I’ve always been the kind of guy who has been attracted to really interesting designs. As a child, my favorite Loony Tune was the Roadrunner not because I found him particularly funny, but because he looked so damn cool. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate character nuance and substance being as important if not more than style, though style does play a role. To bring it back to a Star Wars example, I appreciate Sebulba for the kind of character he is and what he represents, but he wouldn’t be my third favorite Saga character of all time were it not that I feel the Dug is probably the most utterly awesome design to come out of any of the films.
Cool aliens have been one of the staples of the Star Wars universe since 1977, but a cursory glance shows a boom in the critters during the Fall of the Republic. Cynical viewers might see this as simply a marketing strategy. I feel this is bogus, of course. While certainly some of the designs owe a lot to the rule of cool, great care was taken to show that they made some sort of sense in-universe, either evolutionary or thematically. It’s not always evident within the scope of the films themselves, but it’s one area where the Expanded Universe is invaluable.
But let’s take a closer look at how the alien species breakdown really happens in the Saga, going from release date. “A New Hope” introduced a lot of species, but very few were given a lot of screentime. Aside from Chewie, the Jawas, and the Tuskens, most of the aliens in Hope were confined to the Cantina, and even then you rarely get a good glance. There was a diversity, but very small-scaled. Go to “Empire Strikes Back”, you’ve got Hoth’s wildlife, Yoda and Dagobah’s ecosystem, and the Exogorth with its “ecosystem”. Far less diversity. “Return of the Jedi” explodes the diversity with Jabba’s Palace and the Ewoks (and incidentally, it’s there the “marketing” accusations began). “Phantom Menace” increases the species diversity exponentially, introducing a ton of new species to the Star Wars Universe. “Attack of the Clones”, however, begins to scale it back. We get fewer new species, though they’re still more prominent than in Hope and about the same as Jedi. “Revenge of the Sith” we get slightly less diversity than Clones and closer to the level we have at Hope.
This was not an accident. Even taking into account leaps in technology leading to the desire to try out new toys in Jedi and Phantom in particular, one mustn’t forget it was the story that demanded the effects, not the other way around. So, what’s the story?
To show how utterly Nazi-ish Palpatine’s Empire really is.
Back in July, I wrote a blog post criticizing accusations of racism in Star Wars (Found here, but I warn readers of some adult language). When talking about the Nemoidians, I paraphrased the novelization of “Revenge of the Sith” when I mentioned that it was no coincidence that the leaders of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, save Dooku, were all aliens. It’s been hinted at in the films and flat-out stated in several EU sources that the Empire is extremely anti-alien. The Empire is dripping with subtle and not-so-subtle references to the Third Reich. And, like any decent reference to that dark period of humanity, the overall message is that this kind of behavior is not at all good. This fits with the fact that it was the Ewoks, the “primitive aliens,” that bested the Empire at the Battle of Endor. The message here is clear: when you discriminate, you’re going to come to a bad end.
I-III takes an even subtler and more disturbing look at this, since it shows how this came about in the first place. As I mentioned, the Nemoidians and the other alien Separatist leaders were set up by Palpatine as the scapegoats, so that when (or rather if, since Palpatine always had a plan B) the Republic won the Clone Wars, the non-humans could be persecuted and shunted to the side to make way for an Empire consisting entirely of Homo sapiens. Not unlike how the blame for Germany’s bad economy following World War I was shifted to Jewish business owners. Even more devious is that Palpatine gets the alien senators, especially poor old Jar Jar, to vote against their interests; something that is sadly common in the history of politics (indeed, scholars of political history can find a veritable goldmine in I-III, but that’s a little outside of this article’s scope).
In light of this, both the first impression of far more species diversity in I-III and the actual diversity breakdown of the Saga makes far more sense. Aliens are still more accepted up to the Republic’s fall, and during the Empire’s rule they’re mostly confined to backwaters such as Tatooine.
Fear is a path to the Dark Side. Xenophobia, the fear of others, is therefore a perfect representation of evil. While we certainly have examples of evil or unsavory aliens in the galaxy far far away, all beings are capable of light and dark and should be judged as individuals regardless of their race. I think that’s a wonderful lesson.