On Caring About The Inconsequential: #SaberGate vs. #BlackStormtrooper

Part of being a nerd, part of being an enthusiast of any stripe, is caring, really caring, about minutiae. Sure, the reaction we get from a lot of people, sometimes even fellow nerds, is dismissive mocking, but in the end it is okay to care about things that don’t matter.

Debating the tiniest points of interest from every possible angle can lead to scientific breakthroughs, or just good conversation. It’s an intellectual exercise and a rhetorical work out. Star Wars is one of those franchises that seems to bring out some of the most impassioned debate, and this new teaser trailer certainly hasn't broken the trend. I'm here to breakdown two of those shouting matches and hopefully illustrate how to responsibly argue about shit that doesn't matter.

#SaberGate

Oh, that lightsaber! While lightsabers have mostly stuck to the basic design of a hilt with a plasma sword projecting from it for the movies, the animated Clone Wars series multiplied the number of Jedi and Sith flipping through the air with two lightsabers. There was a clear mandate to continue the arms race begun in the prequels for ramping up the excitement of lightsaber duels. Why else would we be treated to plasma-weedwhacker General Grievous?

A lot of discussions of this kind devolve into wild speculation and obscure canon discussions, but this is a weapon, specifically a sword. Say what you want about debating how realistic a space ninja wizard's laser sword design is, but we’ve got a thousand years of sword history and design to draw on. There are objective reasons that certain design choices are made and we know why certain designs succeed or fail. We even having living experts for the Washington Post to interview.

The conclusion that Kevin Cashen comes to (and I must agree) is that a crossguard isn’t a bad idea, but it’s a terrible idea to make your crossguard out of blades. There’s a reason you don’t see sharpened crossguards on broadswords. You see, they tend to get caught in clothing and whack into flesh when you start getting all twirly and acrobatic. What might be a minor flesh wound with a regular, sharpened crossguard could quickly become an amputation with a lightsaber.

Nor does it make much sense to make a crossguard out of a material that the rival blade will slice right through. There are lightsaber resistant materials in the expanded Star Wars universe, so we COULD give the benefit of the doubt on that point, but frankly, having to justify that shitty design by essentially inventing a new material is clumsy as fuck. It's bad storytelling.

Either the audience has to accept something silly at face value or the story has to halt to explain a tiny detail that nobody actually cares enough about to enjoy the explanation. Lucas has recently decided that this is the wheelhouse for Star Wars. Midichlorians fall even more egregiously into this narrative hellscape, but who wants to here about that again?

Nit-picking even deeper into the excited-twelve-year-old thought process that George Lucas is clearly in thrall to, we can point out much better solutions for solving the same problem. First of all, big, wide crossguards like that are usually affixed to equally big swords. It’s the kind of thing you expect to see on a long or broadsword, not a lightsaber used almost entirely by finesse and weighing no more than a handle.

If we look at actual sabers (which really aren’t that bad of an approximation of a lightsaber) they tend to have basket or half-basket guards. A lightsaber resistant material might make a decent guard, but it would add a fair amount of weight and limit the movement of the saber in the hand. If only there were a technology that could protect the hand without adding much weight… Oh right, we have personal force fields! Slap one of those in the hilt and your hand is totally protected, you’ve added little weight and you can hold the saber anyway you like without fear of injury. The forcefield already has an established visual language, no established history of being particularly bulky, and you were gonna give that bad boy a close up shot anyway. It makes sense internally and externally and requires no exposition.

Now, you might disagree with me, but you’ll appeal to the same sources and sets of logic. We know what a weapon is for. We know how it works and we have an idea of how it should ideally function. There are experts and objective standards we can apply to the design. It might be inconsequential in the end, but we have good evidence we can point to to help whatever argument we might like to make. In other words, it's totally reasonable to argue about that lightsaber design. Go for it, nerds!

