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The Forces of Evil in Star Wars (Part III – The Sequel Trilogy)

The Forces of Evil in Star Wars (Part III – The Sequel Trilogy)

Over the past two months, I have examined the portrayal of evil in the Star Wars saga. First, I looked at evil in the prequels and how the concept of evil was a little more ambiguous. Next, I turned to the movies of the original trilogy and Rogue One. While the films of the original trilogy largely treated evil as a black and white topic, Rogue One kept with the prequels ambiguity. Now, I turn to the first two movies of the sequel trilogy where the portrayal of evil retreats from the ambiguity of the prequels.

 Forces of Evil in Star Wars - Kylo and Vader's Helmet

The Force Awakens

In The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams created a story that reflected the simple portrayal of evil in A New Hope. Princess Leia is now General Organa. She leads the Resistance against the First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire. Little time is spent arguing which side is in the right. In The Force Awakens, Finn actively flees from the ruthless regime he fears is about to sweep across the galaxy. Kylo Ren forcefully invades the minds of both Poe Dameron and Rey, and the First Order doesn’t hesitate to attack an entire outpost on Jakku in their attempt to retrieve BB-8.

The only argument on the First Order’s behalf is made when Hux delivers his speech to the assembled forces of the First Order on Starkiller Base. He accuses the Republic of acquiescing to disorder and lying to the galaxy. The allegations are vague at best, but then he follows them up with ordering the destruction of Hosnian Prime. Even supposing he is right about the Republic, the First Order is extreme.

If there is an argument to be made that there is corruption, and perhaps evil motive, within the reborn Republic, it comes from novels such as Claudia Gray’s Bloodline. However, the better argument is that the Senate portrayed in Bloodline became ineffective due to polarizing political viewpoints. Indeed, some First Order operatives and founders actively subverted the will of the Galactic Senate, but their action was always with the interests of the First Order in mind.

Forces of Evil in Star Wars - DJ

The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi changes the discussion of evil, but just a little. This movie begins right where the last movie concludes. The Resistance flees from their base on D’Qar ahead of the arrival of the First Order. From there, the actions of the Resistance and the First Order do little to change their reputations.

Good guys, bad guys: to DJ, Benecio Del Toro’s character, there is no difference. DJ points out the First Order and Resistance both purchased weapons from the weapon’s dealer whose ship they stole. Therefore, they are equally at fault as far as he is concerned. Accordingly, he lives by the simple motto: “Don’t join.” However, his opinion is unsupported by the actions of the First Order and the Resistance. For instance, the First Order pursue their cause through fear and brute force. The promote their ideals through propaganda. In comparison, Leia’s Resistance fights against they tyranny of the First Order.

Forces of Evil in Star Wars - Snoke

Snoke and Kylo Ren

The Sith perished in Return of the Jedi. Snoke and Kylo Ren succeed them in the sequel trilogy as the galaxy’s notable dark side rulers. Like the Emperor and Darth Vader before them, the pair has a mentor/mentee relationship. Snoke and the Emperor are similar in that each desired control of the galaxy. The First Order was the successor to the Empire after all, and Snoke lead the First Order.

However, Kylo Ren is an interesting replacement for Darth Vader. Granted, Kylo is Darth Vader’s grandson. Although they have that family connection, Kylo lacks a real discernable motivation for taking up the mantle of the dark side. Anakin was looking for some power to save Padmé’s life. When he felt the Jedi denied him that, he became angry and desperate. He then turned on the Jedi and joined the Sith and the dark side. With the dark side comes a great potential for evil. Anger leads to hate, etc., after all.

Kylo seemingly lacks any compelling motivation. If anything, his disappointment with his family paved his path to the dark side. Beyond that, by the end of The Last Jedi his arrogance and lust for power are the only apparent motivation for pursuing his dark path. Throughout out both prequel movies, many of his actions are unquestionably evil. He kills Lor San Tekka over an insult. Next, he orders the slaughter of the villagers. In The Force Awakens, he tortures both Poe and Rey over the location of Skywalker. He stands by as General Hux orders the destruction of Hosnian Prime.

Interestingly, Leia places all the blame for Kylo’s fall on Snoke. She says about as much to Han in The Force Awakens. Similarly, Luke noted that Kylo’s heart was twisted by the dark side in The Last Jedi. In some ways, they suggest that Kylo was susceptible to this.

