elected but appointed – hence, the appointed commander is a legitimate leader.
Soldier and/or Politician?
The basis of the conflict between Poe Dameron and the temporary commander, Amilyn Holdo, can be interpreted as a ‘role perception problem’ inside the Resistance. What does this mean? Poe thinks of Holdo as an accountable political leader who was appointed as his principal “arbitrarily”. In contrast, Holdo considers herself a military leader and follows the strict hierarchy. Because of this it is understandable that Poe demands publicity in the details of the life-saver plan; that he is demanding a democratic right to speak the decisions; that he sends Finn, Rose, and BB-8 on a secret and risky mission and that he ultimately considers Holdo a traitor.
Although the takeover from Holdo is rather coup-like, the decision behind it, for Poe, is a legitimate, morally justified one. The failure of the coup is not due to Leia’s return, but because it was a sudden, not very well-planned attempt. This also means that if Holdo told her plan to anybody on the cruiser, they would have stunned Poe. Poe’s character represents the morally right path of a man who chooses the true and right move based on the available information. Of course, this is also a limit for the character, as he has a different mindset than someone who is not involved in the battle. So Leia and Holdo are right when they say Poe is just a high-flying pilot, not a mature, capable strategist.
Poe only encounters the truth when Leia returns. Namely that what he believed was a suicide mission is in fact the only viable plan, and that whom he considered a traitor is in fact the greatest martyr of the Resistance: Amilyn Holdo. She was not obliged to share her plans with anyone on the cruiser. She was right that the Resistance is a strict military organization, hence, she did the right thing with all her decisions – from both a military and a moral point of view. This is confirmed by Leia as well. Therefore, Holdo is not only a legitimate leader, but a charismatic one, and she gained that charisma from her previous successes, further increased by her current acts.
However, viewing the galaxy as a strictly military dichotomy is a mistake – the Resistance is not only about the war against the First order. In reality, the Resistance has a wider role to play: it constructs an ideological and value-based community. In other words: they live in a political community.
Rules of War
Therefore the question arises: shouldn’t these 400 people, fighting for a common goal (and for their lives), decide their own fate? This could work very well if these people were living on a peaceful planet, facing decisions about the future of the community. But they are in the middle of a war, and they have to make their decisions under these circumstances.
War has always been an exceptional environment for political systems. The Romans elected a temporary, single leader for the republic in such a case; the British formed a coalition government during WWII, and even in the days of the Old Republic, Chancellor Palpatine was granted special rights. War demands a quick and efficient decision-making system, as opposed to the open, transparent and deliberate decisions of democracies. Of course, accountability and verifiability are necessary in all cases. However, in peacetime, decision-making does not really influence citizens’ lives. In wartime, a slow process could cause serious damages.
Therefore, current wartime makes the approach of Leia and Holdo necessary and useful. They both act in a sensible way, both in moral and military terms. Their decisions are based on the military organization and their individual charismatic legitimacy. If the Resistance is willing to succeed in the war, then they need to become a real army. They need to introduce a hierarchic organizational structure, similar to the First Order’s. The question is: who could be the leader of this army? Leia, representing the tradition of the rebels, or a new leader with a fresh approach, not afraid to break certain rules? It might come as a surprise, but the same problem arose on the other side, in the First Order. The difference, however, is obvious: it can be found in their ideology, goals, and all in all, in their approach.