Welcome to the third and final installment of my series on aliens in Star Wars! You can find Parts 1 and 2 here and here. Before we get back into my regularly scheduled blog, I want to give a shout out to fellow blogger Melinda for her constructive comments on my controversial previous post, which encouraged me to tweak some things in this entry, as well a very special thanks to Nien Nunb himself, Mike Quinn, for his enlightening comments on Part 2. Mike Quinn was the notable Star Wars puppeteer who played Lando’s chinless co-pilot in Return of the Jedi! I found a pretty thorough, captivating interview with Quinn from 2006 conducted by Star Wars Interviews. Check it out after you read this!
The Marginalization of Aliens in Star Wars
As my series on the role of the alien in Star Wars wraps up, I want to assure you that this is a discussion of aliens, not race. However, the two almost go hand in hand; race is a social construct, meaning it doesn’t actually exist. We’re all just human. It’s society that creates these boundaries, that makes people of color the “other,” or the “outsider,” which is essentially synonymous with the word “alien.” Does Qui-Gon call Watto an “alien”? No, he likely knows he’s a Toydarian. Is Chewbacca ever called an “alien”? No, he’s a walking carpet! I mean Wookiee! The word “alien” is never even used in the entire saga, but they still represent a marginalized population.
Aliens have equal rights in Star Wars, from the Senate in Coruscant to the slave rings in the Outer Rim. In fact, they tend to take the role of oppressor just as often as they take the role of the oppressed, particularly in the prequels. Watto was a well-known slave owner, and he had at least two human slaves (the Skywalkers) that we saw on film. Even the Skywalkers were purchased from Gardulla the Hutt, who is as far from human as an alien can get. And, of course, there’s Jabba, who enslaved other aliens, but displayed Leia like a trophy once she was in his possession. Even the Neimoidian-operated Trade Federation held the human-ruled planet of Naboo for ransom, putting them into the role of villains. It’s very easy for an audience to identify and sympathize with the human characters and to see the aliens as the villains; they’re unfamiliar to us and they don’t look like us. While not all aliens are bad, we tend to see them all negatively when they do bad things to humans. This sort of embedded “other”-ization is comparable to some Americans’ inability to determine the difference between Islamic extremists and typical, peaceful practicers of the Islamic faith. When we don’t understand something, we generalize. It’s human nature.
So if aliens have equal rights to humans in the movies, and humans are often the ones who are victimized, as exemplified by the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo and the Skywalkers’ enslavement, how can humans be seen as the ruling class? Humans are the undeniable majority when in comes to species in the Star Wars galaxy. Whether intentional or not, humans, being the majority, are oppressive*. For example, the galaxy was controlled by two consecutive human Chancellors and a primarily human Jedi Order (judging by their massive attack during the Battle of Geonosis), the Rebel Alliance was almost entirely human save for a Mon Cal fleet and the occasional Sullustan and Wookiee, and the Empire was entirely human so far as we saw in the films (Star Wars Rebels will likely elaborate on this). If the galaxy was truly equal, we’d see larger representation of aliens in positions of power. We see aliens such as Jabba bask in the opportunity to reverse those roles, demeaning someone in a position of wealth and power like Leia Organa, daughter of a senator, into a role of slavery, showing her off like a trophy. It’s almost understandable, in some aspect, to see aliens take on the oppressive role
Whether you take them as cultural foils, representatives of diversity, racist caricatures, oppressed minorities, or something entirely different, all fans can agree that aliens hold unique roles in the Star Wars universe. They aren’t your pointy-eared Vulcans; our aliens eat through their fingers, have terrible back problems, need to brush their coats every morning, and are too fat to walk, and, good or bad, we love every last one of them.
Stay glued to the Coffee with Kenobi Blog this time next month for my next blog post!
*Oppression can be a very complex concept. Star Wars are very broad films. If you are confused by the concept that the majority is inherently oppressive, I suggest looking into John Adams’ notion of “the tyranny of the majority.” I can concede that I may be taking things to a far deeper level than necessary, but it’s all in the sake of intellectual discourse, and, not to mention, it’s fun!
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