Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

T-70 X-Wing From Force Awakens, Flying A Ground Attack Mission

T-70 X-Wing From Force Awakens, Flying A Ground Attack Mission

As with any war, the evolution of the Galactic Civil War means a change of tactics, technology, and policy in order to address new requirements. However, just because a (very small) piece of evidence highlights one particular technology does not make this technology universal, or even particularly widespread.

This is the first mistake that Eamon Hamilton makes in his recent article comparing the newest model of X-wing to the (rather less airworthy) F-35. By relying on mere seconds of film  and the availability of a toy, we can only determine that the T-70 is distinct from its predecessor, and that it can fly and shoot lasers. We have no real grasp of its new advantages or capabilities, and most importantly we do not know if it is the only starfighter at the Resistance’s disposal, or even if it is particularly widespread. We could also watch the Top Gun trailer, and conclude that the F-14 was the Navy’s only combat aircraft. The T-70s we see may even be an experimental or elite squadron, which, given the appearance of a new superweapon, more than merits its deployment. The T-70 might be exceptionally expensive, and deployed in a proportion more like the F-22 than F-35. As an aside, though, I think a better comparison would be between the F-16 Block 60 and the T-70, given that both are improvements to 30+ year old designs, rather than entirely new airframes (spaceframes?).

This comparison, however, is fundamentally flawed, and comparing the Rebellion or Resistance’s requirements to those of the US Navy is folly. Doctrine is entirely different: for example, our carriers do not have any significant armament other than their complement of fighters, and certainly don’t fight other capital ships at point blank range. There is no equivalent ship in any fleet on this planet, let alone in the USN. This is partly a consequence of politics. With planets (or moons) being the primary political unit, space is the only medium of travel between them.

This means the Rebel navy is far more important than its American equivalent, where air and land provide alternative avenues. The priority of ship defense reflects this, and the logistical aspect can be seen in starfighter design. Rebel starfighters, for example, are very space efficient: they take off and land vertically, making it easier to arm a ship of a given size. Underlining all this is the fact that the X-wing is vastly more capable and durable than any aircraft currently in service.

As we saw in The Empire Strikes Back, the X-wing is capable of sitting around in a swamp for extended periods of time (days? weeks? a month or more?), sinking into said swamp, and after being raised fly away with little-to-no maintenance. Thus, it is safe to assume its regular maintenance requirements are very few indeed. Barring battle damage, which would be partly obviated by its shields, a pilot could fly the fighter continuously for a week (the duration of its life support systems). Equally importantly, the X-wing can travel literally astronomical distances unassisted by capital ships. Further easing its logistical requirements, its primary ammunition comes directly from its power generator. Hyperdrive and shields are present on all Alliance starfighters, and it is safe to assume that the minute logistical requirements follow with them. This removes perhaps the greatest advantage of moving to a single platform, and also highlights that the difference in mobility between terrestrial vs. carrier-based fighters is not so severe in Star Wars as on Earth. This results in a lot of “tooth” and very little “tail”.

Damaged TIE Fighter Falls To A Planet Below

Damaged TIE Fighter Falls To A Planet Below

Have some things changed between A New Hope and The Force Awakens? Inevitably, but I find it unlikely that the widening of the civil war (as the Rebellion moves to establish itself) would diminish the need for starfighters with different capabilities. Indeed, it seems that the threats the Resistance faces are not, tactically, much different than when it was still the Rebellion. As the trailer suggests, the First Order’s decisions on how they fight have not changed much from the Empire’s. There is still a preference for TIEs, Star Destroyers, storm troopers, and superweapons with trenches. Given the Empire’s reliance on conventional military structures, there is every reason to believe that most other Imperial remnants remained doctrinally similar. There is also no reason to believe that the Resistance’s position is secure enough that they can safely scrap their less advanced fighter designs. I can think of another conflict that looked rather worse for the side that 30 years earlier were the unqualified victors.

We should also consider the tactical advantages of multiple starfighter types. In a galaxy where dogfighting is the main way of engaging other starfighters, improved electronics and warheads cannot take you very far. This means there is still a clear need for a more dedicated interceptor and space superiority fighter design. The A-wing was designed to fill these roles by the time of the Battle of Endor, and an upgraded version should be available to the Resistance, or even an entirely new fighter.

Hamilton does not help his case by his clear unfamiliarity with the starfighters. He claims the A-wing to be designed for “hit-and-run” attacks on convoys, when, as mentioned above, it was designed to fight other starfighters first and foremost, especially as a counter to the TIE Interceptor. With only two laser cannons and concussion missiles instead of the more powerful proton torpedoes, it is not nearly as capable at destroying heavier targets as the other Rebel starfighters. Hyperdrive makes even the Y-wing capable of hit-and-run tactics, and, with its heavier payload, far more effective against these targets.

X-Wings Fight Tie Fighters In Shakycam Battle

X-Wings Fight Tie Fighters In Shakycam Battle

Stepping back for a minute, there is a good chance that the T-70 will be the only, or almost the only, starfighter fielded by the Resistance in this film. This is not because of any in-universe logistical or training priority, but rather because having only two types of starfighter (especially those with shapes as distinct and recognizable as the X-wing and TIE Fighter) makes it easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in Abrams’ preferred style, which involves rapid camera movements in close fights. It also makes an obvious callback to A New Hope, and nostalgia is a rather effective moneymaker. Nobody remembers the Y-wings from that film, of course, because all they did was die.

Robert of Bellême (Count of Ponthieu, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury, etc.), is an Anglo-Norman magnate renowned for his cruelty and violence, who now spends his time posting bad jokes. His favorite starfighter is the TIE Interceptor.

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T-70 Model X-Wings In Formation

T-70 Model X-Wings In Formation

[Today’s post comes to us from Eamon Hamilton. When not writing about space ships, he does Public Affairs for Air Mobility Group, Royal Australian Air Force.]

With each trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’ve been exposed to the new Starfighter being fielded by the Rebel Alliance – now rebranded as the Resistance (go figure). The Incom T-70 is carrying the legacy of the X-Wing into a new generation, combating a likewise new model of the TIE Fighter.

But each new trailer however has suggested something is lacking in the Resistance fleet – that is, a variety of other Starfighter types. It would appear that, in the 30 years since the Rebel Alliance deployed an array of X-, Y-, A- and B-Wings to the Battle of Endor, they have settled on a single multi-role type across the entire fleet.

Even before the release of The Force Awakens however, there’s good reasons to believe the T-70 X-Wing is the only game in town. First, the new X-Wing is the only Resistance ship featured in the trailers and other promotional imagery. A bigger clue however is the lack of merchandising for any other Resistance ships.

When Force Friday hit stores in September, the T-70 X-Wing was the only Resistance ship for sale (aside from the Millennium Falcon, of course). You can buy one in LEGO form, or as a 1:200 scale model for tabletop wargaming. Revell is releasing the plastic kit of the T-70, and there’s also a diecast model if you don’t want to build it yourself.

