The Clone Wars, while ostensibly a show for children, deals with many topics fraught with controversy. One of the first subjects that the series deals with is pacifism, or nonviolence. Early in season one, we are introduced to the pacifist Lurmen species. Unfortunately, the show seems to stand against the Lurmen’s nonviolence, never entertaining the idea that this is a legitimate viewpoint to hold.
As I’ve said before, fiction is pedagogical. It shapes how we think and how we act. Fiction must show us alternate worlds for us to be able to think differently about ours. Sorrowfully, it is hard to imagine a world without war. Editors divide history books by wars. This means that it would be extremely valuable for Star Wars to show us valid depictions of pacifism. As a whole, the series does show us a few pacifist options. Unfortunately, an early misstep in The Clone Wars threatens our ability to imagine a pacifist way of life.
Aayla Secura, locked in battle with Separatist forces, is put in serious peril. Super Battle Droids board the ship as it begins to fall to attack General Secura herself. In an effort to ward off the attack long enough to help Aayla and Commander Bly survive the battle, Anakin Skywalker is injured. In a last minute jump, Anakin, Ahsoka, Bly, Aayla, and Rex crash land on the planet Maridun. The group meets a colonist species on the planet. A sentient group of Lurmen settled the planet in order to avoid the growing Clone War. The people, historically pacifist, bring their philosophy to the new planet. Even as the threat of genocide at the hands of Separatist forces, Lurmen leader Tee Watt Kaa refuses to fight. To fight, he says, would be to betray everything that their people had stood for.
Soon after the Jedi arrive, the Separatists come on unrelated business. The Confederacy wants to use the planet as a testing ground. As the Jedi scout their base, they discover the weapon. A test of the weapon reveals that it is used to destroy living beings, not droids. The show seems to ask whether it is moral to not fight in the face of overwhelming evil like this.
The Jedi seem to think so. Ahsoka herself says that their pacifism is cowardice: a refusal to do what is right. Unfortunately, the metanarrative of the show itself seems to agree with her assessment. The “proverb” at the beginning of the episode says that in war, one must always choose a side. This paints pacifism as avoidance rather than its own point of view. The show carefully paints a picture of a war of moral greyness. The war is not simply the Republic vs the Separatists. There are also bounty hunters, underground gangs, Hutts, crime lords, and other groups. To not choose between the Republic and the Separatists in the Clone Wars is not cowardice. Aayla half-heartedly puts forward a claim that it is more brave to stand by your principles.
The episode then proceeds to fail to paint an accurate picture of pacifism. Aayla’s single sentence, possibly defending pacifism, or at least holding principles, is the only defense. Never do we hear of the Lurmen’s reason to remain nonviolent. Also, the show also neglects to acknowledge a moral reason to be pacifist for anybody. Sadly, no alternative, nonviolent, suggestions are offered. The narrative simply sweeps these explanations aside for the sake of more action scenes. As a whole, the series paints a picture of confused morality and how everything is steeped in grey rather than black and white. This series sticks out like a sore thumb in that it returns to a black and white picture of the world.
Unfortunately, the Lurmen fall into this pattern of violence that the Jedi bring. Wag Too, the son of the Lurmen leader, joins the Jedi as they repel the droids. Even Tee Watt Kaa thanks the Jedi for repelling the Separatists using violence. It seems as if, if this isn’t a full affirmation of violence, it is at least passive acceptance. Unfortunately, the Lurmen celebrate the violence and no punishment is meted out for the infraction.
For now, we don’t know what the future of the Lurmen race looks like after the Clone Wars. The New Republic thinks that the Lurmen are helpless without New Republic military might. Is this because they returned to a life of pacifism? Or have they fallen victim to the same cycle of violence that the Jedi do over the course of the war? We have no way of knowing now, but if they follow the path of the Jedi, it’s a grim picture.
Either way, Jedi Crash and Defenders of the Peace fails to reckon with pacifism in any good way. Explanations, moral or rational, are set aside in favor of a black and white portrayal of war. If we want to be peacekeepers, Thankfully, other pieces of Star Wars media tend to treat pacifism more fairly, and I hope to discuss these issues soon.
(This will be the first in a sporadic series on nonviolence in Clone Wars, and maybe even Star Wars writ large.)