Sharing an office this week with a Military Chaplain (who is also a Trekkie) got me thinking. Where are the Padres in Star Wars?
The Star Wars universe is very good at reflecting the military roles in our own world. They’re not perfect examples of how the roles all work together, mind, but the seven films released thus far have done a reasonable job of illustrating the variety of jobs in real life service. For example, in A New Hope we see or hear about pilots, navigators and gunners. In The Empire Strikes Back, there’s armoured and infantry units, medical practitioners, and intelligence specialists. By The Return of the Jedi, we meet fleet/warfare officers in the Alliance (the Empire had long been featured) and special forces. In and around this are roles like HR and Administration, Logistics, and Financial Management, which throughout the Star Wars films are heavily implied, given the actions of the Empire and Rebel Alliance.
One curious absence throughout the Star Wars films however are Military Chaplains – or Padres – who often play an important supporting role in a modern military organisation. They’re not just about running church services in the welfare tent or base chapel, or memorial services on anniversaries. Military Chaplains are a window for commanders into understanding local religious and cultural beliefs in an area of operations. For individuals, they’re an important tool for their own welfare and morale. A good chaplain is approachable, affable, and provides an avenue for members to address issues – whether they be personal or professional – outside of their immediate chain of command. When you have an issue you can’t take to your boss, best friend, or other confidant, then a Chaplain is quite often the best option you’ll have.
Ignoring the personnel or cultural understanding benefits of Chaplains, their origins in western militaries are obviously deeply rooted in providing religious services to the formed body. Even in this respect, religion arguably exists in the Star Wars universe, and there would be a requirement to meet the religious needs of military members. The clearest example are the Jedi, who are not necessarily religious practitioners themselves, but a source for moral code and idol worship for others (especially following their near extinction). They are effectively a force of practicing miracle workers and do-gooders who surely must have inspired those without force sensitivity for better or worse. The roots of many of our own religions are planted in the feats and morality of those who lived thousands of years ago in a foreign country – nevermind the tricks someone pulled thirty years ago during the Clone Wars.
Indeed, the concept of worship and theistic codes exists within Star Wars in spite of the Jedi. Han Solo calls the Jedi a ‘hokey religion’, as though it should attract the same ridicule as other flimsy beliefs. Different characters mention religious concepts like Hell, Prayer, and Sacred Places throughout the films – none of which are terribly congruent with Jedi practice.
For a Military Chaplain to exist within Star Wars, the two apparent avenues would be either the Empire or the Rebel Alliance. Straight off the bat, we can discount the Empire, whose own ideology would have struggled to reconcile strict discipline and order against the many thousands of cultural practices and religious beliefs across the galaxy. The clearest example is its opposition to the Jedi. In spite of its top two leaders comprising of practicing Sith Lords, the Empire would have likely discouraged any of its military workforce from even considering an alternative belief system that might have provided some moral compromise for its personnel carrying out orders.
That anti-religious bent within the Empire would likely spurred many in the galaxy into opposition, and indeed could have inspired some to join the Alliance as a means of waging a ‘holy war’ in defence of their beliefs. If you’ll pardon the pun, the Alliance is a broad church of alien races, attracting with it a diverse religious composition. Not every Rebel member would have necessarily been a zealot, but it’s worth considering that under the immense stresses of being pursued by the Empire, a Chaplaincy within the Alliance would have held some value for the pastoral care and moral wellbeing of its workforce. Even from an administrative perspective, the Alliance would have required some HR/Chaplaincy model that would allow commanders to understand, accept, and work in cooperation with the religious beliefs of its workforce. It’s all well and good if Admiral Ackbar knows Life Day requires everyone to have a leave day, but heaven help him if he doesn’t realise the capability impact of not allowing Nein Numb to practice his religious beliefs.
The truth is, do we necessarily need to see Military Chaplains reflected within a Star Wars film? Perhaps no more (or less) than other duties that would have existed in this universe. Legal Officer or Public Affairs are another good start. The idea of Engineers doing the System Program Offices support for the construction of the Death Stars is something I’ve enjoyed thinking about. It’s fun to speculate on their existence, and to comment on what their exact purpose would be, working behind the scenes. But there’s one job that grips up all these personnel, regardless of whether you’re a technician servicing an X-Wing, or a comptroller transferring funds to Han Solo. Chaplains wander through these workplaces, often with a bag of sweets, asking everyone how their day has been, and whether they’d like to say a quiet prayer before the Death Star destroys everybody…