Use the Force, Luke -- And Maybe a Library, Too

They may have saved a galaxy far, far away, but a new online essay wonders whether the characters in 'Star Wars' could read.
They may have saved a galaxy far, far away, but a new online essay wonders whether the characters in 'Star Wars' could read.

Sure, the Rebel Alliance may have managed to overcome the Galactic Empire and free the universe from the grip of despotic tyranny through its never-say-die attitude, can-do pluck and a helping dollop of midichlorian-led destiny, but there's one question about the good guys in Star Wars that you've probably never asked yourself: Could they read?

Tor.com's Ryan Britt would like to suggest that the answer is no. "Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet," he explained in an essay titled "Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate". "If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes."

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His argument is that, thanks to technology that allows transmissions and recordings of three dimensional holograms, the Star Wars galaxy has become, essentially, illiterate. "Surely, for these cultures to progress and become space-faring entities, they needed written language at some point," he suggests. "But now, the necessity to actually learn reading and writing is fading away. Those who know how to build and repair droids and computers probably have better jobs than those who can’t. This is why there seems to be so much poverty in Star Wars: widespread ignorance."

As one who'd never really considered poverty in the Star Wars universe -- wretched hives of scum and villainy, sure, but actual poverty? (Note: I try to forget everything that happened in the prequels as matter of habit, so any mention of slavery, etc. is lost on me) -- this seems a little bit too much of a stretch, but the realization that all the characters rely almost solely on icons and pictures does raise a whole new question about the entire series for me: If the Star Wars galaxy is all about visual representation instead of literary transfer of information, how did no one notice that Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious were the same person? "Widespread ignorance" indeed …