Thursday 10 November 2022

Space Nazis Must Die

Hitler’s goon squad casts a long shadow over science fiction.
 “We will fight them
on the beaches...”
(Image via

It’s easy to see the outline of Nazi soldiers in the Impirial Military of Star Wars, Doctor Who’s Daleks, The Alliance in Firefly, or the Terran Federation shock troops in Blake’s 7.

Deliberate choices are made in films to offer the connotation of Nazi, often including immaculately tailored Hugo-Boss-style uniforms, Teutonic heel taps of the jackboots when marching, and Riefenstahllian visuals of parade grounds and iconic banners. Sometimes, there’s a suggestion that these fictional soldiers are motivated by some form of racist ideology, though the details of this are usually nebulous.

Let’s be clear here: Nazis are bad.

Nazis should be opposed wherever they exist: on the battlefield, at the ballot box, in the streets, and across the tenebrous depths of interstellar space. As such, depicting villains as Nazis — and therefore Nazism as villainous — has value.

But depiction without engaging with the premises of motivation is lacking. “Nazi” is such an easy signifier for evil, it often allows these narratives to avoid engaging with what evil actually means. Sure, Imperial Soldiers kill a lot of people in the Empire Strikes Back, but so do the zombies in Train to Busan, or the tornado in Twister, or the Xenomorphs in Alien. The faceless hordes provide little more than target practice for laser rays; there’s no interiority behind the mirrorshades and white perspex armour. 

Using the symbolic Nazi provides a type of worldbuilding and character shorthand for the viewer, or reader. It conveys a (false) dichotomy that provides comfort; a comfort in knowing that Nazi = bad and the other side = good. It gives the consumer a break from having to figure out bad from good for themselves.
Nazi-coded villains can be found in all kinds of SFF
from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes to Woody
Allen’s Sleeper. But do these movies invite the
viewer to consider what this iconography means?
(Image via Overture Magazine)

Science fiction’s depiction of fascism and of fascists is occasionally more pointed and valuable. Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers plays a brilliant bit of sleight of hand, first building up the Terran Federation as a heroic force through propaganda techniques, then slowly revealing to the audience that they’ve been duped into cheering for Nazis. Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream explores how heroic fantasy narratives are rooted in similar assumptions to the mythologized history that underpin fascist mythmaking. And Vernor Vinge’s Deepness In The Sky explores new ways for human freedom to be subverted by Nazis.

But the predominant conception of Nazis in science fiction is little more than a costume.

Consider: there are overt and unrepentant real-world fascists who are die-hard Star Wars fans. But we wonder – do they see the linkage? The classic trilogy encourages such minimal critical engagement that it would be easy to imagine someone spending a day at a polling station with an assault rifle intimidating BIPOC voters and then go home and watch the Special Edition of A New Hope and cheer for the Rebellion. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to see left-wing pro-democracy activists involved in
The fascist tendency to view human beings as
tools, and the prison system as a source of 
expendable labour is depicted well in Andor.
Some fans didn’t get the message
(Image via Polygon)

the 501st Legion and dressing up as fascist Stormtroopers on a regular basis. This is not to play any false equivalence between these two groups; but rather to point out how vague and tenuous the depiction of fascism has traditionally been in Star Wars and how this leaves the viewer free to engage with its narratives at a superficial level.

And all of this is why the most recent iteration of Star Wars is so refreshing. Andor presents a multi-layered view at the Empire that explores the seductive power that authoritarian systems can have on their participants: the capitalist class that profits from oppression and is lulled by the illusion of security; the mid-level bureaucrats who fetishize order and see the opportunity for advancement; the ground-level workers who sell out their peers just to escape the butcher’s block for another day. At the risk of hyperbole, it sometimes feels as if the series is building a taxonomy of fascists; an Audubon Guide to the Nazis In Our Midst.

Andor suggests that there is no one type of fascist in the Star Wars universe, and in doing so makes the empire more believable, and the imperial system to be far scarier. The genre needs more of this. These may be stories that are often set in a galaxy far, far, away … but fascism is never as distant as it should be.


  1. Giving Starship Troopers fans a lot of credit in this one

    1. ... I'm a fan of Starship Troopers. Both the movie and the book, for wildly different reasons.