I’ve finished watching all the major Star Wars productions outside of the Skywalker Saga, and I have to say there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in them. I’m talking about: Rouge One, Solo, the Mandalorian and Boba Fett.
Outside of the galactic core, it seems like a lot of people didn’t really care much about the Empire, Republic, Rebels or even know what the Jedi were.
The motivations of those on the side of the Empire were often more complex than cartoonish evil. You have cases of social lift through the imperial bureaucracy, lack of better options to genuine belief that the Empire offered a sort Pax Romana bringing order, stability and prosperity. This is summed up in the Empire was Right.
These arguments aren’t unlike the the apologists for European colonialism. “Well yes, it was bad, but…hospitals, schools, roads.”
The thing is, authoritarian governments are often popular. While it’s easy to mock fictional characters for siding with evil, we all love cheap consumer goods, energy supplied by dubious governments and the massive military-industrial complex that protects global trade. For those in the galactic core, turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Empire is easy when their entire lifestyle depends on the spoils of imperialism.
For those on the periphery, things are more complicated. The Empire is rightly despised, but perhaps the only thing worse than the Empire is life without the Empire.
The Mandalorian and Boba Fett explore this world, and I see a lot of echos of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The fall of the Empire brought initial euphoria which quickly turned to dread as crime bosses moved in to fill the power vacuum. Some of these crime bosses and former Imperials tried to turn legitimate, with mix results. There were Imperial hold outs and true believers fighting for nostalgia of the Empire. The new, supposedly democratic replacement for the Empire was nice in theory, but left a lot to be desired in practice.
Decolonialization is a messy process. Early democracy requires dealing with a lot of unsavory characters. The war lasts a lot longer than the end of the big battles.
That’s why I like the non-Skywalker Saga Star Wars. The periphery is rich with local identities, “outdated” religions and struggles that don’t neatly fit into the good vs. evil paradigm of the Jedi worldview.