#BlackStormtrooper

Know what most surprised about #BlackStormtrooper? that people were actually upset. While this may seem like an issue very similar to the lightsaber debate, it isn’t. There are no defensible ideals to justify racism, and no real design principles for an empire. Some confusion seemed to come from the misconception that decades after the Clone Wars any Trooper in that distinctive white armor would still be a clone. This isn’t true, and there’s plenty of other places that will explain in more detail than I am interested in doing here. Some people were just racist assholes decrying “affirmative action” and SJWs. Sorry racist assholes, there’s no helping you, and I’m not going to waste my time.

The people I want to talk about are the ones doing backflips in order to explain why there shouldn’t be any black stormtroopers using in-universe logic. The very first thing to worry about is why you are working so hard to keep black people out of the Stormtrooper uniform. Why is this important to you? Why are you doing the mental gymnastics? Maybe you are also a racist and you should think about what you've done.

Here there appear to be two lines of thought, one is that this particular character is in disguise as a Stormtrooper, which is certainly possible, but no more likely than him simply being a Stormtrooper. It’s a plausible scenario for which there is no evidence. Certainly the color of his skin shouldn't be evidence that he's in disguise.

The second, even more minority argument appears to be that the Empire is racist and wouldn’t allow black Stormtroopers. This is a bizarre claim on a few levels. The first being that we are speaking about a fictional universe that is defined exclusively by the media that makes it up. At no point has anything in the Star Wars canon indicated that the Empire is prejudiced towards any particular skin color. It's been made clear they aren't big on aliens, but if nothing in the text says there can’t be black Stormtroopers, and a black Stormtrooper appears on screen, the question is settled. Black Stormtroopers exist. There is no further authority or objective standard to appeal to. You made an assumption and it was incorrect.

To persist in this line of reasoning asserts that the Empire SHOULD be racist and a black Stormtrooper SHOULDN'T make sense. And again, I must point out, it's getting a bit suspicious that you are working so hard to defend your assumption that the Empire is racist, so that there can't be a black Stormtrooper, and therefore there can't be a black man heading up this movie.

This comes down to arguing “All empires, or perhaps the ideal empire, should be racist, therefore the Empire is racist.” Of course there’s no real argument than an empire should be racist, ideal or not, unless one accepts facist eugenic's ideas about purity as necessary for empire. To say that all empires should be racist, or that the ideal empire is racist is racist itself. The only way to defend the statement is to defend racism as correct and ideal. Yup, that’s right, if you are defending racism in the fictional Star Wars universe dollars to pesos you’re racist in the real world too.

There simply isn't any military or historical evidence to back the argument up. From a military perspective keeping certain skin colors out of the ranks is an idiotic idea. The entirety of the Imperial military that we see is human, or at least human enough to fit in the armor. In fact, in a galaxy populated by dozens of races of intelligent, spacefaring species it makes very little sense to keep anybody out of the ranks of the blaster-sponge Stormtroopers. The Empire might be racist enough to keep the command level white, but keeping people out of the combat level because of their skin color seems like tactical suicide. There’s no evidence that humans are dominant by virtue of anything besides breeding capacity. Access to technology seems fairly evenly spread around, and even the apparent advantage of numbers that humans enjoy needed to be supplemented with clones. If anything the Empire is likely hoovering up every young man of fighting age it can find, even more so as they begin to lose ground to ever stronger Rebel forces. Skin color is rarely an issue when you start conscripting people.

There isn’t even any historical evidence that racism is somehow necessary or beneficial for empire. Traditionally conquered peoples were expected to send their fighting age men to help expand the empire. In fact, empires have generally been built on the back of pragmatic tolerance and fallen because of indulgence at the top and abuse of the lower class (often comprised largely of minority races). The Romans were famous for not giving a fuck about anything as long as you paid your taxes. Even the British empire, which was immensely racist, contained fighting units from every area they controlled that I know of. When more than half of America believed that black people were no better than property we still accepted them into the military. We treated them cruelly and kept them separate, but they were still there, fighting. Even if the Empire IS racist, it makes no sense for it to be so racist that it won’t let black people into at least some parts of the military. We'll have to leave that level of racism to Reddit and Twitter.

Here's an argument where you are only defending your own prdjudices and assumptions and there's no reason for anybody to listen to you about anything.

Eric Diebel's picture
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