Comparing Battles Can Bring Star Wars Down To Earth


Battle stations, Star Wars fans! On sale this week is The Essential Guide to Warfare by Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart, a reference book that explores the ins and outs of the galaxy’s favorite pastime. While there’s a lot of love, politics, and philosophy in Star Wars, most of the action has revolved around, well, action. After all, the word “Wars” is right there in the saga’s name!

The Essential Guide to Warfare tackles this theme head-on, with new artwork depicting everyone from Jedi Ahsoka Tano to Sith Darth Zannah and explanations of how the battles on every front factored into the end result. The book also clarifies the ranks in various factions’ armed forces, provides miniature briefings on ships and weapons, and sprinkles in firsthand accounts from the front lines. Plus, it covers all of the latest material, from the Fate of the Jedi book series to the TV show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Look for a handwritten note from Ahsoka to a friend at the Jedi Temple in the Clone Wars section!)

One of the biggest appeals of this book is that it brings to mind real accounts of famous battles that have captivated our attention since they were published. There is certainly a precedent for “the wars in the stars” mirroring the wars here at home. George Lucas famously based a lot of his space dogfights on the aerial combat of World War II, and Palpatine’s entire rise to power was modeled on the ascent of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Clearly, there are many connections between real Earth history and the universe of tales that have expanded out of Lucas’ mind.

So, how much of this connective tissue did authors Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart mine while they were writing? Fry described how he saw the real-world parallels coming into play in certain ways:

There are dangers with overuse of real-world antecedents, such as having readers think, “Oh, that’s like the Crimean War/Waterloo/Leyte Gulf/What Have You,” which breaks the suspension of disbelief. Plus it’s Star Wars — I like a certain grit to my galaxy far, far away, but you want to be able to hear the John Williams score and have that Flash Gordon feel.

This may sound weird, but with a book like this I think it can be better to draw on general knowledge than specific research, so that things resonate with real-world material but are filtered and recombined, hopefully in interesting ways, through our own memories and impressions. I’m not a military scholar by any means, but I’ve read lots of wartime accounts, and like any writer I’m a sponge for information and striking details, which get stuck in my brain and influence what I think and write.

That said, there are places in Warfare where the real-world antecedents are closer to the surface. Some of the quotes that open the chapters are slight redrafts of things said by the likes of Eisenhower, Sherman, Lincoln and others. (By the way, those quotes originally had no attribution, but Lucasfilm requested that I change that — which was the right call, though I grumbled at the time. So I essentially made a list of the quotes and a list of key Warfare people and matched them up. Which was actually really fun.) Admiral Nantz is basically meant to be William Tecumseh Sherman. And Gar Stazi’s account of the war on Kuthard was directly inspired by a diplomat’s story I read years ago and couldn’t get out of my head — I can’t remember the specific story, though I’m pretty sure it was about Bosnia. Which maybe proves my earlier point.

One thing I do regret is several of the really searing pieces about the cost of war got cut — not because of grim subject matter, but because I already had a bit too much material about certain historical periods. There was a first-person account of a Tionese raid on a Republic frontier world that I was very sorry to see go, for example. I’d love to get some of that stuff in front of readers someday.

With the release of this new Essential Guide, I thought I’d take a look at the similarities and differences between the armed strife in the galaxy far, far away and the wars that have troubled our own little blue-and-green marble. In my research, I found many parallels between reality and fiction, from the way things were coordinated, to the goals of each side, to the problems that inevitably cropped up in the heat of battle. Below are just a handful of the real-world incidents that reminded me of Star Wars conflicts.

The Battle of Duro = The Second Battle of Bull Run

It’s fitting that both of these battles took place during major civil wars. The Battle of Duro was a decisive Separatist victory in 21 BBY that began with the Confederacy’s space fleet overwhelming the collection of Golan battle platforms, Republic assault ships, and heavy cruisers defending the Duro system. The Second Battle of Bull Run, In which famous Confederate generals led a large-scale march into what is now Prince William County, Virginia, likewise resulted in a victory for the secessionists. What struck me about both of the battles was how decisive early land grabs turned out to be in precipitating defeat for the established government’s armed forces.

At Duro, the Separatists turned Jyvus Space City, which surrendered early on the battle, into a command center for General Grievous. This allowed them to hold the line while the CIS Navy’s First and Third Fleets arrived to resupply them. Similarly, General Stonewall Jackson captured the Manassas Junction Union supply station, crippling the Union general’s ability to communicate with Washington, D.C. This was followed by the arrival of Major General James Longstreet, whose units reinforced those of General Jackson.

The Republic counterassault at the Battle of Duro (a meager force of starfighters) proved no match for the Confederacy’s droid squadrons. Not only did they repel the Republic’s attempt to turn the tide, but they also destroyed three of the Republic Navy’s Acclamator-class assault ships. Things didn’t go well for Union General John Pope, either. He didn’t know that Major General Longstreet’s armed forces had arrived and thought that he had General Jackson right where he wanted him. Jackson beat back Pope’s counteroffensive and Longstreet moved in to assist him.

