Imperial Officers Old and New

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Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) and Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma) at San Diego Comic Con 2015. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

As The Force Awakens gets closer, there is one thing that seems to be getting a lot of attention among the fans. A thing which, despite existing in previous films, had always been rather out of the center of attention. I am talking about the officers and soldiers on the evil side – the ordinary, non-Force-using Imperials, who, however, have so far been getting equal amount of attention with the little information we have about Episode VII. The characters portrayed by Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, and (for the sake of completeness, even though it seems he’s not really on the evil side) John Boyega, are given as much space as for example the (presumably) Force-using Adam Driver’s character with his remarkable cross-hilted lightsaber.

Captain Phasma, a Stormtrooper officer in The Force Awakens (source: Starwars.com)
Captain Phasma, a Stormtrooper officer in The Force Awakens (source: Starwars.com)

But let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves. If someone mentions the Galactic Empire to us, which characters from the original trilogy come to our mind? Most probably it will be Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, the two unrivaled masters of the Dark Side of the Force. It is, of course, natural. The evil master and apprentice are major characters central to the plot, and charismatic and stunning on the screen. But now that we are looking forward to The Force Awakens, it seems the so far downplayed element of Imperial officers might get a bit more space in the upcoming film.

For example, when it comes to Domhnall Gleeson’s character, what has been recently revealed at San Diego Comic Con is a lot more than what casual audience would know about any of the Imperial officers from the original trilogy. We know that the character in question will be named General Hux and, as Domhnall Gleeson had let slip himself, that he is in command of the Starkiller Base (an obvious homage to the original name of Luke Skywalker in George Lucas’s early draft of Star Wars, where his name was supposed to be Luke Starkiller).

But what can we expect from General Hux or from the equally intriguing Captain Phasma portrayed by Gwendoline Christie? What will they be like? What will be their motivations, beliefs, attitude towards their fellow Imperials, the Rebellion, the Force? Suddenly we realise there is quite a nice group of Imperial officers and governors whose personalities and destinies might serve as model cases for what we might expect. So while we are waiting for the Force to awaken, let’s go down the memory lane and let our imagination fly.

Admiral Motti
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” were the only words Darth Vader had for Admiral Motti.

Admiral Motti

Most people do not know this officer’s name, even though most would remember the scene where he appears. Yes, he is the very first guy we actually see being choked by the use of Force alone – in fact, it is the first visual display of the Force in the original trilogy! He plays a significant role in the story: he introduces us to Darth Vader’s powers, and establishes something about Vader’s status as well as his relationship to other officers and Moff Tarkin (but more about him later – he deserves a lot of his own space). He also helps to sketch out some basic facts about the universe: together with Han Solo, he is the voice of skepticism in regards to “old religions”. Just like Han claims that “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster”, Motti speaks disdainfully about Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways”, calls his belief in the Force “sad” and basically shows that he thinks of him as the kind of man who would pull rabbits out of a hat instead of doing the actual work for the Empire.

I would say Motti is one of the characters who do not necessarily get the credit they deserve. Or if not Motti, then certainly we should say this about his actor, Richard LeParmentier. Despite the short screentime, the scene is memorable, and not just because of Darth Vader’s actions. LeParmentier’s acting skills completed the scene and its believability; without him, it would not work the way it did. His Motti is convincing and annoyingly smug to the point that we kind of sympathise with Vader’s attempt to shut him up. And as for the act of choking itself, the twitching of Motti’s neck muscles is actually not any trick, it is Richard LeParmentier himself showing off here. Sets up a bar for future actors who would like to impress us with showing how they are getting Force choked (indeed, most people since LeParmentier resorted to simply clutching their neck in panic; that’s not to say that it won’t be an effective display).

Richard LeParmentier (source: independent.co.uk)
Richard LeParmentier (source: independent.co.uk)

But back to the story. Motti establishes some quite important archetypes for the Star Wars universe which I would strongly anticipate to appear also in The Force Awakens. Namely, the conflict between the rational, strictly law-governed military and the mysterious, uncontrollable Force-users. It remains a question how much has the belief in the Force developed in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor. But given the name of the episode, I would not be opposed to thinking that the attitude among the majority is still not very much open to the belief in the Force. The Force might only “awaken” now, and many might still share the Han Solo/Motti attitude.

If we look at Admiral Motti and consider him as the prototype Imperial officer, however, we can start wondering: will General Hux or Captain Phasma have a similar problem with the Force-users? I am not going to delve into deep speculation here, even though I have some theories of my own. But it is certainly one of the things I would take from this examination of the previous admirals.

Stay tuned – the journey through the past Imperial officers and governors has only just started. For the future, I hope to take a look at some other significant “bad guys in uniforms”. I promise it will be interesting – and it might help us to put the Episode VII villains into the perspective of the whole.

Until then, may the doubted, but ever-present ancient power be with you…