To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi we thought we’d get together with our fellow Star Wars nerds and have a marriage of passions, so to speak.
That’s right, we’re dissecting Star Wars scenes using international humanitarian law!
NB: Australian Red Cross is a neutral and impartial organisation, we do not take sides. If Stormtroopers need first aid, we’re there.
Star Wars. For the earth-dwelling populace, that galaxy far far away is an enduring legacy, to friendship (unless you’re a traitorous Sith Lord), to love (hello Han and Leia!), and of course to good triumphing over evil (Users of the Light Side, The Jedi Order).
But aside from all that, it also gives us some pretty interesting insights into international humanitarian law (or IHL, or the laws of war). And we know, we know, while the question of whether the laws of war actually apply in space is a complicated one, these scenes still give us some pretty choice examples of what NOT to do during times of war, unless you want to be accused of war crimes.
So, without further delay, let’s find out which Star Wars character is the actual worst!
The torturing of Han Solo – The Empire Strikes Back
Ok, no big surprise here. Darth Vader is a baddie (before of course, his glorious redemption in Return of the Jedi) and the Stormtroopers? Well they’re not much better. As one would expect, Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and outrages upon personal dignity are prohibited at all times under IHL. No State may permit or tolerate such treatment or punishment, even in exceptional circumstances.
Now, you could argue that Vader is an individual who is acting only in his self-interest and not on behalf of a State, but he is 2nd in command of an empire and as an armed combatant he is still subject to the same laws as everyone else who are participating in hostilities. Just because he’s bad and we expect him to be bad, doesn’t mean he can break the rules willy-nilly. In fact, Vader is committing a war crime by torturing Han.
Ewoks, civilians or armed combatants? – Return of the Jedi
In Return of the Jedi, when Han, Luke and Leia land on Endor along with the rest of the rebel group to disable the Death Star’s shield generator, they meet the local – and somewhat feisty – inhabitants, the Ewoks. Under IHL, the Ewoks are not to be targeted because they are considered civilians.
However, once the Ewoks decide to aid the rebels and take up arms (or in their case, spears and rocks) against the Imperial forces, they are deemed part of the fight and lose their civilian status.
So…Stormtroopers, not as bad as one might have first imagined?
Uncle Crispy, attacking civilians – Episode IV: A New Hope
Ewoks aside, Imperial Stormtroopers contravene IHL with alarming regularity. They particularly love targeting civilians (unfortunately this happens with alarming regularity in real wars here on earth too).
While hunting for R2-D2 and C-3PO, they indiscriminately kill a group of unarmed Jawas as well as Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle – in fact all that’s left of Luke’s relatives are charred bones. Seriously, rough way to go.
Luke’s aunt and uncle were not taking part in the fight and therefore should have been considered civilians. To intentionally and directly attack the civilian population who are not taking part in hostilities is a serious violation of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflict.
So…Stormtroopers, possibly pretty bad after all?
The destruction of Alderaan - Episode IV: A New Hope
The Death Star - a seriously devastating Weapon of Mass Destruction, in an ultimate grandstand attacks and destroys the planet Alderaan and its entire population.
Now, putting aside the international crimes of aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity, this potential war crime could be classified in a few different ways. For instance, the intentional launch of an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment, which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
Even if the argument could be made that Alderaan was a legitimate military target, then the principles of proportionality and distinction would STILL prohibit the complete destruction of the planet, on account of the attack being expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof.
What makes this potential grave breach of the Geneva Conventions even worse is that Alderaan was “a peaceful world with no standing armies”. And, it was only destroyed as a means of demonstrating the Death Star’s power and capability – therefore blowing it up seemed to present no particular military advantage.
And who ordered the destruction of Alderaan?
None other than Grand Moff Tarkin!
So there you have it. Grand Moff Tarkin is Star Wars actual worst character (well, at least out of this small selection of scenes anyway)!
Bet you thought it was Darth Vader hey!? He can’t be all bad, he is Luke’s dad after all.
To find out more about Australian Red Cross and the laws of war head here!