It’s becoming almost impossible to tell who is good and who isn’t in the new Star Wars canon . The only way to begin passing judgement is to decide what lens to look through. The most obvious way is through the tactics the use, but it becomes muddled when considering their motivation . For example, General Hux should be a clear cut villain. He destroyed multiple planets in a matter of moments. Why? He was a scared boy who didn’t know any other way of life. His real motivation was just to escape abuse.
The final way to judge a person or organization is by their end-goal. At first, this should make it clear. The Rebellion wants to bring peace to the galaxy. Good. The Empire wants absolute power. Bad. End goals, though, are a moving target.
Ahsoka Tano at first wants nothing more than to win a war and become a Jedi. Then she simply needs to survive while in hiding. Her final end goal was to save innocent lives. She shifts between the far light side of the spectrum and the neutral middle ground.
A once-feared bounty hunter quickly shifts from the far dark side to the same grey area as Ahsoka. Asajj Ventress, in Dark Disciple, all but gives up her Sith-like way of life to live by her own code. As time goes on, though her motivation isn’t totally pure, she wants to put an end to the leader of the Separatist movement. On it’s most superficial level, it’s an easy goal to defend. Is it as easy to defend a character like Quinlan Vos, who had the same goal at first and moves back and forth, but can’t control why?
One of the largest swings we see is when someone wants to go from destroying all Jedi to destroying all Sith. When we first meet Darth Maul, he’s past the point of a typical villain. He’s closer to a savage animal pointed in a specific direction and told to run. We don’t know why he wants what he does and we can’t be sure of how he’ll get there, but it’s so clear he wants to take down who we know to be the defenders of peace. When we meet him again in Rebels, he’s less savage, but still ruthless. Only now, he wants to destroy the Sith. Does this dramatic shift change the person he is?
What throws us for the biggest loop isn’t how people can change, it’s how individuals in a group are judged differently from the group as a whole. The newest addition to this camp is Eli Vanto- Imperial Officer at the beck and call of Admiral Thrawn. If we were introduced to him as someone hunting down Rebels or leading a team of stormtroopers, we would think of him as a pawn of a larger plot. Instead, we’re able to see how he wants to live a modest life and make him family proud. He has a particular set of skills and wants to use them to live quietly away from all the action. He has the most innocent end goal we’ve seen in the Star Wars Universe.
It can be difficult to separate end goal and motivation. The most important distinction is that end goals change often. They’re also attainable. For example. Arhinda Pryce has been a detestable villain since she was after Ezra Bridger and the Phoenix Squadron on Rebels. Her motivation was self-defense. First, someone went after her parents and her business. Then after her career. Then her personal reputation. Overtime she struck, but she was always reactive. It puts her in the neutral zone. Her end goal though (at first) is to redeem her parents’ name. Her end goal thus makes her honorable.
The new canon makes it clear from the movies, books, and comic books, heroes have their flaws and villains aren’t always what the appear. Whether it’s old characters like Luke Skywalker, the selfless hero with selfish motivation, Darth Vader, the murder with once pure intent, or new characters like Dr. Aphra, the bounty hunter with her own code, it’s obvious the only safe place is one of neutrality (if that even exists).