Star Wars as a setting, universe and game world is seated on the obvious recurring theme of good versus evil; at least at first sight. Republic and Empire represent two warring factions at each other’s throats with a whole galaxy at stake. You have to make up your mind, on the spot, which side you’ll be on. The choice seems very simple at first, the Empire represents evil and the Republic good. Those of you that usually play the good go Republic and those more in tune with the evil side play Empire. This is where Star Wars and indeed The Old Republic offer more nuance though, so perhaps it’d be a good idea to have a look at the other side as well. Let’s explore.
The Republic is a vestige of ancient democracy. Libertarian and peace-loving, the intent of their governing bodies is to grease the way for peace to make its way into the galaxy. With the Jedi Order on their side, they’ve found themselves supported by very powerful allies. Allies that have proven not only worthy combatants but also a source of much guidance and wisdom. Though many consider the Jedi Order to be inseparable from, if not the same as, the Republic – they are two very different entities. The Order has kept themselves away from a number of military actions, much to the Republic’s annoyance.
Watching the cinematic titled Return it is obvious what’s happening in that first minute. The Jedi master on the ship, Kay Cen Darach, says it most aptly; “The Sith Empire has returned. We must warn the Republic!” But what is it that inspired such fear into even a Jedi master’s heart? For generations upon generations the Sith have mastered the Dark side of the Force and are powerful adversaries. They rival the Jedi themselves both in mastery and resolve. The battlefield that lay between the two is thick with morally grey choices, treason and the inability to compromise. The Empire is everything the Republic is not. Brutal, corrupt and thriving on a culture of power-hungry sociopaths. Unlike the Republic, the Sith aren’t just important to the Empire – they rule it during the Old Republic Era. A New Hope shows the Sith considerably weakened, with Darth Vader taking orders from a ‘mere commander’. By The Empire Strikes Back he’s amassed his own fleet and come Return of the Jedi he’s in charge of much of the operations we see. This is the Sith way, stalwartly forward to greater power.
With some thought, the sides come closer to eachother. The Republic stands for freedom and equality but suffers from horrible bureaucracy and corruption. It’s all swept under the rug and in the upper levels it goes unacknowledged but the relative tranquillity of the ecumenopolis Coruscant is an illusion that’s subscribed to. Not a hard reality. Governing bodies like the Senate and other seats of power appear powerful but when the decision lies with them there’s naught but delays. No quick and decisive action, always more representatives to speak to and little resolution. The politics of the Republic lie in shambles, lurching forward in a world that only seems to move when military conflict changes something. At the heart of it, the Republic is not about action – in fact, it aspires to inaction. The ambition for peace is the ambition to reach a state of inaction. Suddenly then, it appears. Perhaps the only use for the Republic is the fact that opposition exists – even in its more hallowed chambers. A state defined by its opposition, surely this cannot stand?
The Jedi’s values are those of classic stoicism and compassion. Enter then the Sith, the polar opposite in every way. In touch with their emotion and using them actively to strengthen themselves. A fighter on the Dark side of the Force is a whirlwind of darkness led by all the feelings that brought him there. They are products of their life and times, every bit of hatred and frustration most prominently featured to ensure a perpetual state of mental anguish. This agonizing self-torture is the reason they are so hard to fight. They hate with their entire being – no holds barred. A constant flow of dark thoughts, fear, pain and reactionary hatred is a powerful ally indeed. Combined with their culture that rewards the powerful no matter how cruel, the Sith have turned the Force into an all-encompassing weapon of mass manipulation.
However, with all the doom and gloom that fills their lives, they can still show compassion. This happens especially in friendship between Sith. Examples are plenty with Darth Vader being an obvious first stop. Though not from the Old Republic era, he showed great love and compassion for his wife, Padmé. It is this compassion that lead him to show mercy for Luke, his son, and redeem him to the Light side of the Force. Darth Krayt maintained a close personal aide who went far beyond the call of his master to ensure his survival. This aide was Darth Wyyrlok and though he eventually betrayed him to take the power of the Sith empire for himself, he showed tremendous attachment to his master. Finally there’s the example of Darth Malgus, the principal villain in Star Wars: The Old Republic. He took a Twi’lek as his slave but instead treated her as a wife, secretly bestowing her with the love he could not show any other. There is love in the Dark side, even if it comes with a few reservations and problematic heritage.