Now, this assumption that the Resistance has stuck to a single Starfighter fleet will live or die when The Force Awakens premieres, and we pick apart each scene to see whether JJ Abrams dropped a few more ships into the backgrounds of hangars or space battles. But right now, it’s the T-70 X-Wing that’s appearing on lunchboxes.

With that assumption on board, it’s worthwhile considering what steps were taken over 30 years to go from a four-type Rebel Alliance fleet, to a single-type Resistance.

It’s a journey to consolidation that draws some parallels to the United States Navy’s own carrier-based combat aircraft fleet.

Both organisations were operating with different strategic priorities 30 years ago compared to what they are today. When Return of the Jedi hit cinemas in 1983, the Nimitz-class carriers were sailing with no less than four fixed-wing fighter/strike aircraft – the F-14 Tomcat for air superiority, the A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair in the strike role, and the S-3 Viking as an anti-submarine/surface warfare platform. Also operating was the EA-6B Prowler, a variation of the A-6, which was optimised for electronic attack.

Likewise, the Rebel Alliance went into the Battle for Endor with its own four dedicated strike/fighter platforms, albeit with no electronic attack variant (it seemed the Empire had the upper hand in the electronic warfare spectrum that day) [Editor’s note: or that electronic warfare just isn’t a big part of Star Wars]. Leading this charge were the T-65 X-Wing in the space superiority role, joined by fellow Yavin-veteran, the Y-Wing bomber. Also deployed were two newcomers – the high-speed A-Wing, and the B-Wing bomber, whose primary role was to attack capital ships.

It’s a safe assumption that the role of a Carrier Air Wing is much like that of the Rebel Alliance’s Starfighter squadrons fighting ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’. Fundamentally, they both need to defend a home base, and are important tools for force projection in pursuit of wider campaign objectives.

Fielding a variety of types that each have a dedicated role carries with it benefits. A security or technical grounding for one type will (nominally) not affect the others. Dedicated types are optimized for function, rather than compromising performance to be truly multi-role. A Carrier Air Wing’s F-14 Tomcats can defend against high-speed bombers and provide a combat air patrol against MiGs and Sukhois. A-6 Intruders and A-7 Corsairs are optimized for striking surface combatants and hitting targets on land. The S-3 Viking – working in concert with other aircraft and vessels – can detect and defeat submarines. For the most part, the Soviet Union spent much of the Cold War trying to defeat the force projection abilities of carriers, and at the same time protect its home shores. Whilst the Soviet Union was spending the time, resources and money on countering Carrier Battle Groups, it was not delivering comparable force projection capabilities of its own.

While the Rebel Alliance faced a different strategic environment from the United States Navy, it too found itself benefiting from fielding a multi-type Starfighter fleet. It allowed them to pitch an asymmetric threat against the Empire, dictating the terms of engagements with dedicated platforms and avoid one-to-one engagements that it could not match with people, ships, or resources. The B-Wing Starfighter was primarily for attacking capital ships. Notwithstanding its kamikaze attack on the Super Star Destroyer Executor, the A-Wing was a hit-and-run Starfighter built to raid Imperial convoys and destroy remote satellite relays, degrading logistical and communications networks, and crippling the Empire’s ability to wage its campaign. Throughout it all, the X-Wing was intended to defeat the TIE Fighter; while the Y-Wing, a relic of the Cold War Clone War, was kept in service probably because it was bloody impossible to get rid of.

Y-Wings In Formation With Millennium Falcon

Y-Wings In Formation With Millennium Falcon

Striking from hidden fortresses and deployed capital ships, the Rebel Alliance’s force projection with these Starfighters would have forced the Empire to build defenses capable of defeating all forms of attack. Imperial Commanders were therefore kept guessing as to the composition of Rebel threats, and how they could attack them.

Having so many different types of Starfighters and aircraft however places a significant logistical burden, whether you’re a Rebel capital ship or United States Navy aircraft carrier. Each time a Carrier Strike Group goes to sea, it attempts to bring sufficient spares and workforce for the term of its voyage, but is otherwise reliant on C-2 Greyhound carrier on-board delivery aircraft; or port visits, which themselves are connected to a logistical pipeline supported by shore-based aircraft. Every different aircraft type in the Carrier Air Wing needs its own specially-trained workforce to operate and support, and must retain a spare parts stock for repairs. Different aircraft have different maintenance overheads, depending on their age and performance, which ultimately affects sortie generation. All of these factors determine the overall effectiveness of a Carrier Strike Wing whilst it’s at sea.

When Starfighters are embarked on a Capital Ships, we can assume their supporting constraints are almost identical to their United States Navy counterparts. There’s only so much space on the ship for hangars, spare parts storage, and workforce accommodation. Terrestrial bases for Rebel Alliance Starfighters would provide greater room, but still present similar logistical challenges in how they are sustained with spare parts and key equipment. The one advantages the Rebel Alliance has are astromechs. An R2 or R5 unit, for example, can maintain and conduct repairs on a Starfighter without sleep, and can work across multiple types on the hangar floor without limitations. They can diagnose directly using a ship’s computer, provide accurate stocktake assessments, and receive updated technical publications instantly. Admittedly, they do need their own spares pipeline and sustainment maintenance – but the efficiencies they deliver are worth it.

The United States Navy does have the advantage of protected warehouses and factories for all its supply needs. The Rebel Alliance likely has to disperse its equivalent facilities across the galaxy, keeping them underground to avoid the prying eyes of the Empire. Despite the range advantages of hyperspace travel, resupplying ships and bases with spare parts and personnel is a dangerous affair. Let’s take X-Wing powerplants as an example. Building them requires de-centralised workshops to avoid detection, but also skilled workforces due to the precision construction. Once built, these components are likely kept in hidden warehouse storage until they are smuggled through the galaxy to their end user. Replicating this logistics effort across all the systems of an X-Wing gives a good impression of how hard it is to keep a Starfighter ‘spaceworthy’, especially considering how complex they are compared to their Imperial foes, which lack shields and hyperdrives. We can assume there is little-to-no commonality in major components across Rebel Starfighters (even the Empire consolidated its TIE eye-ball across the Fighter and Interceptor variants). All of this puts Rebel Alliance at a significant logistical disadvantage during the Galactic Civil War.

Which brings me to a cynical explanation for why else the Rebellion had so many different Starfighters – in all likelihood, there was more gerrymandering required from the Rebellion than the Empire, when negotiating the support of planetary systems. How many times did Mon Mothma win the support of a local star system, but only because she promised to employ local workshops and factories to build X-Wing laser canons? Or gain safe harbor in space ports for Rebel vessels, but only because she was buying squadrons of unwanted Y-Wings from the port’s governor? Tyrannical governments like the Empire are built on decrees and corruption, leaving little question that the Rebellion had to resort to financial and employment incentives to guarantee support for its cause.

