Contemporary science fiction often seems to focus only on lots of action, special effects and funny one-liners. Sci-fi classics, on the other hand, usually had some deeper meaning, or reflected on some ethical questions of our world. If even sci-fi blockbusters often lack this quality, I would not have expected it from something that presents itself as a children’s cartoon.
There are two ways to look at Star Wars Resistance‘s third episode, “Live Fire”. You can watch it as a children’s cartoon (in the negative sense of the word) with some action, a chase with a big monster, and so on. Or you can focus on the undercurrents, the themes, what does it actually say about the characters and the First Order’s ideology. And in that way, it has much to tell.
The Individual versus Cooperation
The entire episode is built on parallels. The premise is the training of pilots which both the protectors of the Colossus and the First Order’s new cadets need to undergo – and we watch these through the eyes of the protagonists we know on both sides. Whereas the Aces’ training goes from individualism (represented at its strongest by Hype Fazon) towards cooperation and camaraderie, the training Tam and Jace Rucklin undergo in the First Order moves in exactly the opposite trajectory.
I think this is amazing not only from the broad perspective, but also in regards to individual characterisation. The episode subtly showed that Tam, as opposed to all the amazing Aces, already was a team player to begin with. One could spend a lot of time speculating how much does this have to do with her “class background”, so to speak. There is a striking difference: all the pilots who had the privilege of being celebrities, the Aces, are not team players at all. One reason is obviously the entire racer mindset, as explained in the episode itself: to win, you simply need to be focused on being the best and the others are obstacles for you. However, perhaps there is more – the Aces had never been confronted with the need to think about those less fortunate. Everything they did was for their own benefit – they raced and they got money and fame for it. Even their protection of the station against the pirates was ultimately a job. This was evidenced by Hype’s attitude, for instance: he basically said he did not care about what would happen to the inhabitants of the Colossus, he had not signed up for being their protector against actual military-trained enemies. In “Live Fire” it turns out, however, that all the Aces are ultimately good people in the end. Even though they would not need to, they decide to stay and protect the people who can’t do it themselves.
Survival of the Fittest
At the same time, we are assured that Tam is no worse pilot than the Aces, only she did not have as good starting position. Her discussion with Synara in Season 1, where she said that she was meant for greater things in her life, proves to be true. Tam really IS a good pilot – and the only thing she lacked was the privileged background the Aces had. While Hype, Torra and others were racing about in S1 and enjoying their fame and their private lounge, Tam spent her time after work repairing the Fireball with the hope of flying it herself one day. In this sense, the First Order is offering her the chance she never had – advancement in a pure meritocracy. The question being, at what cost, and is Tam willing to pay it?
A different question arises regarding the future of Jace Rucklin (still amazingly performed by Elijah Wood). How will his experience of being nearly written off as collateral damage by the First Order impact him? Will he realise the callousness of such attitude, will he become the good guy, the voice of reason trying to turn Tam away from the destructive path? Or will he take Lt. Galek’s lesson to heart, try to get better at any cost, and become ruthless?
Return to the Roots of Sci-Fi
I daresay “Live Fire” offers much material for ethical and philosophical reflection. Which proves, once again, that Resistance is not merely a “cheap entertainment for kids” or another milk cow for Disney. Resistance has proved time and again that it has depth. It explores the question of why the First Order is evil to begin with – something that is present in the new trilogy, but only implicitly. (Any perceptive observer would not need this spelled out, but perhaps it is good to remind people that “space Nazis” are not evil simply because they wear evil-looking uniforms, but what it is that is callous about their ideology to begin with.)
Something where Resistance keeps its finger on the pulse of the time, so to speak, is the question of people having different perception of values based on their background. That is a universal truth, but perhaps a little more noticeable nowadays thanks to the modern forms of communication. People often find themselves unwilling to bridge the gaps between different social bubbles. “Live Fire” pings one’s sense of empathy by showing the perspectives of multiple protagonists first-hand. Tam was the under-privileged working-class person whose talents could never properly flourish, and therefore had no reason to support the previous status quo. The First Order promised something better. The Aces, on the other hand, had no problem with the status quo, but their perception was sheltered from many problems bubbling under the surface, until they manifested themselves in the emergence of the First Order – and they were forced to deal with them in some way.
In this sense, Resistance returns to the roots of science fiction, alongside the likes of Ray Bradbury, Mary Shelley or George Orwell. Not as simple mass-produced entertainment with shiny lasers and epic stunts, but as something that, in the context of a story set in distant time and space, speaks of questions that are relevant even in our time and space.