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[Warning: This review contains plot details from the film that could be considered spoilers.]
It’s a small line of dialogue that, potentially, exists merely to explain away the existence of John Boyega’s role in the movie — but the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens explicitly refers to the First Order moving away from using clone troopers is an interesting choice, to put it mildly.
To fans more familiar with the original trilogy, it’s something that is unlikely to matter much. Watching General Hux choose to use a collection of Stormtroopers he trained from childhood — in many cases, stealing the children from their families and, it’s suggested, brainwashing them — instead of an army of clones is a momentary distraction. It suggests that the First Order has all manner of soldiers at its disposal. But when taken in the wider context of Star Wars as a whole — and, specifically, the prequel trilogy — it takes on a much deeper significance.
After all, 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith were very explicit in the creation of an army of essentially obedient soldiers who have been bred for the sole purpose of doing the Emperor’s bidding. Much of Attack of the Clones is dedicated to their creation, to underscore the fact that the prequel trilogy’s troopers — and, by extention, the Stormtroopers of earlier movies (but later continuity) — aren’t merely faceless, interchangeable characters when wearing their identical armor, but underneath that armor, as well.
A clone trooper commander in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.
It’s a narrative statement that, in many ways, recalls the “Greedo shot first” intent of the “special edition” edit of the original Star Wars. With Greedo, George Lucas famously reedited a scene so that the villain of the piece made the initial aggressive move so as to give the hero something to react against, in order to preserve his honor. By suggesting that all of the series’ troopers are factory-created drones, they become little more than robots, making the high kill-rate of our heroes somewhat less objectionable. It “cleans up” their record, and, in many ways, sanitizes the war of the franchise’s title.
(It should be noted that the animated spinoffs from the movies, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, both go some way toward suggesting that each clone has an individual personality and point of view, to the point where some even abandon the war for other purposes. Indeed, ancillary material suggests that the clones were eventually replaced by “regular” soldiers. However, such specificity isn’t present in the text of the movies.)
By textually rejecting the idea that all First Order soldiers are clones, The Force Awakens doesn’t just provide an excuse to diversify the cast of the movie, it adds some much-needed moral complexity on both sides: Not only do the bad guys kidnap and brainwash kids, but the good guys kill them afterward without much remorse.
War is hell, as the saying goes. Now, thanks to what is really just a minor change to an earlier softening of Star Wars‘ own mythology, that’s slowly becoming as true in a galaxy far, far away as it is in reality.
Update: The original version of this piece suggested that all troopers in the Star Wars series were clones; this is not the case, and THR regrets the error.
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