Over the past 30 years, there’s been significant changes to the strategic operating environment for both the United States Navy and the Rebel Alliance (now the Resistance). These changes undoubtedly influenced their respective moves towards a consolidated fleet of strike/fighter platforms. While aircraft carriers remain an important strategic tool, the years since the end of the Cold War have largely seen their warfighting efforts concentrated on sustained force projection for overland operations in the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. The dedicated platforms operated in 1983 were retired, their roles taken on by a shrinking variety of aircraft types (or, in the case of anti-submarine warfare, shifted to shore-based and rotary-wing aircraft). Today, most Carrier Air Wings limit their fighter/strike capability to the F/A-18 Classic Hornet and Super Hornet, and the E/A-18G Growler. Carrier Air Wing Five, based in Japan, has done away with the Classic Hornet altogether, and operates the Super Hornet and the Growler from the USS Ronald Reagan.

That consolidation was not a pre-ordained path, with failed programs (the A-12 Avenger, F-14 life extensions), receding budgets, and an operating environment that emphasized reliability and multi-role performance. The move to consolidation has robbed the United States Navy of, say, an F-14’s high-speed and long-range intercept talents. The upshot is that replacement types (in the form of the Super Hornet) are largely more reliable and efficient, and fewer types has allowed a more streamlined training and logistics pipeline. In an ideal world, this reduces operating costs and improves sortie generation rates with the same number of aircraft and personnel.

The experience of the United States Navy with the Super Hornet is therefore a good clue to how the Resistance came to operate the T-70 X-Wing as its sole type (if I can indulge my imagination, I’d like to think older T-65s are still in limited frontline service as well as operated by Reserve units). Much like the Super Hornet, the T-70 is based on a widely-used predecessor, and likely performs the roles of other types that have been since retired. Anti-capital ship functions, like anti-submarine warfare, have been transferred to the Resistance’s own capital ship fleet. While the Resistance cannot provide a dedicated type for specific roles, it can compensate through improved sortie generation rates thanks to a streamlined logistics pipeline and training model. These two factors are important when you’re fighting a sustained, 30-year conflict, as the case is suggested with The Force Awakens.

T-70 X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter

T-70 X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter

All evidence in the trailers suggest that the Galactic Civil War is still happening. The Resistance is now facing off against the First Order, an Imperial remnant which is a shadow of what we saw 30 years ago. The loss of a pair of trillion-credit Death Stars, coupled with the assassination of its senior leadership, is hard to come back from.

Faced with a degraded enemy, the Resistance had the freedom to reassess how it sustained its warfighting capability, and felt it was able to pair back the number of different Starfighter variants it operated. As these ships came to the end of their life-of-type, they were progressively replaced by squadrons of T-70 X-Wings. This in turn realized significant savings that could be reinvested in a larger fleet of Starfighters, and allowed them to face the First Order on more even terms (rather than conducting a ‘counter-insurgency campaign with Starfighters’). I’d love to speculate other reasons for how the Resistance came to operate a single Starfighter type. Were there Tomcat-style Service Live Extension Programs for the B-Wings? Was a wildly ambitious replacement for the Y-Wing proposed, only to be cancelled and lead to a decades-long lawsuit? These are the Marvel Star Wars comics that I want to read.

Now, I accept the United States Navy’s wider operating environment is different in many respects from the Rebel Alliance/the Resistance. It has the wider United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army to jointly operate with. And the United States Navy hasn’t entirely reverted to a single combat type, either. The Northrop Grumman X-47B is plotting the Navy’s path to an Unmanned Carrier-launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike’ platform. And very soon, the F-35C Lightning II will enter service with frontline units as a replacement for the remaining F/A-18 Classic Hornets. In keeping with the other F-35 variants, the C-model emphasizes a combination of sensor-fusion, stealth, and networked connectivity, and is intended to perform multi-role missions.

The F-35C however might still have a kin-type in the Star Wars Universe. Unless JJ Abrams takes us to the planet where the Resistance has its Pax River-equivalent facility, it’s unlikely we’ll see a brand new Starfighter in The Force Awakens. But I can predict when we will see it – in 2017, with the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII.

There’s a couple of reasons to speculate this case. Without having seen The Force Awakens yet, we can expect to see a major shakeup of the power balance in the Galactic Civil War after a sustained 30-year conflict (which will take at least two more films to resolve). The T-70 will have to soldier on, but I predict the Resistance will come into Episodes VIII and IX with a brand new Starfighter type to face this re-surging conflict.

The other reason to be confident of a new Resistance type (let’s call it the T-XX) in 2017 comes down, once again, to merchandising.Disney can only sell so many models before they have to come up with something new. This year, there’s going to be a lot of T-70s underneath Christmas Trees, making it unlikely that kids will want a repackaging of ‘old’ T-70s when Episode VIII comes around.

The new Resistance T-XX, much like the F-35C, is going to have big shoes to fill, and both types will affect how the Resistance and United States Navy emerge from their respective consolidated combat aircraft structure. There’s no guarantees for what conflicts the F-35C might be called upon in the future, and as for what pressures will drive the design of the T-XX? We wont know the answer to that question until December 18.

Watch the latest trailer for The Force Awakens below:

Carved watermelon as Death Star, Windell Oskay (CC BY 2.0)

Carved watermelon as Death Star, Windell Oskay (CC BY 2.0)

There’s a moment in the third season of  “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” where it feels like the writers have run out of war stories. A side conflict about a scarcity investigation is revealed to all be a ruse, a cunning ploy by a minor political figure to undermine a slightly less minor political figure. The Galactic Republic is a vast place, and the Clone Wars span the entirety of it. Following the sideshow to the sideshow, our protagonists are whisked away onto an even more remote setting: a Jedi temple that exists in space but out of time, where an ancient monk keeps balance between his lightside daughter and his darksided son.

In this temple, in the middle of space, is where Anakin Skywalker fails to end the Clone War. The old monk needs a replacement, and the Chosen One will do just fine. Anakin refuses, out of fear for his secret wife, responsibility to his young padawan, and loyalty to his former master. Anakin is a skilled force user, pilot, and general, but he is a terrible Jedi. Faced with an opportunity to sacrifice himself and end the war, Anakin instead opts to leave. It goes poorly for the monk and for the daughter, and the sith-powered son is freed from balance, if not his temporal prison. Skywalker, Obi-Wan, and padawan Ashoka all escape, to return to their endless war.


 

I am halfway through livetweeting a #CloneWarsRewatch. I never saw “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” when it aired from 2008 to 2014, so my use of “rewatch” here is a bit of a misnomer, but I figured it was a good way to capture that I’m watching the show as a whole after it aired. All six seasons are on Netflix. I just finished season 3, so expect a second post when I finish the show.

I started watching because I wanted to understand how the war worked. I wanted battles, campaigns, daring stratagems and bungled schemes. I got those, and more, but the underlying logic of the universe is almost crippled by George Lucas’ overwhelmingly simple view of good and evil.

Palpatine, like he does in the movies, plays both sides of a great galactic war, urging the Republic to raise a clone army and marshaling separatist forces in secret. It’s a pat summary of evil, but it’s an entirely unnecessary one. We could get a rise to power story for Palpatine without him as the sole origin of everything bad, and it’d probably be more compelling.

