Since the release of the first Star Wars movie, “A New Hope,” many movies and television shows have made it a point to show a small group of plucky adventurers or gruff soldiers fighting against the evil kingdom or empire or alliance of enemy states. Regardless of the actual makeup of the rebellious group of heroes or the size the enemy alliance, the push is always the same: This small group of people (or aliens) will rescue their corner of the universe from the evil Empire and save the day.
Except that perhaps the problem here is that no one bothers to look at the how or why the “Evil Soldiers” come to be. Sometimes the end result, regardless of the source, will turn out to be slightly irrelevant (like the Orcs in Lord of the Rings), or become a distraction that sinks the movie (Eragon). In any case, there are several problems that stem from Rebellions taking up arms against the Kingdom, and why it can be slightly problematic to root for their wholesale slaughter.
Problem 1: The “Evil” Soldiers
The first step in establishing that the empire is evil – and therefore safe for the heroes to perform wholesale slaughter – is the use of soldiers who perform the Emperor’s bidding without question or dissent. This is a tactic that starts with the name of the Empire’s soldiers – usually something like The Hordes, the Legions of Terror, Stormtroopers, and so on. The soldiers who make up these tend to be belligerent, bellicose, and ready to use their weapons on innocent populations at the drop of a feather.
Yet, no one takes on where these “Evil” Soldiers actually come from. In Star Wars, for example, the faceless Stormtroopers were cloned from a skilled bounty hunter named Jango Fett, and they were actually introduced as the Army of the Galactic Republic empowered by Chancellor Palpatine. However, no one really mentions how the uniformed Imperial troops came to be. I know that in the original script treatment of “A New Hope” that the Empire used forced conscription to round out the administration and Star Navy arms of the service. But that never even made it to the final shooting script.
Problem 2: The Civilian Population
The second pillar of an evil Empire is that the population supports through soft effort (by doing nothing or rooting out ‘rebels) the operations of the Empire. Many of these populations are portrayed as doing so out of fear of destruction or death of other innocents.
In almost no case has there been a civilian population that even after having their leader dethroned decided to continue to live under the conditions of the evil Empire.
The noted exception, however, comes from Superman: The Animated Series. After Darkseid threatens the population of Earth, Superman engages Darkseid in hand-to-hand combat. Superman emerges victorious in front of the population of Apokolips, and dumps the battered body of Darkseid in to the mass of Apokoliptians. Superman’s elation in victory turns to shock when the civilian Apokoliptians simply prop Darkseid back to his feet and tend to his wounds.
Problem 3: The Power Vacuum
When the Resistance finally defeats the Evil Empire, the end result is usually anarchy until the power vacuum is filled. In the majority of movies and TV shows, however, the ragtag Rebels allow their partisans in the Government to step in and continue the day-to-day operations of the bureaucracy. If the “friendly partisans” were powerful enough to take on the day-to-day operations in the first place, why was the Rebellion needed to begin with?
Or, in the absence of friendly government officials, the issue is left unresolved at the end of the series, focusing instead on the victory at hand. Unfortunately, the empire’s bureaucracy is still one that continues to push on, and once word of the Evil King’s death spreads, expect elements of the government – allied with the King or simply waiting for an opportunity like this – to attempt to step in and take on the reigns of power. Unless the protagonists were in a position to prevent the power vacuum from overwhelming the country, the battle continues.
And the point of original fight ends up being lost.