Given the drop of the second The Force Awakens teaser this week, I've got a bit of Star Wars on the mind. Taking a tour of Star Wars related writing I've enjoyed, let's begin by revisiting the Empire's spectacular military failure at the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.
The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.
When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency.
A fun read. Given what we learned about Anakin in Episodes I-III, maybe impulsive thinking shouldn't be that much of a surprise.
Another amusing read: John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design.
Yes, I know, I want one too. But I tell you what: I want one with a hand guard. Otherwise every lightsaber battle would consist of sabers clashing and then their owners sliding as quickly as possible down the shaft to lop off their opponent’s fingers. You say: Lightsabers can slice through anything but another lightsaber, so what are you going to make a hand guard out of? I say: Dude, if you have the technology to make a lightsaber, you have the technology to make a light hand guard.
I wonder if this was the inspiration for the now infamous lightsaber with handguards first seen in the initial The Force Awakens teaser. Or maybe it was a suggestion from Jony Ive, though he denied being the inspiration for the cross guards in his New Yorker profile.
Another amusing bit from that piece:
They stand out like a sore thumb in every environment but snow, the helmets restrict view (“I can’t see a thing in this helmet!” — Luke Skywalker), and the armor is penetrable by single shots from blasters. Add it all up and you have to wonder why stormtroopers don’t just walk around naked, save for blinders and flip-flops.
The second teaser shows what seem to be updated designs for Stormtrooper uniforms, but it doesn't appear the design flaws noted above have been solved. They still stand out in almost any environment, and visibility is likely still a concern.
Also recommended, Chris Taylor's How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. Ask any craftsman or entrepreneur and they'll tell you the first draft is just a template, that much of any great work or company comes in the iteration and editing and endless revision. Taylor's book, aside from being a great history of the making of the movie, is testament to that truth. What Star Wars began as and what it ended up as are so different it's stunning.
Lastly, one of my favorite Tyler Cowen posts: the public choice economics of Star Wars: a Straussian reading.
The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:
1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway? The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail). Aren’t they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.
3. Obi-Wan told Luke scores of lies, including the big whopper that his dad was dead.
6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story. (It is also interesting which group of "Jedi" Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)
8. The core message is that power corrupts, but also that good guys have power too. Our possible safety lies in our humanity, not in our desires to transcend it or wield strange forces to our advantage.
One can argue the Jedi are the source of all strife in the Star Wars universe, playing the key role in Lucas's critique of fascism or religious fanaticism.