This matters for BlogTarkin because I wanted to understand how the war of Star Wars worked. What follows is a brief summation, but it comes from the premise that nothing matters because Palpatine is a heavy-handed cliche.


 

How The Clone Wars Were Fought

The (likely) strategic objective of the Separatists is to fight the Republic to a stalemate. We get one episode with a Separatist governing body, but Count Dooku and his droid army are the real story, and their objective is terrifying galactic war, so no matter what Separatist-aligned planets hope for, they’re getting war.

The Republic’s objective is peace through victory, though a strong current is debate over peace proposals. These are shot down, literally and figuratively, by the same forces that want Palpatine in power and the war to continue. Throughout the series, we get to meet individuals, sometimes representing small planets or communities, who have strong feelings about the Republic or the Separatists, but all the personal reasons get lost in a giant grinder for Palpatine’s Imperial power.

Here are some strategic objectives fought over in the first half of the clone wars:

  • Listening posts guarding a nursery world
  • A fuel depot
  • A nursery world
  • A magical hole in time that balances the force

And that’s it, really. There are lots of other important places, but nothing with war-ending impact.

In a universe so reliant on machines, its weird that EMPs are a rare experimental weapon and hacking is barely a thing. Also weird: a lot of combat, even space combat, takes place within line of sight. Jon Jeckell has more to say on that, but here are some other observations about the wars as fought:

  • Hyperspace travel means battles always happen near planets, or significant destinations in space itself. So far, no attacks against ships in hyperspace.
  • Many ships can go to hyperspace, but smaller fighters often need a boost to get there
  • Getting to hyperspace takes a few minutes, and must be done outside a planet’s atmosphere, so blockading gunships have a window of opportunity to shoot fleeing vessels
  • That said, the first ship we ever see in Star Wars is a blockade runner
  • Blockades are really common, and must in some form be effective

But space combat isn’t all combat. There’s a lot of battles on the ground, too.

  • Armor that isn’t made of light is mostly meaningless
  • Grenades are very powerful
  • Armored vehicles are useful, and often come as troop transports too
  • Militias with sticks and spears can still defeat blaster-armed attackers
  • Almost all battles have clones versus droids
  • Of those that don’t, clones or droids support one side, so they’re always present. We don’t call it “The Droid War,” though, so I guess winners write the history books

Season 3 ends with the introduction of Captain Tarkin,  a decidedly force-ambivalent character with other ideas about ending the war. I hope we see more of him over the next three seasons.


My storified tweets about #CloneWarsRewatch can be found at the links below:

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.
Part 4.
Part 5.
Part 6.
Part 7.

Both Star Wars and Star Trek featured people with the ability to hack the human psyche. Star Trek featured many kinds of psychological manipulation, most famously with the Vulcan mind meld. Both the Jedi and Sith in Star Wars are able to manipulate and control others from a considerable distance, though we see little evidence of any other method of mind control.

Meanwhile, living beings in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes also rely heavily upon advanced computer systems and autonomous robots in their endeavors, and their tasks would seem impossible without them. So it would seem ships and defense systems would be highly vulnerable to electronic warfare (EW) and cyber-attacks and that human vulnerabilities would be very minor given the diversity of alien cultures and biological makeups both environments exhibit.

Force users (the Jedi and the Sith) have a telepathic power that is nearly universally effective against all species and works across great distances. While Jedi and Sith contend with a far more diverse biological and psychological panorama of species than Starfleet, these species have been in contact with each other for thousands of years and have mutually intelligible languages without the aid of computer translation. The Force is allegedly a universal phenomenon that affects and permeates everything.

R2_TCG_by_Foti

Figure 1: R2D2, tappin’ that.

All combatants extensively used electronic warfare and various forms of cyber attacks. The Empire used malicious software to cripple the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, R2D2 routinely gained unauthorized access to many computer systems throughout his career to obtain valuable information, and gain control of critical systems for the Old Republic and the Rebellion. Unknown agents surreptitiously deleted information from the Jedi Archives about the existence of the location of a secret cloning facility. Both the Rebels and the Empire also extensively used electronic warfare to jam or spoof sensors and communications, most famously during the blockade at Naboo and at the climactic Battle of Endor.

admiral_ackbar_says_its_a_trap-590x280

Yet most of the time the damage was limited because of the manpower intensive, seat-of-the-pants manual control exerted by crews. Computers seem to be relegated to a background role in Star Wars, with manual control by humans as the norm. Certainly they still serve some important functions, like controlling hyperdrives, storing information, restricting access, and automating maintenance functions, but most functions seem to be run manually by a human. Although computers and droids play an important role, crews predominantly fight by looking out the window.

Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer Executor...

Figure 2: Never mind the trillions of dollars of RADAR, sophisticated sensors and computers, or the hundreds of crewmembers on the bridge running it all. I’M LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW AND I SEE A….oh, never mind.

So you’d expect humans would be the weak point in the system, easily swayed by known Jedi and Sith telepathic capabilities. Although Jedi and Sith were never common even in the heyday of the Old Republic, their power was inconceivably strong and known to be effective against large groups. Even so, this technique did not seem to be a prominent method for combat. This may seem odd because most battles involve large numbers of ships at relatively close range. Certainly we’ve seen Force users manipulate others on a few occasions, including at least two obvious examples with Obi Wan Kenobi and one with Luke Skywalker. This power, used subtly, constantly, and pervasively was instrumental to Palpatine’s manipulation during his rise to power. In fact, this is the leading theory explaining why the Imperial Fleet scattered upon his death. Except for two of the aforementioned occasions involving Jedi, this technique was always subtle and used for strategic effect with small nudges, not outright control. Neither the Jedi nor the Sith were ever observed to use it in combat, nor any of their other powers beyond melee range. Perhaps this indicates that Palpatine heeded the dictum “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Starfleet crews totally depend on computer systems to understand and interact with the situation around them. Crews in Star Trek would seem particularly vulnerable to cyber and EW since their whole view out of the ship is fed through the main viewer and computer screens. They cannot even move the ship at all, even simply going straight forward at low speed during an emergency without the main computer operational. As for social or psychological vulnerabilities, Starfleet crews are constantly bumping into new species humans had never encountered before. Paradoxically their vulnerabilities are precisely the opposite of what we’d expect.

Shimoda_plays_with_isolinear_chips

Figure 3: The Chief Engineer playing Jenga with control chips, completely immobilizing the ship as a nearby star is about to explode. Not surprisingly, you never see this guy again. Seriously, do you even remember his name?

Computers are integral to Starfleet’s ability to even see outside the ship, much less control it, target weapons, or analyze their environment. It would seem that the perfect way to attack a Starfleet vessel would be to hack the computer into opening all of their airlocks or to shut down the antimatter storage confinement. But for all the total dependence on it and the sophisticated sensors feeding it, and the commensurately high potential electronic warfare and cyber hijinks, the crew seems to be the biggest vulnerability—by far. There were certainly some examples where hostile powers jammed Starfleet transmissions and a few examples of spoofed transmissions and transponder codes (how the Enterprise was able to penetrate Klingon space to rescue Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy from the Rura Penthe penal colony). There were also occasions where another species penetrated their computer systems and shut the ship down or ransacked their records.

