Good Unintentional Irony or Complexity

I like it when a book, movie, show, or other work manages to make part of its story or world much more interesting by accident. Like when an author trying to make a simple ‘bad guy’ manages to make a nuanced character by mistake, or when a show tries to score a point for the good guys, but when you examine it the ‘good guys’ shouldn’t really be cheering.

Two examples:

In the Star Wars universe, I think that Lucas was trying to make the Jedi into an admirable order of monks that lost their way. But after watching what the Jedi do and how they act in the prequels, it’s pretty clear that they’re a really awful organization (don’t embrace connection to others, no oversight of police/military activity, extreme power in the hands of barely checked individuals, massive secret plots, kidnapping kids, and so on). But that actually makes the Star Wars Universe more interesting, because the Jedi really aren’t ‘good guys’, and the characters in the current movies are justified in taking steps to tear down the old Jedi order and build something new. I think it adds a lot of depth to a setting that’s mostly about setting up cool battle scenes.

In the Honor Harrington universe, Manticorians fighting the Solarian League love to complain that the League is run by “Unelected Beurocrats”, and like to think of themselves as being heroes of Democracy. But their own Empire of Manticore is far from a Democracy; the head of state and the upper house of parliament are selected by birth and have nothing to do with popular elections. Even the lower house doesn’t have universal suffrage, as the author has made clear that no one who gets more from government benefits than he spends in taxes can vote, and it’s pretty clear that rule doesn’t apply to ‘rich guy gets a few billion dollars worth of military convoy protection’, but does to things like ‘ordinary guy gets access to life-prolonging medication’. So instead of making the protagonists seem to share our values, they just seem to be brainwashed by their own propaganda, since their government is the less controlled by the electorate.

I haven’t read the Harrington series, so I can’t comment on that, but I’m not entirely sure the Jedi example is unintentional, at least outside of the Original Trilogy and maybe The Phantom Menace.

By Attack of the Clones, and certainly everything that came after that, the Jedi order is so consistently shown, in the canon media where there’s more of the original order left alive than Yoda and Obi Wan, as being seriously flawed, that I can’t believe that it’s not intentional.

The Clone Wars (the event) requires the Jedi to be short sighted and morally iffy, and the consequences of that are shown strongly in The Clone Wars (the canon series). The treatment of the Clone Troopers is frequently shown in all its ickiness and the sheer mind-boggling stupidity involved in not seeing what was planned with them is made clear (frex: one of the Troopers’s control chip malfunctions and triggers Order 66 early…and they buy it when the Kaminoans (uh, no relation) call the chip a tumor that was affecting him). Pong Krell’s fall to the Dark Side due to fear, Barriss Offee’s disenchantment with the Order and her resulting crimes, and Ahsoka Tano’s railroading for same and subsequent ‘screw you’ to the Order are also prominent. In Rebels, Kanan views the Order through rose coloured glasses (he was only a Padawan when Order 66 was executed), but he’s left dealing with the consequences of their addiction to complexity and secrecy.

Again, it’s possible that it was accidental initially, but there’s really no way to my mind that they weren’t doing it deliberately in anything past The Phantom Menace - probably anything past the OT.

I believe it is fully intended in the TV series playing off the prequels. I’m kinda on the fence about the prequel movies themselves. I’m not sure Lucas is self-aware enough as a writer to have dug that deep ( i.e. the Jedi aren’t “good guys” per se, just less bad ), though maybe he is. Mace Windu making his move to extrajudicially remove Palpatine and Anakin protesting I guess would hedge in Lucas’ favour on that front.

But I dunno how far Lucas really has bought into the Jedi mindset as having serious i*nherent * flaws. I suspect a lot of the deliberate grey has been created by other writers working in his universe.

I think it was unintentional on Lucas’s part, I don’t think he sees them as being fundamentally morally flawed, though he let them be a bit worse in the latter two prequel movies. I think he wanted to paint them as complacent, not good at coping with Palpatine’s clouding their senses, and not good at large scale open war, but I don’t get a sense in the prequels that we’re really supposed to be rooting against the Jedi, or that we should expect them to be dead and buried (since we know that Luke will grow up to be able to reboot them). Certainly the original trilogy and the pre-prequel EU don’t see the Jedi as bad guys, in the old EU Luke goes on to refound the Jedi order, and it’s considered a good idea by pretty much everyone.

I think the stuff that you mention from the TV series is other writers taking something that Lucas didn’t intend originally and running with it, not the original intent for the Jedi or the Clone Wars.

Well, not bad guys exactly – but, in ROTJ, it’s not just a matter of backstory that the Jedi got their asses beat by the guys who took over, and it’s not just some wave-it-off triviality that Yoda and Obi-Wan misled Luke about Vader being his father; it’s that Yoda and Obi-Wan agree about our hero’s plan to appeal to what’s still good inside the man. They’re wrong, of course.

They’re not the bad guys at all in what’s shown. They lost a war against a genocidal super-villain, that doesn’t indicate a problem with their own morals. They misled Luke about Vader being his father, which is sort of ‘bad for good reasons’, but being ‘not entirely perfect’ just doesn’t qualify someone as awful through and through. I’m not sure why you say ‘they’re wrong’ either, Luke’s plan worked in the movie, his appeal to Vader’s good side caused Vader to strike down the Emperor, saving the rebellion from destruction and toppling the Empire. There’s just nothing in the original trilogy or the pre-prequel EU (that I’m aware of) that paints the whole organization as fundamentally flawed.

That’s what they’re wrong about: they tell Luke, emphatically, that his plan won’t work.

Star Trek’s Federation is a little more than f’d up.

I get the sense Gene would disagree. (Or maybe not, I’m not sure how involved he was with Next Gen and DS9)

He died either just before, or shortly into, DS9, and honestly, I think DS9 was better for it. It doesn’t fit the OP but DS9 marks the point where characters developed real conflict and morality became very grey - dynamics Gene would not allow. We had sympathetic characters who had semi - colluded with genocide (Odo), Cardashian spies (Garek), and a captain (Sisko) willing to do blatantly unethical things for the greater good.

The Federation is a great example prior to that, however.

Voyager is another good example. Janeway was clearly supposed to represent some kind of moral righteousness in the vein of Picard, but she violated the prime directive constantly, made wildly irresponsible decisions, and committed genocide (Tuvix) and was an all around terrible captain. I’m not sure it made the show any better, though.

The Federation is weird and inconsistent, and the complexity (and dark implications) were clearly not intended, so it definitely fits. I think they made the federation more realistic in DS9 and, like Spice Weasel said, moved away from the f’d up parts being unintentional. I think the move was definitely due to Gene not being involved with DS9.

I was never able to get into Voyager, but this seems to fit what I’ve gathered about it.

Shatner made a really interesting documentary about the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and what a clusterfuck it was, largely in part to the restrictions Gene imposed upon it. For example, writers were stuck with the challenge of creating episodes without conflict, which is anathema to storytelling. It’s called Chaos on the Bridge and I do recommend it for Trekkies.

I’ve been watching the TV show “The Orville”. A typical episode (in my opinion) is like a mediocre episode of “Star Trek: TNG” with some not-terribly-funny jokes added. And yet I give the sci-fi plots a break because it’s supposed to be a parody, and I give the comedy a break because it’s a sci-fi show. So maybe the point is that many ST:TNG scripts are basically self-parody to me? I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it.