How does Supply Lines explore the concepts of neutrality for Younger Viewers?
There’s a confusing attitude held by fans regarding the political aspects of Star Wars. Affairs of the state have played a pivotal role in the saga since it’s inception in 1977 as Palpatine’s totalitarian regime, the disillusionment of its people and the dissolution of the senate were all key themes and events of A New Hope. Although these elements do take a back seat to Luke, Han and Leia’s story, they are hardly obscure and are in fact some of the very factors that create the world and characters fans fell in love with. In a previous post, I mentioned how the prequel trilogy tells the story of a collapsing civilisation through a democracy being brutally hammered into a dictatorship. This story naturally demanded a stronger focus on the political machinations that transpired to make this happen and as such, there were a number of important scenes that explained these on-goings at length. Many fans of the original trilogy abhor this element of the prequels and claim that ultimately that is not what they enjoy about Star Wars. However, there was arguably no way to do the story of the prequels justice without addressing these issues in a much more direct manner than seen in the original films (To make matters more baffling, one of the major complaints about The Force Awakens – which was designed to appease fans of the original trilogy- was the lack of political context provided).
Despite these criticisms, George Lucas and Dave Filoni stuck to what they knew Star Wars was with The Clone Wars and continued to explore how the politics of the universe are what drive the action forward. Not since The Phantom Menace has politics taken such a forward role in a Star Wars adventure and much like it’s predecessor in that regard, Supply Lines is thought by some fans to be one of the weaker instalments, based on that alone. Nevertheless, it is an interesting episode of The Clone Wars as it refuses to talk down to its young audience in the series’ first real foray into the politics of the universe. Here, I will look at the how the issue of neutrality is addressed in the episode and it how uses Star Wars lore to both confirm and challenge assumptions viewers may have. In Supply Lines, Senator Bail Organa is tasked by the Jedi Council to journey to Toydaria to meet with King Katuunko and negotiate a deal that will see the otherwise neutral planet to send relief supplies to the nearby planet of Ryloth, which is currently under siege by separatist forces. Though the republic has recently deployed another senator to negotiate, the Jedi believe Organa would be better suited to the task than the inexperienced Senator Jar Jar Binks. However, Separatist forces intercept communications between Organa and the Council and at the command of Count Dooku, send the Trade Federation’s Senator Lott Dod to try and break down the talks between Toydaria and the Republic.
Supply Lines sees ethical issues argued with double agendas which make matters seem complex and creates a layer of dramatic tension to the political proceedings.However, for viewers who may be newcomers to Star Wars, the truth of the situation is established at the top of the episode. As Bail Organa is introduced undertaking a diplomatic mission from Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu, it can be said with great certainty that he is on the side of good. Lott Dod, on the other hand, is first mentioned by Count Dooku, when he is commanded to contact him. This shows that he is effectively a servant of evil. As for those viewers who already know the status quo, they are put in an interesting position regarding the neutral force of Toydaria. The only other Toydarian we know from canon material is Watto, the human trafficker who formerly owned Anakin and Shmi Skywalker. As an antagonistic force, viewers may well hold preconceived notions of the Toydarians based on Watto.
Neutrality is the main topic of conversation in the episode. In history, neutrality in large scale conflicts has often been viewed as an act of immorality or cowardice, with countries such as Switzerland still facing faint ire for their choice to retain neutral status during wars. It goes without saying that the decision to declare neutrality can often be a sincere and difficult choice that is dependent on many factors, but this is something Supply Lines goes to great lengths to show its young audience. Toydaria is shown to be highly coveted territory by both the Republic due to its geographical proximity to Ryloth, the under siege planet on which it has just suffered a crushing defeat by the CIS. If the republic can sway Toydaria to their cause, they can use the planet as a humanitarian base to help deliver aid and supplies to Ryloth. however upon the arrival of Lott Dod -and his insistence that by getting involved in the war Toydaria will, in fact, become a military base- the talks are quickly mired. This demonstrates the. While a state may want to help its neighbours, it can put itself in great harm by doing so. In Toydaria case, not only will breaking their neutrality put them at risk of an attack by separatist forces but will also deter the Trade Federation from engaging in future business with them, as the corporation also don’t wish to be at risk of attack.
At the same time, the episode addresses the idea that a declaration of Neutrality can sometimes be driven by selfish attitudes or can be false altogether. As one of the wealthiest corporate organisations in the galaxy, the Trade Federation claims that it is committed to commerce across the galaxy and has no interest in taking sides in territorial wars such as the Clone Wars. This public facade of neutrality from the Federation is clearly intended to be seen as profit driven stance, which would make them morally dubious at the least. Of course, what is explicitly clear to viewers and even most characters within the series is that the Federation are staunch supporters of the Separatists and are using their heavy influence in galactic commerce to aid the cause. Katuunko’s adjournment of the meeting marks an unofficial victory for the federation as Toydaria reaffirms its neutrality. While audiences will be condemning the Trade Federation for their actions they are soon presented with the fact that the Toydarians also act against their publicly stated neutrality when the King secretly meets with Organa and Binks and assures them that Toydaria will act as a humanitarian base. At this point both Toydaria and the federation have declared a neutral stance and are acting against it behind the others’ backs., which presents the planet’s decision makers almost as morally bankrupt as the Trade Federation (in regards to events in the episode alone) and makes the viewer question the entire concept of neutrality.