But this pales in comparison to the sheer frequency at which the crew itself was the attack vector in all of the series and movies. Nine episodes of the first 14 involved the entire crew or key leadership becoming incapacitated or controlled by outside powers. The times an unauthorized power took over the computer is insignificant compared to the scope of human vulnerabilities. The sheer depth, number of incidents, and myriad ways the crew or leadership of Starfleet vessels were controlled, manipulated, tricked, addicted, drugged, gas-lighted, and turned into sock puppets through strong forms of outright mind control should cause Starfleet to rethink how these systems are managed. Although many of these situations entailed the commanding officer making dubious decisions under the influence of an outside power over the objections of the crew, there were also many instances where the entire crew was affected. The best and brightest of Starfleet naïvely picked up strange androids, devices, and objects, or were careless about letting strangers obtain physical access to computer systems. Unauthorized outsiders (and often insiders) seized control of the ship or key decision makers regularly and didn’t even have to go through the trouble of taking control of the hardware themselves. This does not even include the galling number of times Starfleet personnel misappropriated or commandeered ships or other Starfleet property for their own purposes or engaged various levels of treasonous, mutinous, or well-meaning actions.

But nearly all of these relatively small numbers of incidents boiled down to going through a vulnerability of the crew. For example, Data spoofed Captain Picard’s voice authorization code to feign granting complete computer access to the Borg Queen when they failed to gain access themselves. The Borg could not gain access even with knowledge of the systems from humans they assimilated. This incident is even more troubling since Data’s ability to do that was itself a known vulnerability in the computer’s access controls. The Binars provide another rare example where outsiders gained full control of the computer and hence the ship. But these were Starfleet’s own contractors, and were authorized physical and root access to administer upgrades. The Binars performing the upgrade used their access to cause computer systems to falsely report that the engines were going to explode. They gained complete and uncontested control of the ship when the crew evacuated. But even this was ultimately attributable to social engineering because they were completely authorized for access and were granted clearance. Even Cadet Kirk’s famous hack to beat the Kobayashi Moru scenario was possible because he was familiar with the system had some level of access to the system as a student. He probably acquired the access controls by ahem socially engineering a member of the faculty.

Even Starfleet offensive operations targeting the enemy psyche are more effective than trying to penetrate their computer systems—even with species as dependent on them as the Borg. The Enterprise crew planned to use a cognitive virus comprised of an unsolvable geometric formula to attack the Borg. This approach was inexplicably abandoned and the captured Borg they planned to use as a carrier returned to the collective. But “Hugh” developed an individual personality, which spread like a plague through the psychological side of the collective and threw them into disarray anyway.

TNGCaption129e

Figure 4: Data was going to send over this bizarre Escher-like puzzle to the Borg to keep them busy, but instead, LaForge sent over a copy of Rage Against the Machine and copies of Kierkegaard, which gave them a fatal case of existential angst and mother issues. Data still doesn’t get it.

So it appears that human factors remain the greatest vulnerability to computer security centuries from now, just as they are today. These examples did not even touch upon deliberate misuse or commandeering of Starfleet ships or equipment by Starfleet personnel for their own purposes. It seems that Starfleet still suffers with the same information security issues we face today with human vulnerabilities and insider attacks. More distributed command responsibility or checks on the commanding officer’s authority will not necessarily help, and will cause potentially deadly delays in time-sensitive decisions. Clearly Starfleet needs to rethink command and control of their vessels and organizations, and how their personnel and automated systems can work coherently to bring out the best in both while protecting the other’s vulnerabilities.


Fear of Autonomous Systems:

Perhaps the marginal role and oddly circumscribed capabilities of computers and droids in Star Wars indicates past, even multiple past tragedies with artificially intelligent systems.

There’s evidence of this with killer robot and bounty hunter IG-88, allegedly a leftover from a smoldering droid/AI uprising. Although droids are capable of complex reasoning, tasks, and even emotion, their capabilities seem strangely circumscribed in many ways. R2D2 and C3PO are capable of fully autonomous action, complex reasoning and performing wide ranges of tasks, including many they were never designed to perform. Yet the first generation of Battle Droids fielded by the Separatists were kept under tight central control. They completely shut down in the middle of battle after Anakin Skywalker destroyed the central control ship. Later generations of Separatist war droids operated independently, but demonstrated severely constrained levels of intelligence compared with even the child-like intelligence of R2D2 and C3PO.

I mean, people may own slaves on this planet, but I'll be damned if I will let a kid drink.

Figure 5: “We don’t serve your kind here!” “Oh, you mean the droids?” “No, this is a bar, you idiot. We don’t serve MINORS! This may be a hive of scum and villainy, but even we have our standards.”

There is also a palpable disdain and distrust for droids, particularly in the aftermath of the Clone Wars. Written records cryptically mention that it is standard practice to wipe droid memory regularly. We know this only because Luke Skywalker insisted on making R2D2 an exception from this practice. This may also explain the ancillary role computers are given in operating ships and reveal why ships and fighters have such abysmally poor weapons targeting despite the power of computers and sensors.

Meanwhile, Starfleet has had several brushes with dangerous artificially intelligent systems, but has so far averted a catastrophe and embraces the use of complex and powerful computers and software. But there is a shadow of fear this may occur that casts a pall over the way some treat an android named Data. Data constantly had to defend his loyalty and very existence as a person throughout his career because of his potential and superhuman abilities. Moreover, as a computer that can have its hardware and software modified, he could be easily coopted (in theory). Yet although he too succumbed to manipulation and control, he actually fell under control much less than his human colleagues. Moreover, on several occasions he was the only thing standing between his crew and complete disaster because his mind works fundamentally differently and was not vulnerable to the same attack. Data’s twin, Lore, was certainly hostile, but mostly served to highlight the hazards of programming artificial intelligence with too many of the worst qualities of human intelligence and emotion.

There are a few other potentially dangerous artificially intelligent agents in Starfleet records. This includes one of Earth’s lost Voyager probes, which returned as V’Ger, but it became benign once it began to understand humanity and its mission better. Generally, every encounter Starfleet had with an existing or emerging artificially intelligent being ended satisfactorily, with the agent taking on a benign outlook, or were rendered safe. Generally Starfleet experience seems to indicate that intelligence is an intrinsically good thing, and only computers or androids with limited degrees of intelligence or understanding were dangerous.

For example, autonomous weapons systems with very limited intelligence in “demo mode” wiped out the population of an arsenal planet that produced them, as well as anyone else who stumbled upon the planet. These, and similar systems that doggedly and unreflectively followed their instructions with limited understanding of intent clearly showed something can be dangerous without coming close to human level intelligence, much less surpassing it.


