Kafka’s Death Star

The other day a friend told me that the great problem of SCI/FI is that so many of the plots pivot on a someone having bad security. (Also a Fantasy problem apparently, when one thinks about the Wicked Witch’s castle or Mordor in general.)
My friend’s example was Star Wars. If the Stormtroopers had aimed better, he says, Luke & Co. never would have gotten out of there….
First of all, criticizing Star Wars is a great way to get me to disagree with your argument.
Second of all … I am going to pitch the case that the Death Star’s security weaknesses and even the lousy stormtroopers are part of the plot.
In this case I’m going to argue that Star Wars is part of a body of literature that I’ll call Civilization Rots. The idea here is that any succesful society will eventually strangle itself in rules, customs, ritual, red tape and bureaucratic nonsense. It will rot from within.
Examples of this theme include The Castle, Bleak House, Peake’s Gormenghast and, in the science fiction realm the works of Stanislaw Lem and Douglas Adams.
Imagine someone launching an assault on Kafka’s castle. The only defense is paperwork, so one illiterate beserker could conquer the whole place. Lem’s underground military HQ in “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” would also prove extremely pourous.
The Death Star is a similar entity. It’s a bloated, bureaucratic, automated, over-engineered mess.  Remember when we swoop in close and see the surface is like a huge militaristic city with towers and buildings and … was all that really necessary on what was essentially a big gun? These were the offices and bunks and warehouses of middle-managers and supply chain clerks and the people who approve the orders that the middle managers make for the supply chain clerks.
Not to mention the cubicles of the customer service representatives…
Remember this scene?
Stormtrooper:”Close the blast doors, close the blast doors.”
Han and Chewie jump through the gap.
Stormtrooper: “Open the blast doors, open the blast doors.”
When you get to the point where you can only open and close doors by calling customer service, you’re in a heap of trouble.
The Death Star is not only to bulky to defend. It’s so isolated from the real world (galaxy) that the stormtroopers have no real motivation to patrol the corridors or take target practice. (Who’s going to come in here?)  He’s sick of wearing armor all the time and wasn’t really that gung-ho about joining up in the first place.
And then when someone does interrupt his slumber, why risk his life lining up a good shot at a dangerous, moving target like Han Solo? Just fire a few rounds and let the guys in the next sector deal with it.
The men at the top — Tarkin and Vader — are passionate. But the underlings just don’t have their hearts in it. That’s why a lackey asks Tarkin to evacuate, probably hoping he can catch a ride, too.
“What? Evacuate in our moment of triumph?” snaps Tarkin, so besmitten with his big Death Star that his hubris has blinded him to the rot.
And, yes, it is rotting from within — as made clear by the presence of a worm in its belly. Swimming in one of the countless garbage rooms is a trash compactor monster.
I don’t mean to downplay the courage of our heroes in assaulting the Death Star.
It is still dangerous. And powerful enough to destroy Alderaan in a flash.
But it is vulnerable to a determined effort by people who actually care, who aren’t following a schedule, who push away their instruments and let the raw force of their own desire for freedom guide them.

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