The final stages of both battles reflect the strategic advantage of possessing superior artillery firepower. Just as the Confederate army brought in over a dozen pieces of artillery to break the Union’s defenses, the Separatists brought down Duro’s planetary shields and moved in their naval forces for a bombing runs. If you think that the Separatist capture of Duro and the planet’s capitulation came quickly (just under a week), consider that the Union army lost the Second Battle of Bull Run in just two days.

The Battle of Hoth = The Invasion of Normandy

While the Allies and the Empire had different reasons for their massive landings on Hoth and at Normandy, the result of both offensives was basically the same: decisive victories for the assaulting force. The Allies knew that establishing beachheads at Normandy would pave the way for a larger invasion of western Europe, which was controlled at the time by the Germans. After receiving data from a probe droid, Darth Vader determined that a strike at Hoth could cripple the Rebel High Command. While no such Axis targets were present at the Normandy landings, both offensives were seen by their planners as potential tide-turning events.

While Imperial plans to take Hoth’s Rebels by surprise hit a snag thanks to Admiral Ozzel, the Allied powers knew that their approach would be spotted and simply tried to come ashore at Normandy with as few casualties as possible. Landings took place at various points along the coast, include Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Omaha Beach. The Americans who assaulted Omaha Beach were up against some of the Germans’ best infantry units, and Allied commanders almost gave up on securing that position. The Canadians who took Juno Beach, which was almost as heavily defended, did so within a few hours.

One advantage that the Imperials had over the Allies was their use of towering mechanized assault vehicles. Because of the speed needed to reach key objectives during the Normandy landings, the Allies relied heavily on foot soldiers. Darth Vader knew, however, that the sight of his army’s AT-ATs would inspire fear in the Rebel defenders, so he traded speed for sheer psychological and technological superiority. Although Luke Skywalker and his fellow snowspeeder pilots took down a handful of Imperial walkers, the Rebel defense was not nearly as effective as the obstacles that the Germans placed on Omaha Beach. Indeed, it was because of the Allies’ inability to clear out these obstacles that their tanks proved almost useless in securing Omaha.

The Allied naval flotilla was another important aspect of the Normandy landings, which were codenamed “Operation Neptune.” This invasion fleet distinguished itself from its Star Wars counterpart in one major way. Like Darth Vader’s own groups of warships, the Allied fleet (composed primarily of British Royal Navy vessels) was tasked with landing the ground assault units. However, the Normandy ships also had to contend with potential intervention from the German Navy. This meant that their role in the battle was more complicated than the role that the Executor and her fellow Star Destroyers played above Hoth. Vader’s task force was there to prevent the Rebels from escaping the battlefield, but the Allies tasked their fleet with cutting off German vessels headed into the conflict.

The Seventh Battle of Ruusan = The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

Thanks in large part to the successful storming of Normandy, the Allies eventually beat the Germans in Europe, but World War II continued to rage in the Pacific. The United States threatened the “prompt and utter destruction” of Japan if its leadership didn’t surrender, and when the Japanese ignored this warning, President Truman authorized the first (and so far only) use of nuclear weapons in wartime. Two atomic bombs, named Little Boy and Fat Man, were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation estimates the Hiroshima death toll at somewhere between 90,000 and 166,000, with the Nagasaki figure ranging from 60,000 to 80,000.

While the best-known genocide in George Lucas’ saga is the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope, I wanted to find a better point of comparison in Star Wars lore. After all, while the destruction of Alderaan was certainly a galvanizing moment, it didn’t have the same kind of finality as the strike on Hiroshima. I kept pouring through Expanded Universe literature to connect the use of the atomic bomb to something equally definitive and game-changing. Ultimately, I settled on the unprecedented massacre that ended the Seventh Battle of Ruusan.

About a thousand years before the Death Star fired its first shot, the Army of Light and the Brotherhood of Darkness were both eradicated on Ruusan by a devastating weapon called a thought bomb. The bomb was detonated by Lord Kaan, but it was ultimately part of Darth Bane’s plan to wipe out the Sith and start over with his Rule of Two. In addition to destroying both armies present on Ruusan and effectively ending the New Sith Wars, the thought bomb wiped out nearly every sentient Force-sensitive on the planet, absorbing Jedi and Sith souls alike.

The thought bomb’s detonation rivaled the effect of Little Boy on Hiroshima, but across an entire planet. Its consequences were equally haunting, too. The fact that it literally trapped the souls of its victims within its blast radius makes for a creepy parallel to the scarred landscape of Hiroshima. In addition, the use of the thought bomb and the subsequent end of the war led to the Ruusan Reformation, which formally separated the Jedi from the Republic military and basically eliminated the latter altogether. As I read about it, this series of reforms and galactic restructuring reminded me of the international agreements and institutions that came into being after the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II.

After the dust settled, the Galactic Republic and the Allied Powers each faced a new era and a new set of questions. Why did this happen? How can we prevent it from happening again? In both universes, the victorious power had to take some time to evaluate where it was and where it hoped to go in the future. For the Republic, that meant decentralizing and diminishing the military. For the Allied powers, it meant the United Nations and other institutions of international cooperation.

So there you have it, dear readers. In the GFFA, perhaps even more so than here on Earth, war is the name of the game –– and now, there’s an Essential Guide for that.

Eric Geller is a college student majoring in political science who hails from Washington, D.C. He reviews The Clone Wars TV series and manages social media for Star Wars fan site TheForce.Net.