Epilogue: A Staring Contest With An Unblinking Eye

funny-pictures-captain-kirk

Even when defeating hostile computers and malevolent AI, Kirk still used a social engineering approach.

Kirk defeated malevolent AI by using illogical prompts to cause it to break down.

The opposite is demonstrably more likely to be true.

 

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

War. War never changes.
The Old Republic waged war to preserve order and commerce. The Separatists built a counter-empire from their lust for wealth and territory. Palpatine shaped a battered Republic into a Galactic superpower.

But war never changes.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In the last century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: force users and conscript-able populations that could control them. For these resources, the Empire would destroy Alderaan, the Rebel Alliance would annex Hoth, and the far fringes of the Old Republic would dissolve into quarreling, bickering feudal states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources in the galaxy.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

After the Battle of Yavin, the storm of world war had come again. In four brief years, most of the galaxy was left unmoored, adrfit from a broken Empire, not yet part of the New Republic. And from the ashes of total galactic devastation, civilization would struggle to return as it once was.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In this chaos, a few were able to cling to power. The Sith been declared dead and ranks of the Jedi reduced to one. That, alone, was change, and it would not last. Power abhors a vacuum, and from among the scattered remnants of the reeling Empire and the growing edge of the Republican frontier, a new chapter in Galactic history would be written, echoing that of its forefathers.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

For a select few, life in the Galaxy is about to change.

Watch the new Star Wars trailer below:

Text adapted from the Fallout: New Vegas intro and best read in a Ron Perlman voice.

Today’s guest post come from Angry Staff Officer, and was originally published at Points of Decision on Medium. It is republished here with permission.

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

Army doctrine writers, when composing Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency (COIN), sought to draw on a large number of vignettes from diverse conflicts to make their argument for a comprehensive U.S. COIN strategy. In reality, those ineffable doctrine writers could have merely looked to the world of Star Wars and found therein multiple classic examples of successful and failed COIN (As an aside, they could have also found their mission statement in the single phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.” “It’s a trap” would also have worked). Now, one could get into the geopolitical semantics of whether the Galactic Empire itself was a legitimate government, with the overthrow of the Republic and the dissolution of the Senate. This would of course mean that the Rebel Alliance was in itself an insurgency, as defined by FM 3-24:

Insurgency: The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself.

Let us then presuppose that the Rebel Alliance was an insurgency, and examine the Empire’s multi-level approach to defeating the “Rebel scum.” First, they engaged through means of overwhelming military force. One could earn a PhD, I suppose, by trying to figure out the force outlay of the Imperial Fleet during the wars, and seeing how their forces were allocated. Regardless, the Empire was used to using massive force on an unprecedented scale. Fleets aligned around Star Destroyers (Much like a carrier battlegroup) could be deployed throughout the galaxy to visit shock and awe upon the locals. Imperial bases tended to be population-centric, with varying results. Mos Eisley, for example, afforded the Imperial forces a Forward Operating Base for operations on Tatooine. In fact, this stands as a successful example of Imperial COIN, as they leveraged the local population for aid against the Rebels. It also brings me to the first of two vignettes I would like to focus on.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

On Tatooine, the Imperials established a working relationship with the Jawa community. Jawas were well emplaced in the thriving black market and offered a conduit to any off-world activity entering the planet. They were generally left to their own devices, with the Imperials allowing them to continue their black market activities. Of course, this was not always the case, as sometimes Jawas were considered expendable in the search for Rebel activity, i.e., destroying an entire community in the search for Rebel droids. We can infer from the Imperial stormtroopers forensic efforts to place the blame for the destruction of the Jawa vehicle on the Sand People (essentially the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin of Tatooine) that they did not routinely massacre the small, hooded beings. Even with incidents like this, the Jawas did not attempt guerrilla activity or aggression versus the Imperials, possibly for fear of being outgunned, but definitely from the fear of the loss of their fiscal empire. By building their base of support in an urban area, with the availability of Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) and tying in with an unethical economy, the Imperial forces scored a COIN “win.”

The next example stands in strong juxtaposition to the last. Endor is the exact opposite of Tatooine: remote, lightly populated, and largely rural, it did not offer the same types of benefits as an urban center would. The Imperial decision to place the Shield Generator for the second Death Star on Endor was folly at best, criminal negligence at worst. While Imperial tactics had developed for both desert and arctic combat conditions, their jungle warfare tactics were woefully inadequate. Relying on speeder bikes for rapid movement and All Terrain Scout Transports (AT-ST), Imperial troops limited their adaptive reaction to a kinetic battlefield. AT-STs in particular were not suited for the dense and constrictive terrain of Endor due to their top heavy nature and design flaws in the legs.

An ewok, with thousand-mile stare.

Ewoks get a lot of bad press but doesn’t this one look like a 30 year veteran of imperial resistance?

In addition to their ignorance of physical terrain (the Imperials often showed their ignorance of METT-TC; probably because they didn’t have doctrine writers), the Imperials ignored their successes on Tatooine and failed to engage the local populace, the Ewoks. One reason could be that perhaps they underestimated the Ewoks, due to their rural society and non-threatening outward appearance. If this is the case, then the Imperial forces made the same mistakes the British did in the 18th century when encountering the Ghurkas of Nepal. Like the Ewoks, the Ghurkas appeared to be a minor foe: short of stature, non-imposing features, a rural city-state society. The British soon discovered this to be incredibly false when they first encountered the Ghurkas in the field of battle. The British learned from this mistake and developed an alliance with the Ghurkas that continues to this day with the Royal Regiment of Ghurka Rifles (note: don’t piss off a Ghurka). The Galactic Empire understood no such nuances, and treated the Ewoks with disdain. This translated into a hostile populace which developed grievances over land use and the reckless use of force by Imperial stormtroopers. When the advance party of the Rebel Alliance landed on Endor, they found a dissatisfied and disenfranchised group with a strong desire for revenge.

The Imperial oversight of the military capabilities of the Ewoks proved to be a disaster when the fighting began, as Imperial patrols were wiped out and fighting positions overrun. Of particular note is the way in which the main combat platform of the AT-ST, a force multiplier for the base-bound stormtroopers, was negated through use of terrain and light infantry tactics. Much like the Finnish tactics in the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Ewoks utilized the restrictive terrain to canalize their enemy and defeat them in detail. The disaster was multiplied by the seizure of the Shield Generator and the subsequent destruction of the second Death Star. Had the Empire engaged the Ewoks or at least ignored their activities, much like they did the Jawas, the end result may have been much different.

The failure of the Empire to recognize the importance of non-human actors on the battlefield dealt a death blow to their endeavors. Their ignorance of the human terrain (Ok, non-human, but you get the point) led them to overreach and commit their forces in an entirely illogical manner. Much like the British Army of 1763 during Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Imperial forces trusted to technology and an over-inflated sense of tactical superiority which led them to build undermanned outposts in hostile terrain. One could also point to their intelligence failures in underestimating the size of the surviving Rebel Fleet after the Battle of Hoth and their ignorance of basic supply lines when developing forward bases, but their failure in the realm of COIN is what particularly stands out in this case. While U.S. Army doctrine writers often come under scathing criticism by bitter and jaded staff officers such as myself, the reality is that the Galactic Empire could have done with a bit of doctrine on their own. It is evident that no one was codifying lessons learned or developing tactics, techniques, and procedures to aid the stormtroopers on the battlefield. This failure should stand out to all military leaders and serve as a warning against ignoring doctrine outright.

