The destruction of Alderaan could’ve been a PR disaster for the Empire, but Star Wars reveals how Imperials still weren’t considered totally evil.
Even after Alderaan was blown to bits, the inhabitants of the galaxy still didn’t consider the Empire an entirely evil regime in Star Wars. Led by the despicable Palpatine, Imperials are the overarching villains throughout the entire Star Wars franchise, in one form or another, and the extent of their moral darkness is spelled out with unnerving clarity during the opening act of 1977’s original Star Wars movie. Princess Leia is taken prisoner aboard the Death Star and forced to watch helplessly as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the maiden firing of the Death Star’s primary weapon.
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If the dour uniforms weren’t enough of a clue, the destruction of Alderaan should’ve removed any and all doubt as to the Empire’s devious intentions. Covering up the odd political assassination here and a few oppressed races there is one thing, but to justify the destruction of an entire planet in mere moments is quite another. Surely, the Alderaan incident roused anger within every innocent civilian across the galaxy, even if they were powerless to resist. Kiersten White’s “Eyes of the Empire” (found in From A Certain Point Of View: The Empire Strikes Back) proves otherwise.
The public image of the Empire in a post-Alderaan galaxy is told through Maela and her mother – two droid-makers who fell on hard times after the Clone Wars caused droids to become less widely accepted (particularly in the drinking establishments of Tatooine). Maela’s mother designs and manufactures probe droids that are sold to and deployed by the Empire, but she remains painfully aware of how evil her client is, and sternly corrects her daughter when Maela accuses her of working for the Empire. Maela’s own stance is quite different. She leaves home to work for the Empire directly, believing Palpatine’s pals will offer a more exciting life travelling the stars. Despite the protests of her parent, Maela departs, is assigned to Project Swarm, and is responsible for discovering the Rebel base on Hoth. Not until witnessing the aftermath of the battle through one of her probes does Maela finally understand her mother’s point of view, realizing the horror she’s complicit in.
“Eyes of the Empire” highlights two very different perspectives of the Empire from regular folks in the Star Wars universe, instead of the usual Jedi, princesses and maverick pilots. Maela’s mother could see through the Empire’s facade, but was still forced into serving them (albeit indirectly) through poverty. Younger and more naive, Maela didn’t believe, or at least didn’t understand, that the Empire was a ruthless dictatorship. Even after the destruction of Alderaan, she viewed the Empire as a career opportunity, and it took witnessing Imperial crimes first hand for the Calamari credit to drop in Maela’s mind. On one hand, Maela demonstrates how willful ignorance was still possible after Alderaan, but her blasé attitude is also testament to the Empire’s effective propaganda machine, and as seen in the Marvel Darth Vader comics, any public outrage over Alderaan’s destruction was swiftly quashed.
The main series of Star Wars movies only depict the Empire as a sinister authority, but other stories have offered a more grounded perspective. Rogue One, the Tarkin novel and even The Mandalorian build a picture of everyday life under the Empire, and the galaxy’s stance on Imperials is rarely a straightforward matter of “good vs. evil.” The widespread celebrations in Return of the Jedi‘s ending prove everyone did eventually realize how wicked the Empire was, but the process was a slow one, and even Alderaan didn’t sway public opinion straight away, with innocent workers such as Maela caught up in the Empire’s dominance.
Stories like “Eyes of the Empire” make the Star Wars world far more comparable to real life. When a dictatorship takes hold, citizens don’t collectively denounce the new regime and deem them evil right away. Propaganda campaigns and cover-ups maintain a degree of deniability, while the working class are forced into cooperation through poverty or brute strength. Even as news of Alderaan’s sudden disappearance spread across the galaxy, the controlling influence of the Empire could never be dispelled overnight.
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