For no particular reason, lately I’ve been thinking about that Internet picture of a depressed Star Wars stormtrooper, sitting on a hotel room bed, with the caption “I had friends on that Death Star.” It’s funny because Imperial Stormtroopers are meant to be remorseless and literally faceless bastards, and yet who can deny that even stormtroopers have friends? Heck, in the first Star Wars film, while Obi-Wan Kenobi is fiddling with the tractor beam, you can hear two stormtroopers talking about the latest models of speeders. These are normal dudes.
In the service of evil, yes, granted — or should we grant that? It’s well known that the Republic before the Empire was corrupt and stagnating, and that while the Jedi positioned themselves as the defenders of justice, the average citizen of the Republic could have just as easily seen them as an autocratic institution, answerable to no one, enforcing merely its own power. In which case the Emperor could be seen as a reformer: tough but fair, someone who streamlined the government and got things done. Is that evil? Really?
This got me thinking of the various adversaries of science fiction films, and about the fact that while we take it for granted that they are evil, a little bit of thought suggests that in at least some cases, you can make the argument they’re not evil so much as the victim of the filmmaker’s framing and our own biases. To make that point, let me offer three other famous science fiction film antagonists, and argue why from their point of view, they’re the hero of the situation (or at least, the victim).
The Alien (from the Alien series)
Look, here’s a simple fact: The alien didn’t ask to be born. It didn’t ask
to have an evolutionary gestational strategy that relies partly on a
third-party host. You can’t in good conscience blame it for that. And
when it is born, do humans gather ’round to appreciate the
miracle of birth? They do not. They try to kill the alien. What choice
does the alien have but to run and hide?
And then, naked, cold,
hungry, and outnumbered, what choice does the alien have but to try to
survive? The humans are the ones hunting it with shock prods and
flamethrowers. Can it really be blamed for fighting back? If you were
being hunted down by heavily armed superior forces, would you be
thinking, Well, golly, I’ll just let them burn me to death with a flamethrower, that seems fair? It is, in a word, doubtful. You’d do what the alien does: fight back.
The Matrix (from The Matrix)
If you’ve ever watched The Animatrix,
the anime prequel to the Matrix trilogy, then you know that in point of
fact, the humans were not just jerks to the robots they created — they
were actually evil, using them as slaves and then attempting robogenocide
when the robots justifiably fought back. At one point the robots
offered peace to the humans and the response was to laugh them out of
the room. When the machines finally got the upper hand in the struggle,
the human response was to initiate a global worldwide ecological
catastrophe, making the entire surface of the planet useless for any
living thing (i.e., themselves. They were idiots).
When the machines finally vanquished the humans, did they wipe them out? Not only did they not
wipe them out, they generously gave every single one of them lifelong
jobs, cradle-to-grave, including free room, board, and online access to a
truly spectacular massively multiplayer online role playing game. If
you think about it, that’s a pretty sweet deal. And yet a tiny minority
of humans want to ruin it for everyone else. That’s awfully selfish if you give it any sort of thought at all.
The Predator (from the Predator series)
It’s a well-known fact that any species that is given a chance will
overpopulate its niche and trigger an ecological catastrophe, not just
for itself but for other species. For the benefit of overall biological
diversity, some species populations have to be culled. Now, take humans.
You don’t have to look very hard to see they’ve had a pretty serious
negative impact on their niche. Time to take out some of them. And not
just the weak and sick, but the strong, healthy ones, i.e., the ones
mostly like to continue the problem by breeding.
But if you’re
going to do that, why not make it more fair to the prey? Give them a
chance to prove their own fitness? You might say that the Predator’s
weapons give them a distinct advantage, but let’s face it: Humans aren’t
exactly defenseless, are they? Not to mention that they can be pretty
clever, for a prey species. And at the end of it, you treat them with
respect, give them as quick and clean a death as you can manage. Because
it’s not just about the hunt. It’s about being a responsible steward of
Now you feel guilty for rooting against them, don’t you? You can admit it. It’s OK.Read More