That being said, I still hate ATTP 5-0.1 and want to kick Frederick the Great in the family jewels for developing the general staff.

This post was originally featured on Sharlynegger‘s blog, Coruscant Heights, and is reprinted with permission.

This is a topic I have always wanted to write about, mostly because I have seen so many analyses of Star Wars that did nothing but decry the near absence of women in the movies. As such, it’s often classified as one of the most sexist science-fiction works in existence, and let’s face it, there’s not even a need to run the Bechdel Test here.

Because we fail miserably.

However, as a woman who considers herself a feminist, I don’t think it’s fair to completely ignore the positive role Star Wars has had for women in science-fiction. I can say at least this: I was raised on Star Wars, literally – I saw the original movies at age four or five, I would cover my eyes per dad’s orders at the scary scenes (Honestly, call it instinct, I still do when the Emperor zaps Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi), I spent my entire childhood playing Star Wars video games with my father and pretending the office was a spaceship. After the Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think there was a day without my father referring to me as his “Young Padawan.”

And so, despite its lack of women, Star Wars had a huge influence on my life, and on my feminism, both the movies and the expanded universe. This is what I’m going to try to convince you of here, by having a closer look at every major female character in the movies.

Women in the Original Trilogy

Let’s start with the start; and I mean the real start. And I admit, it’s really difficult to find women in the Original Trilogy other than Leia. In all three movies, there are really three women that appear on screen and interact with the main characters: Princess Leia Organa, Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebellion, and Luke’s aunt, Beru Lars. But despite their small number, two of those had an extremely positive impact.

Princess Leia

Leia was, and still is the major female figure of Star Wars, and I believe things will stay that way for a long time.

She is a fascinating character: at first, she seems to fit all the medieval tropes of the Damsel in Distress (she is, after all, a princess) waiting for her knight to rescue her. Worse, that happens to her in all three movies: in A New Hope, Luke and Han rescue her from the Death Star; in The Empire Strikes Back, she is rescued by Lando’s men in Bespin’s Cloud City; finally, in Return of the Jedi, she finds herself in this situation twice, first in Jabba’s palace, and then on Endor when she is separated from the Rebel group.

“Again?!”

Seeing this, it’s easy to understand why, at first glance, Leia’s character wouldn’t strike anyone as a symbol of gender equality in science-fiction. But, let’s look at her a little closer. What is the first thing we learn about Princess Leia?

This scene.

Well, obviously, she is not just a princess; or at least not a very conventional one. Leia is presented to us as a spy, and a successful one too: she has an important mission, and she gets it done, at the cost of her safety and freedom. Her bravery in that scene is a trait that is something more often seen with male characters in similar movies.

On top of being introduced as a brave operative of the Rebellion, Leia’s resistance against Darth Vader shortly after immediately sets the mood: she is a force to be reckoned with. Later, we get more displays of her strength of character: she resists torture by the Empire, and still lies about the location of the Rebel base, even as her home planet is about to literally blown up. Furthermore, we see throughout all three movies that she is a strong, respected leader: displays of her command over her men are frequent.

TheFateofAllFemaleWookieepedians

I’m pretty sure they’re listening. Except the idiot who’s sleeping right there.

Leia’s skills don’t stop at politics and spying. She’s often shown as a very successful fighter (and a good shot).

Princess_Leia_Return_of_the_Jedi_Endor

I wouldn’t mess with her.

Let’s have a closer look at each of the situations where Leia had to be rescued.

  • In A New Hope, after being freed from her cell by Luke and Han (where she looks like she was just waiting in there completely bored, not very much in distress), Leia pretty much takes control of the situation. She is the one who throws everyone in the dumpster. Not Luke or Han, who are just sitting there unsure of what to do: no, Leia takes the blaster, shoots, and pretty much saves everyone’s butt (temporarily, at least).
  • When on Bespin, despite being initially captured by the Empire and saved by Lando’s men, Leia, again, quickly takes control of the situation (with a little help from Chewbacca, I’ll admit). She is the one who saves Luke after his terrible first “Bring Your Son To Work” day.
  • Return of the Jedi’s famous scene in Jabba The Hutt’s palace does not escape this treatment. Let’s not forget that Leia gets captured while rescuing Han – another middle finger to the Damsel in Distress trope. Of course, then Leia ends up in the infamous slave costume we all know (and I still think that was just George Lucas’ pervert side taking advantage of Carrie Fisher requesting new costumes). But then, what happens? Once again, Leia turns the situation around and literally strangles Jabba to death.
SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

What else does that say about Leia? Well, we know that she literally doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Look at all this glorious sass.

tumblr_m6kpc0LavA1rsrbxa

giphy

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Note: if anyone can find the author of these GIFs, so I can credit them, I’d be grateful!

In the end, I think Leia was my first role model. At the age I saw the movies, I was very much a Disney kid: all my princesses were Belle, Aurora, Cinderella-types. While those also have diverse qualities, Leia soon became my favorite princess. And here’s the key: Leia very much is a princess. But she’s also a fighter, a spy, a politician, and a leader. All those traits, usually associated with male characters, don’t make her any less of a princess, or any less of a woman. All at once, they have made her a very powerful, very influential woman in science-fiction.

Mon Mothma

Leia is not the only strong woman depicted in the original trilogy. How could one forget Mon Mothma? Her character, though very briefly seen in Return of the Jedi, is crucial. She is the leader of the Rebel Alliance, and she is seen giving the briefing before the Battle of Endor. Her role is even more important in the extended universe of Star Wars, with her making appearances as the “General Big Boss” in many games and books. Her iconic line “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” has long turned into a meme and ensured that her role in the movie did not get forgotten.

Representation matters. Power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

Representation matters. All power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

I think the most important thing about her is that her gender is never put into question in the movie: she is introduced, much like Leia, as a respected leader with a position important enough to command the entire Alliance.

Again, it’s only a shame that her appearance is so short; it reduces the importance and positivity of her character.

Aunt Beru and the others

Let’s be honest: the other female characters shown in the original movies are probably contributing to the whole “Star Wars is sexist” conclusion. And frankly, I don’t think they could be much worse.

Aunt Beru, the only woman who gets a name aside from Leia and Mon Mothma, is only used as emotional advancement for Luke, along with his uncle. She fits the role of the gentle mother figure who dies to make the male protagonist motivated enough to start his quest – something that is repeated in the prequels. The only thing that softens this up for her is that she dies along with Luke’s uncle, lessening the “Woman In the Refrigerator” trope effect (but don’t worry, we get that *twice* in the prequels! Yay!)

