I was very young when Star Wars was first released. I quickly grew to love Science Fiction. I knew nothing of human biases. I grew up in a school with different races and never had a particular problem with any. My fav Sci fi being Star Wars and Star Trek, even classic Battlestar Galactica, none of those shows had any biases. We had female heroes and people of different race. It never dawned on me it was at all unusual for them to share screen space. But I suppose given when they were made it may have been. But non humans I’d not thought of much. Star Trek reruns may have been full of aliens, but they were all at that point humanoid. Only when I was older would I understand the messages they taught. No, that job was left for Admiral Ackbar who no one could mistake for a painted human.
I had not seen Return of the Jedi yet when I ‘met’ Ackbar in the form of an action figure. I don’t know how long after it came out I saw it. It seemed from my 12 year old point of view to be forever. I flipped through the story book but tried not to read, only look at pictures. I had no idea who Admiral Ackbar was. Why I assumed he was a villain I will probably never know but that is the side I lumped him with in my play. Maybe its because he just wasn’t very pretty. Certainly most of the aliens outside of Chewie had all been dangerous unfriendlies in Star Wars. Greedo had planned to shoot Han. The Bounty Hunters had all worked for the Empire. Either way I felt oddly guilty. I felt I’d done Admiral Ackbar wrong.
But I got surprised with Ackbar and was just old enough to wonder.Why HAD I assumed he was a bad guy? I quickly switched him to the Rebel side of my play once I saw him in the movie. He was a Rebel! And he was on the side of my heroes! But I never quite forgot that realization that I had misjudged him. I’d been biased just because he wasn’t human or cute.
Ironically years later I found the Expanded Universe established that he had worked for the Empire, but only as an unwilling slave. Upon being rescued he used the knowledge he’d gained to become a thorn in the Empire’s side. He helped evacuate Yavin. He protected the Fleet. Ackbar cared about his people and always wanted to protect, hence recognizing immediately the Fleet was over-matched in the Emperor’s death trap.
After Endor, as the Rebellion became a New Republic it got more political. That meant he had to fight bureaucrats and politicians who thought they could use the military to gain power. Ackbar refused to throw away lives needlessly. He faced unfair allegations of corruption from allies, being set up and outright sabotage from his enemies. Even in semi retirement he helped protect his people on Dac AKA Mon Calamari from Imperial attack. He also planned protection for Han and Leia’s children when it became known they were related to Vader and the Jedi.
All this, from a character who I’d assumed from the action figure was a ‘villain.
It’s an important lesson and I learned it young. And I learned it from Admiral Ackbar in the form of a classic Kenner figure. At this point I hear and see people on the internet screaming ‘we want more representation for us. Female, races, etc. But I remember we already had that. I remember those early sci fi shows that were well ahead of the curve. I don’t want more people like me. If I want to know about humans I can watch the news. I can even just look in a mirror. I want more like Ackbar, like Boss Nass and yes I daresay even Jar Jar! Those are the characters that teach us to look beyond mere appearance and make us see ourselves through other eyes, see our spirit not just out looks. If we want to see ourselves we see ourselves in our mind’s eye we don’t need a movie for that. All we need is a mirror. But seeing ourselves threw another’s eye can be far more educational.
Admiral Ackbar to me isn’t just some shallow background character. He’s a gateway to a deeper insight. And I do thank him for it.