The Empire is not what it seems, at least not on its face. The representation we’ve been given is usually a simple dictatorship with a head of state and his untrustworthy lieutenants. The Emperor’s hands reach far and wide, ever piercing eyes following the poor enslaved peoples that he has co-opted into his armies. However, there are those that truly believe in the Empire as a better way of living than its counterpart. An empire does not simply come into existence because a powerful being willed it – there have to be workers, minions and followers. There have to be those that answer to the cruel taskmasters, of course, but those are not the bulk of the Empire’s citizens. Someone has to believe in the system in order for it to spread to the size it has. Radiating out from Korriban, there are those that willingly submit to the will of the grandest taskmaster of them all. The perfect example being the Chiss species. Upon encountering the species the Empire attempted to capture the world when they were met with an attempt at negotiations. The newly found reclusive race analyzed the situation and concluded that resistance would bring suffering where there was none. They submitted on the condition that no Sith would ever set foot on their home world and their armies were now part of the Empire. This too, is the way of the Sith. Power comes in many forms and a willing servant is always better than a struggling one.
The Jedi don’t keep servants. They don’t keep wives or relationships either. In fact, it’s surprising they can have friendships – considering those have been a major gateway into the Dark side. In any case, they are the stoic guards of peace and protectors of those that cannot fend for themselves. Together with the Republic they have forged a culture that favours compromise, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Those that ascend to the rank of Jedi Knight have passed the Trials, a trajectory of five tasks that prove a Jedi understudy is worthy. The pillars of the Trials perfectly show the values the Jedi hold dear most: Skill, Courage, Spirit, Insight and Flesh. From there onwards, the Jedi masters their craft and if they prove to be wise and strong enough they can ascend to the rank of Master. A Jedi must exercise restraint and have a strong sense of duty. Their resolve, discipline and self-control make them imposing and charismatic. Their prowess with the lightsabre adds to this but it is far from the Jedi’s only weapon. The Force flows strongly through Jedi as it does through Sith.
A Jedi’s greatest failing, as perceived, is if they fall to the Dark side. Turning to the Sith is a nigh unforgivable act to the Order and is usually punishable by elimination or exile. It’s not the only thing that will upset them though, with disobedience coming a close second. The examples here are obvious. The Jedi that would later become the Sith Lords Revan and Malak are prominently featured in their storylines. Their journeys truly begin when they disobey a direct order from the Order and decide to support the Republic in the Mandalorian Wars. This period of time almost immediately follows the Great Sith War that took the lives of many Jedi. The Order sought to abstain from any involvement, leaving Revan, Malak and one only known now as The (Jedi) Exile to make up their own minds. All but the Exile converted to the Dark side – strengthening the Sith considerably in the years to follow. As is widely known, Revan even crowned himself Dark Lord of the Sith. Other than those that convert, fall and disobey there are many that walk a fine line. How many Anakins and Revans never truly fall, but walk the line?
So maybe it’s not as easy to pick a side in the Star Wars universe. Those of you that traditionally played the good guys, have a look at the Empire. With the ability to shift your alignment based on gameplay, perhaps there’s more to playing a Sith Warrior or Bounty Hunter than it seems. As for those that play baddies, check out the Republic. Troopers aren’t always “Yes, sir!”-goody-two-shoes and the Jedi definitely have their darker moments. The factions don’t speak for themselves as readily as some would have you believe. There is compassion and strife on either, so the question of what side to play then becomes a little more involved. It’s not just a matter of what you want to play, it’s also who you want to be. Who you want to represent.