Why that Child 'Star Wars' Death Trooper Costume Is So Unsettling
Mommy, I want to kill galactic heroes for Halloween.
This Halloween, trick-or-treating will continue to encourage children to masquerade as all kinds of beloved fictional murderers, and with that in mind, there’s good news for maniacal little Star Wars fans. The prequel movie Rogue One has added a new evil-doer to the costume roster: the “Death Trooper.”
Lots of Star Wars characters are weirdly homicidal, so dressing kids up as any characters could be considered creepy across the board — even Chewbacca has plenty of blood on his paws. But let’s be honest: A child dressing up as Darth Vader for Halloween is objectively cute. Why? Because Darth Vader is someone’s evil father, and so a little kid dressed as Darth Vader is like a walking Freudian joke. Arguably, this is connected to why a Kylo Ren costume on a child is cute, too: Parents are already worried their children will kill them, and metaphorically, they kind of are.
But the $55 dollar Death Trooper costume, which is available for purchase right now at the Disney Store, feels unsettling for another reason: the on-the-nose name “Death Trooper.” Boba Fett’s name isn’t “murder death guy” and even the “stormtroopers” or the “clone troopers” have a softer, zanier sound.
Rogue One, the upcoming movie from which the Death Troopers derive, is also being billed as a dark and gritty war movie, complete with hints that its heroes will be killed in combat filled with gunplay and agony. Again, this may seem like splitting hairs, but the entire aesthetic of Star Wars, at least up until now, has been less oriented toward realistic soldiers and depictions of modern warfare. If rumors are to be believed, the whole reason the Rogue One reshoots happened was to soften its “war movie” aesthetic and transform it into something that resembles a family-friendly space adventure, a la A New Hope. So, it could be argued that a “hardcore” Star Wars movie is kind of antithetical to the purpose of Star Wars. Even though the name “War” is in the title, the whole of Star Wars is in fact, not a war story at all, but instead, a fairy tale.
Ah, but what is a fairy tale? A contemporary conception of fairy tales presupposes a story should be “kid-friendly” complete with moralistic themes and cartoon violence, which reaffirms some sets of normative values. Anakin Skywalker is good when he saves people, but bad when he slaughters little kids in Revenge of the Sith.
But, the origin of fairy tales is connected to the history of folk tales, which are, historically, not the same. At the risk of condensing several scholarly works into one sentence: Back in 1812, the Brothers Grimm stole a bunch of Germanic Folk Tales and repackaged and popularized sanitized versions of these stories for children. Here, many scholars — like Jack Zipes would argue that stories which emphasize loyalty to one’s father and other patriarchal themes were popularized.
Obviously, “real” fairy tales (or folk tales) have darker origins than what Disney or other retellings have done with certain stories. George Lucas has repeatedly asserted the idea that his creation was made for children. But which kind of fairy tale did Lucas intend? The “real” kind — subversive, violent and scary — or the “fake” kind, complete with clear values and violence sanitized for a Disney audience?
The problem is, as a fairy tale, Star Wars is both kinds. It mixes things up by being both pandering to social norms (idealistic people always triumph) and weirdly, being subversive, too. Fathers aren’t regarded with the same reverence as they are in stories from the Grimms, or even, old Disney movies.
In fact, The Force Awakens managed to blend well-worn tropes with an unexpected generational critique: Kylo Ren is like a modern day school shooter, who stands in an uneasy contrast to the “fairy tale” setting of the rest of Star Wars. Which Star Wars film, then, is less kid-friendly: Revenge of the Sith in which the hero kills little kids — or The Force Awakens — where a son kills his heroic father? Both plot points are probably more similar to scenes from Shakespeare or Sophocles than any variety of fairy tale.
But what the hell are the Death Troopers? These aren’t “characters” really from any kind of story, but instead pretty obvious stand-ins for Nazi SS Soldiers. Kids love Indiana Jones, but that doesn’t mean Lucasfilm would have encouraged them to dress up as Nazis and reenact the “fun “of the those stories. The Death Troopers don’t really seem to have any kind of larger mythology. They are direct analogs of Nazis. At least the stormtroopers have been given a weird backstory of being clones, or more contemporarily, with Finn in The Force Awakens, shown to be occasionally, heroic.
Of course, when a child dresses up as a vampire, you could have a similar conversation: what is this costume an amalgamation of? Which “vampire” is this? Is this a “legit” Bram Stoker or John William Polidori “vampyre” or some version which has been translated and reinterpreted a thousand times?
But vampires are obviously fictional, and so is Darth Vader. Proxy Nazis à la the “Death Trooper?” Less so. Frivolity with Darth Vader, and even Stormtroopers, makes sense to a point. But when Disney itself is selling a costume for a child to pretend they are mindless killing machine, the culture of fantasy and fairy tales has undeniably, changed.