Although Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo defeated the Galactic Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi—with an assist from a teddy bear or three—the new era of Star Wars has made no secret of the fact that the galaxy’s problems weren’t all solved with the death of Palpatine. Various remnants of the Empire survived, the First Order arose, the Emperor came back, and that’s just in the sequel trilogy; if you check out the books, you’ll know the government of the New Republic was mired by political infighting almost immediately upon its establishment. But last week’s episode of The Mandalorian revealed a new, even darker truth about the “good guys” running the galaxy.
In “The Convert,” it’s revealed that the New Republic has been giving various former officers of the Empire amnesty in exchange to coming to work for them. That’s all well and good, although the episode’s focus on Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi)—a cloning scientist who worked for Werner Herzog’s Client in season one—gives off distinct vibes of the U.S. recruiting Nazi scientists after World War II. But Pershing hasn’t been asked to continue his research; he’s basically doing data entry, and if he’s unsatisfied with his new line of work, he’s also seemingly grateful to not be working for the Empire anymore.
That should be a happy ending for Dr. Pershing, but it’s not, and not least because former Imperial officer Elia Kane (Katy O’Brien), who also received amnesty but does not appear to have switched sides, tricks the scientist into illegally trying to take research equipment from a decommissioned Star Destroyer, getting caught, and having his mind wiped by a “602 Mitigator” to get rid of what Republic monitors assume are lingering, evil, Imperial sentiments. Unfortunately for Pershing, Kane secretly turns up what the Empire used to call a “mind-flayer” up to 11, presumably to destroy whatever knowledge Pershing had of Moff Gideon’s cloning program.
Former Imperials being evil is to be expected, narratively speaking. What’s unexpected is that the New Republic seems to have become morally compromised from the minute it was established. The fact that it’s using Imperial technology to change people’s morality and personalities is beyond messed up. This is not something good guys do, and if you had any question about this, the evil Empire used it. If you have lingering doubts, it’s called a mind-flayer. Most of the time, in fiction, it’s portrayed as morally reprehensible, as in Brave New World; at best it’s presented as morally questionable. And the New Republic apparently does this on the regular!
“The Convert” is littered with other signs that the New Republic is just the Empire with a new coat of paint and a lack of awareness. Pershing and the other amnestied Imperials are essentially still wearing Imperial uniforms, now in dark blue instead of gray or black. Their names are stripped from them, to be replaced with a number, like prisoners. They’re regularly questioned by a droid about their loyalties. It all feels very fascist and dystopian, like all that changed under the new regime is the Imperial “cog” logos have been replaced with the Alliance symbol.
What is Star Wars trying to say here? That all governments, no matter how noble their intentions, are flawed? That power inevitably corrupts, and that nothing good can last? Goddammit, I know that. I live in reality. Which is not something I need or particularly want out of Star Wars.
I’m not saying that the franchise needs to return to the stark, black-and-white morality of the original trilogy; to do so would lose Andor, which has marvelously explored the lengths people will go to fight evil, even if they have to compromise themselves in the process. But The Mandalorian is doing Andor a major disservice by showing the New Republic to be tainted from the get-go. We’ve watched Cassian Andor, Mon Mothma, and Luthen Rael sacrifice so much, and for what? A new, ostensibly benevolent government which brainwashes dissidents in the exact same way as the Space Nazis used to.
And that’s the key. It’s not that the New Republic has problems, it’s that we’ve just been shown it is actively evil and just too dumb to realize it. Worse, The Mandalorian season three takes place around 13 years after the events of A New Hope, or less than a decade after the Empire was toppled in Return of the Jedi. That’s all the time it took for the New Republic to become corrupted, and it didn’t even have the excuse of a secret Sith lord manipulating events. (Well, as far as we know.)
I probably sound like a whiny, entitled Star Wars fan right now, and… uh… that’s almost certainly accurate. But even just on a narrative level, it’s immensely dissatisfying to discover the evil that Luke Skywalker and others fought so hard to defeat didn’t just survive in the First Order, but in what should have been their victory. As The Mandalorian has shown us, the good guys didn’t win anything. And if the good guys never win, how can they be heroes?
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