Readers obsessed with pop culture may be aware that the Star Wars franchise is somewhat popular. But while The Rise Of Skywalker disappointed audiences by forcing them to think about Emperor Palpatine's throbbing red space penis, the franchise has long been leaning on an even dumber thing that makes the whole universe feel as though it exists solely to cater to the characters who get top billing. See, Star Wars heroes really, really like blowing themselves up.
Explosions? In Star Wars? We guess there might be a few ...
Take The Mandalorian, which broke bold new ground by exploring why the Empire is bad. In its first season finale, our heroes (incredibly obvious spoiler alert) gun down about 4,000 hapless Stormtroopers like they're marines crashing a children's laser tag party. But later they face a far greater challenge: like seven or eight more Stormtroopers. This is deemed an obstacle impossible to overcome, because Stormtroopers shift between "shock troops feared by all the Galaxy" and "incompetent canon fodder in a soothing franchise for children" whenever the plot demands it. Luckily, there's a solution: IG-11, the Taika Waititi Dialogue Bot, just needs to wade into the middle of their ranks and blow itself up.
Bizarrely, the episode starts with an extended comedic bit that humanizes a pair of Stormtroopers before we move on to suicide-bombing their pals, although at least it's the convenient kind of explosion that kills people while leaving all of their limbs intact. But the point is that IG-11 might as well have declared "While I have no place in next season's story, my death will teach an important lesson to Pedro Pascal's character" before it pulled the trigger. It's supposed to be a moment of pathos, but it comes across like a blood sacrifice to the cult of Baby Yoda.
Walt Disney Pictures
Star Wars is far from the only franchise propped up by the "I'll kill myself now because there's no room for me in the sequels" crutch, but it's weird how often it goes to that particular blood well. Characters can never retire or leave. They have to die, because otherwise we'd be deluged in fan theories concluding that when IG-11 left the cast, it was to go use his new nursing algorithms to masturbate Emperor Palpatine and inseminate Rey's grandmother (who is probably Savage Opress' cousin, because god forbid anyone in this series not be related to someone we already know). It's a lazy way to demonstrate that for all the supposed storytelling potential of this vast universe, there are only a handful of characters who actually matter, while everyone else is just waiting around to blow up in service of the hero's next character beat.
This also happens in Solo, in which our team of scrappy outlaws needs to destroy a bridge. Val, the wife of whatever Woody Harrelson's character was called, is portrayed as the cautious, rational member of the gang, but the moment she gets pinned down by a couple of droids, she shrugs and decides that the only solution is to blow up a bridge while she's still on it. No, we're not demanding that every character in every Star Wars live to a nice old space age and retire to a space farm, but the character who was just shown gunning down droids immediately throws her life away in the face of, horror of horrors, two more droids. All because Woody Harrelson needed to be sad about something and she didn't fit into the bantering back-stabs that Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover were slated to find themselves in.
Last Jedi jukes this cliche in its opening, in which Rose's sister blows herself up to take down an enemy ship. The act is questioned by Leia, who points out that the Resistance can't afford such cavalier losses, then adds that Paige probably wouldn't have sacrificed herself so readily if she knew what the whiny fanboys were going to say about Rose to get her sidelined in Episode IX: So Does Palpatine's Ejaculate Glow Like A Lightsaber?
But then Holdo's suicidal ramming of the biggest and baddest enemy ship is considered a good move by everyone, including Leia, because she'd ... lived enough of her life already? Because Leia had learned to appreciate the pros of kamikaze? The scene looks impressive, but it also has all the hallmarks of "Holdo isn't needed in this movie anymore, and we'd rather kill her than let Abrams get his hands on her."
Walt Disney Pictures
It's in Rogue One too, and no, we're not talking about the fact that the whole plot revolves around a suicide mission. Before the big finale, Forest Whitaker's character decides to stay on a planet that's about to get a Death Star makeover, even though he has the chance to escape, with his rationale being that he would "not run any longer." But ... why? You barely get to know this character (unless you've dedicated a year of your life to consuming supplementary material), and suddenly he's decided that life is overrated. Because if Star Wars has one overarching theme, surely it's "Fuck it, give up and die." Way to motivate the rest of the team, man.
Yes, real-life conflicts have seen real-life heroic sacrifices, and real people lose the will to live, albeit not usually in the fun pulp sci-fi context that Star Wars is going for. We're probably not going to see Elan Sleazebaganno drink himself to death because Mrs. Sleazebaganno left him for a better provider and lover. But the trick in all of these scenes is that the characters are written like they know they'll cease to exist once the credits start rolling anyway. They're not people who could escape to spend time with their loved ones or volunteer at a space orphanage or otherwise contribute to the Galaxy that they ostensibly care so much about; they're just ticking off the "heroic sacrifice" box on the corporate checklist.
The older Star Wars movies aren't without this trope, too. The climatic battle in Return Of The Jedi features a kamikaze A-Wing ramming the Super Duper Extra Strength Star Destroyer. But it's the new movies and shows that are wedded to the "A minor inconvenience? Better kill myself!" school of screenwriting. The prequels were slammed for revolving around a war between clones and droids that had all the emotional impact of a child knocking action figures together, but how is this any different? Why should we get attached to characters who are aware of their own roles as expendable fictions?
Death has always been cheap in Star Wars. Darth Maul came back to life because Disney would rather drive pandas to extinction than let a marketable villain go to waste, Emperor Palpatine came back to life because J.J. Abrams was gifted a misbegotten screenwriting career by his parents, and so on. It's a franchise that wants us to care about the fate of a few individuals while we ignore the blown-up planets and piles of dead soldiers that are larger than those produced by most actual wars, often while having the good guys use tactics we'd find reprehensible in reality.
20th Century Fox
That's fine to a point -- it's not called Star Diplomacy -- but one of the biggest criticisms of Rise Of Skywalker is that it reinforced the fact that only around a dozen people truly matter in this universe. Rey can't just be Rey; she has to be a byproduct of Palpatine's portentous star jizz, and everyone else is disposable window dressing. All of the suicidal rampages reinforce a message that drifts beyond "Heroic sacrifices for the greater good are admirable" and into "There is no actual life in this universe outside of whatever the Skywalkers are involved in these days, and we must die so that they may live to sell more merchandise."
And yes, you can write all of this off as "It's a series of children's films about space wizards," but it's also a billion-dollar media franchise that produces more passion than most real-world news, so maybe it's worth thinking about. But whatever weird moral message this trend may hold, can we at least come up with a new way for our heroes to get out of a jam? Otherwise we're going to sit down with the next installment of Star Wars and think "Oh, that character looks cool. I wonder when they'll blow themselves up for the cause?"
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