Aside from Beru, what do we have? The dancers in Jabba’s palace, which are your classic female characters in the background, and…the deleted Rebel pilots. Yes, you’ve read correctly: there were initially female X-wing pilots in Return of the Jedi, that is, before George Lucas scratched their parts at the last minute.

Wait, what?!

original

Wait, what?!

Some of them can be seen in the BluRay edition deleted scenes. Which raises the question: why were these scenes deleted at the last moment? Why was the footage not included? And why specifically the scenes including female pilots? Honestly, we may never know, but personally, I’ve got a pretty good idea. Maybe George Lucas offered them to fly in iron bikinis.

Women in the Prequels

That gives us two very positive roles for women in the old trilogy, but a distinct lack of named female characters, two of which were willingly removed from the movies. Mixed feelings, right? What about the prequels?

What we can observe from the prequels is that they are more recent, and there was a visible effort to include more women roles. But are those roles as positive as Leia and Mon Mothma? I’m not so sure. Again, there are only two major female characters in the prequels: Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala. And if we compare these to Leia and Mon Mothma… well. See for yourself.

Shmi Skywalker

While I loved the gentleness and diversity in female personalities that Shmi represented for the Star Wars series, her entire character is a living trope. Her role was not quite as bad during the Phantom Menace, where she was even shown as a selfless, strong mother who put the wellbeing of her child in front of everything else – a common theme in fiction, but new to Star Wars – and was not afraid of living the rest of her life as a slave.

"Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we're going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff."

“Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we’re going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff.”

Then, Attack of the Clones happens. Shmi then turns into the perfect embodiment of the Woman in the Refrigerator I was mentioning earlier: she is only a reason for Anakin to start turning to the Dark Side. Just like that, we learn that her entire existence, her entire character is only there for Anakin’s character development. Quite frankly, she is not really the positive woman representation I was looking for. What else do we have in the prequels?

Padmé Amidala

Padmé – pardon me, Queen Amidala – started out wonderfully well. She is introduced as a powerful queen, loved by her people, and most importantly, elected. As such, Padmé’s position does not come from only “tradition”: she is a young prodigy who earned her place. Much like Leia, she is shown as a fiery woman and expert politician, with battle skills and a natural talent for leadership.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

During most of The Phantom Menace, she is portrayed as clever, gentle, and willing to put herself at risk for her people. All very good traits. Still, like Leia, she still very much a woman, and that is a good thing! Women can be strong AND intelligent AND pretty. AND like beautifully crafted costumes. Attack of the Clones, despite what one might think, did not ruin her character right away: we get to see more of her fighting skills, and meet her strong-headed side, the side that refuses to be seduced right away by Anakin as she focuses on her career.

Sadly, that doesn’t last. Quickly, Anakin and Padmé’s romance, unlike Leia and Han’s, becomes central to the story: Padmé is still a strong ally, but that is when we start seeing where the prequels are heading with her.

I mean, let's face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I mean, let’s face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I had doubts when I saw the movie, but even then, I still considered her a powerful, positive character. Even during her wedding with Anakin, even though it made little sense. It was certainly saddening to see her relinquish her role as a politician to that of “forbidden love character”. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Revenge of the Sith when it comes to her personality.

I mean – what happened? Forget Padmé’s leadership skills, forget her politician background. Revenge of the Sith turns her into a plot hole (because, frankly, why does Leia remember her if she died giving birth to her?) The bridge to the original movies is sealed with her losing all interest as a character: she becomes nothing but Anakin’s character development, much like Shmi. Then again, we kind of all wish Anakin’s character development was actually a development.

WHO wrote this?

I mean, WHO wrote this?

Padmé’s character becomes just terrible in that movie: she does nothing to save herself, or even to help Anakin. She just, literally, sits there during the entire movie waiting to be killed, while Anakin turns to the Dark Side to save her. The worst part of it is probably her “losing the will to live” at the end. Why would she lose the will to live? She is about to give birth to two perfectly healthy children, both of which could have been her only hope to save Anakin and the Jedi Order. Padmé, the Queen who got elected at the age of fourteen, the Senator who fought in a Geonosis arena, decides to simply let go of herself and her children because her lover needs to become Lord Vader by strangling her.

They did what to my character?

They did what to my character?

If you still think that makes sense, feel free to explain it to me. Because all I remember from that is this:

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

In the end, that gave me a very negative view of Padmé. The one character that I thought was going to be as inspiring as Leia turned out to be a plot-hole with no personality by the end of the prequels.

Sidenote: if you really think a politician as experienced and talented as Padmé would have chosen Jar-Jar Binks to represent her at the Senate while she was away, you… no. Just no.

A note on the background women

That said, it would be unfair to forget the other women presented in the prequels. Although none of them get a major role (at the exception, perhaps, of the assassin Zam), there are distinctively more than there were in the original trilogy.

We get to see a few female Jedi, including the librarian in the Jedi Temple. Finally, women with lightsabers! My days of running around the yard calling my dog Chewbacca and pretending to be a Jedi are validated.

jedi-girl

Review_JocastaNuTVC_stillF

female_jedi

Zam Wesell, the shapeshifting assassin in Attack of the Clones, is the first female villain we see in the movies. That fact makes her worth mentioning, and it is indeed nice to see more diverse profiles for female characters.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Finally, Padmé’s all-female handmaiden crew, one of which dies for her in Attack of the Clones, are in my opinion another interesting female input in the series. It’s a shame they are not developed a little more. Despite the fact that they fit the traditional handmaiden mold, their devotion and courage to their queen sets them a little above that trope.

I think we’re done with the women that show up in the prequels. Not a very good score, either.

So, is Star Wars sexist?

With all that’s been said, I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars could use a few more women roles. It would have been nice to see more relevant female Jedi who get more than just a death scene (I’m looking at you, Aayla Secura), it would have been nice to see those female X-wing pilots included in the original movie. And, while I’m at it, why not show female Imperial officers?

The extended universe took on all of that. The contrast is stunning: the games, books and comics are filled with example of very diverse female characters. We have villains, Sith, Jedi, Imperials, pilots and bounty hunters of various races, whose gender is rarely ever called into question. When it comes to the representation, the extended universe certainly wins.

However, I don’t think we can say that the movies are doing so bad: both the original trilogy and the prequels showed strong women in positions of power. But that is where the prequels fail at having an impact as important as the original: Leia and Mon Mothma’s influence was never defined by their gender, and the romance in the original trilogy was only a side plot. In the prequels, while there are more women in the background, the romance is completely central to the plot, obfuscating the genderless qualities of Padmé. Worse, both of the major female characters are character development material for Anakin. As always, we are brought to the final conclusion that the original trilogy is better than the prequels.

Yes, I just went there.

Yes, I just went there.

In all seriousness: yes, the original trilogy definitely lacked women. But the positive representation that Leia generated by herself, with her personality, power, and story, had such an impact on the viewers that I think it’s still fair to call her a feminist heroine.

In any case, I can finally call her my favorite Disney princess.