Inside of a Droid, it’s Too Dark to Read
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. 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. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?
Surely not, Mr. Britt. And yet:
Uncle Owen needs a droid who can speak “bocce,” and then says something about the binary language of load lifters. Okay, so Uncle Owen needs a translator and someone to do math for him. This doesn’t sound like a guy who has gotten a suitable education. I suppose it’s possible that Luke picked up some reading here and there, but we don’t see any books or any evidence to suggest he’s a fluent reader. It seems like all the characters in Star Warslearn how to do is punch certain buttons to make their machines do what they need to do, and everything else is left up to droids.
In our own culture, pictograms have rapidly replaced words on traffic signs, restrooms, etc. The buttons being pressed by the Death Star control room workers might not even be letters. They might be pictograms representing different functions; functions like “death ray blast” and “trash compact.” Plus, how could those guys read anything in those helmets, anyway?
Attack of the Clones sees Obi-Wan Kenobi go to the Jedi Library, but again, this research facility seems less about books and more about pretty colors, interactive holographic maps, etc. The amount of actual reading even someone like Obi-Wan does is still limited. Now, I imagine Jedi can probably read and are taught to read, as are rich people like Princess Leia and Padme Amidala and Jimmy Smits. But everything in Star Wars is about video chat via holograms, or verbal communication through com-links. Nobody texts inStar Wars!
It seems like this society has slipped into a kind of highly functional illiteracy. Surely, for these cultures to progress and become spacefaring entities, they needed written language at some point. 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.
The idea of education becoming obsolete due to cultural changes isn’t without a science fiction precedent. In the Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” Vina speaks of a culture that “forgets how to repair the machines left behind by their ancestors.” I’m postulating that the same thing happened with literacy in the Star Wars galaxy. People stopped using the written word, because they didn’t need to, and it slipped away from being a commonly held skill. . . .
And it also explains the incomprehensible plots of the prequels:
The final nail in the coffin which proves widespread illiteracy is how fast stories of the Jedi mutate from a fact of everyday life into legend, seemingly overnight. This is because the average citizen of the galaxy in Star Warsreceives his/her/its information orally, from stories told by spacers in bars, farmboys on arid planets, orphans in crime-ridden cities, etc. Without written documents, these stories easily become perverted and altered quickly. This is the same way Palpatine was able to take over in Revenge of the Sith. He simply said “the Jedi tried to kill me” and everyone was like, “okay.”
Or perhaps it’s just that George Lucas can’t write. Either way, over to you, Alan.