Forces of Evil in Star Wars - Phasma

Captain Phasma

The sequel trilogy also introduces Captain Phasma. An officer in the First Order, Phasma embodies evil with her own special brand of self-interest. In The Force Awakens, Finn, Han Solo, and Chewbacca force her to lower the shields on Starkiller Base at blaster point before dumping her in trash compactor. Although it is in a deleted scene, Finn’s showdown with her in The Last Jedi reveals that this information wasn’t shared with the rest of the First Order. Considering her past, as detailed in Delilah S. Dawson’s novel Phasma, this isn’t surprising. Also, in the deleted scene, she quickly slaughters all the stormtroopers that learn of this fact from Finn. This is in keeping with her behavior in the Captain Phasma comic written by Kelly Thompson. In summary, Phasma might have some hidden, altruistic  motivation for serving the First Order, but so far, her motivation has simply been portrayed as self-preservation.

Concluding Thoughts on Evil in the Sequel Trilogy

Evil is mostly a straight forward concept in the sequel trilogy movies. Although The Last Jedi attempts to introduce some ambiguity, the sequel trilogy is more similar to the original trilogy than the prequels. The sequels run from the premise that the First Order is evil. Perhaps there is a hint of corruption in the Republic, but there isn’t an emphasis on this point. In summary, the sequel trilogy is much more a traditional good versus evil story.

I hope you have enjoyed my look at evil in the Star Wars saga from the past few months. Thanks for reading. Contact me at dkeithly@coffeewithkenobi.com or on Twitter @DJKver2. You can also find me on my podcast: Starships, Sabers, and Scoundrels.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Coffee With Kenobi, its hosts, respective writers, or its affiliates.

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1 Comment

  1. Melinda W
    May 24, 2018 at 08:57 Reply

    I have enjoyed this series of yours, Dennis. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on one of the many themes dealt with throughout the Star Wars Saga.

    I agree with you 100% — yes, good and evil are much more clear cut in the newest chapters of the Star Wars Saga, that they reflect light vs. dark as portrayed in the OT more so than the PT. I don’t think I would go as far as to say an ineffective Senate is evil — most beings will be driven by their own self-interests (in the case of a governing body, those of their constituents [one would hope]; for better or worse) — but rather a catalyst that allows evil to rise to power.

    I do have a query for you — are you saying that Hux’s accusations about the Republic are true? For the record, I don’t. Like every being spurred toward domination, manipulation is the driving force. Emperor Palpatine engaged in it (including as his alter ego Senator/Chancellor Palpatine), Darth Vader did, Snoke did, and so did General Hux. That spittle-producing speech of Hux’s was nothing more than a form of manipulation to get his troops fired up — and to justify what was about to occur. 🙁

    I can’t remember if I commented about this in your blog about evil in the prequels (I have read them all!), so if I repeat myself here, I apologize. I don’t think evil in the prequels (nor “Rogue One”) was ambiguous. It was pretty clear-cut to me. We, the audience, knew what the evil was — the Sith aiming toward their rise to power. Palpatine manipulated his way to the chancellorship, and definitely worked his magic on a torn Anakin. By the end of “The Phantom Menace”, the Jedi knew the Sith had made a resurgence, the Jedi just didn’t know who the Sith were. Likewise, I don’t think there is any real ambiguity of evil in “The Force Awakens” or in “The Last Jedi”. Snoke and his followers clearly are on the side of evil, driven by their lust for ultimate power — and who cares who gets bowled over in the process of them attaining their goal. Even Kylo Ren, nurtures that dark side of his nature to be among their ranks. By the end of “The Last Jedi”, it is clear Kylo Ren has taken up his grandfather’s mantle. When Rey won’t join him in his quest to rule the galaxy with him, what does he do? He tells General Hux it was REY who killed Snoke, and Kylo Ren is driven to annihilate Luke. All that firepower in an effort to kill one man, a Jedi though he be? Overkill, of course, and the fleeting look on Kylo Ren’s face when Luke is still standing after the barrage is priceless. 😉

    Maybe evil in the prequels and sequels is more subtle than in the Original Trilogy, but I don’t think it is ambiguous.

    DJ is an interesting character, I must say! Even after all my viewings of “The Last Jedi” I haven’t completely decided how I feel about the character. On an intellectual level, I get from where he is coming, and why he is not driven to take sides. But on an emotional level, I find it challenging to understand why someone would be so selfish, when so much is at stake. Quite frankly, I find DJ to be one of the most compelling characters in the entire Star Wars Saga — just because he is so different from anyone we’ve seen before.

    Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you, Dennis, as you have taken us on this journey. I think the butter has softened enough for me to go make a batch of Wookiee cookies — in honor of going to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” tonight — so I better get baking. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

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