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While the Dark and Light Sides of the Force imply a world without moral gray areas, it doesn’t mean that Star Wars is without them. For as long as there has been a Star Wars, there have been theories about the motivations behind its iconic characters. From ideas that the good are bad and others that the bad are good, intentions play a big part in the fan community.

One theory about the franchise’s biggest villain, Emperor Palpatine, helps paint the fragile line between the light, the dark, and the pragmatic. 

The visual language of ‘Star Wars’

Ian McDiarmid
Ian McDiarmid | Samir Hussein/WireImage

Part of the reason that Star Wars is so beloved is the thought that goes behind it. Every scene, costume, character, and story seem lived in and somewhat true to a life that could happen. The visual language of the series has always told a story unto itself. However, speaking about the proverbial gray area in the force, he told Bill Moyers about the color schemes in an old interview. 

“I use color a lot in — in my films. I’m very conscious of — of the design of my films. Tatooine is usually our home planet, and there isn’t much there except a lot of brown sand. A very, very clean place. Death Star, the Empire, has been painted black or white or gray. There’s a lot of gray, but it’s colorless. The Emperor, I put in a splash of red. I mean, red is a — an aggressive color,” he said of his use of color. 

This is important to know when thinking about the way it’s used to convey emotion. The neutral tones of the Death Star do not inherently invoke something evil. However, the vibrant reds of the Emperor convey the evil hidden beneath the surface. As such, with Lucas’s visual language in mind, it’s easy to see why one particular fan theory paints the pragmatic worldview that drives the Emperor. 

Is the Death Star actually evil?

While many assume that the Death Star was a machine that the Emperor built for solely evil purposes, it might not be the case. After all, one of the first things we see it do is destroy a planet and everyone on it with a single blast. However, while no version of the ship serves a morally good purpose, there could be some logistical defenses to the Death Star’s actual function. 

In a fan theory posited on CinemaBlend, writer Conner Schwerdtfeger suggests that Palpatine never built the Death Star to directly destroy planets. Instead, he made it a means to keep anyone from attacking him so that he doesn’t have to use it.

This is wrong in many ways, but it paints an action that’s less a war machine and more a war preventer. 

Does this theory hold any weight?


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As any Star Wars fan admits, Palpatine is a man of pure evil. However, while this is inarguable, he operates on a value system that’s far more complicated.

Yes, he wants power and the death of the old order, but he doesn’t necessarily want to wipe out the universe. The Cantina notes how he wants to create it in his vision, and while that vision is evil, he fails to see it that way. Had a ship like the Death Star existed in the hands of a man like Luke Skywalker.

However, the Death Star’s place inside our minds may look entirely different. 

As such, painting the Death Star as a neutral machine that could prevent wars, its function in the story shows how that kind of weapon can be used in the wrong hands. It harkens back to age-old debates about war technology and whether it’s there to kill or protect. It also establishes the most prevalent themes in Star Wars.