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As we mentioned in the Symbolism analysis on the Empire (go check it out, if you haven't already), the Imperials are basically Space Nazis. They're big. They're bad. They goose-step.
So it's pretty obvious to see how the Rebels would represent the forces of good. After all, they are the guys fighting the Empire, and we can all agree that fighting Space Nazis helps your rating on the morality meter.
But there are as many ways to be "good" as there are to be "evil." So, how does the movie define goodness?
For starters, the Rebels value individuality over conformity and the state. This is evident even down to the uniforms worn by their foot soldiers. Whereas stormtroopers wear identical uniforms and helmets that make them all look the same, the Rebels all sport helmets that allow the audience to see their faces and recognize them as individuals.
The Rebel's support of individualism ultimately leads them to success against the Empire. As the Rebel Commander notes:
"[The Death Star's] defenses are designed around a direct large-scale assault. A small, one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense. […] The Empire doesn't consider a small, one-man fighter to be any threat or they'd have a tighter defense."
We see in the climactic battle. The Empire's favoring of conformity results in the TIE fighter pilots being interchangeable. We certainly couldn't tell them apart. Meanwhile, the X-Wing fighters have individual names and distinct personalities. Ultimately, it is one of these individuals, Luke Skywalker, that manages to take down the behemoth battle station and save the day.
The Rebels also value diversity. The Empire only accepts humans into its ranks— specifically white men. The Rebels, however, accept people from all backgrounds, including nonhuman species like Chewbacca.
To be honest, this isn't all that evident in A New Hope —the Rebels are mostly played by white American and British actors, and the diversity of the Rebel forces is mostly limited to their acceptance of Chewbacca and the droids. But this quality of the Rebellion becomes more evident in the sequels. By Return of the Jedi, we see the actors of various ethnicities among the Rebel ranks as well as many different species of aliens. The Empire, however, remains as white and male as ever.
Finally, the Rebels accept religion while the Empire is anti-religious. This one is a little subtler but definitely present. During the meeting of the Imperial commanders, Vader and one mouthy Imperial commander have the following exchange:
DARTH VADER: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
COMMANDER: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortre—
DARTH VADER: I find your lack of faith disturbing.
The commander's tone makes it clear that the Empire doesn't respect religious thought. He finds it "ancient" and "sad." Sure, they keep Darth Vader around, but it seems clear this has more to do with his ability to choke a guy from across the room than his religious convictions.
The Rebels, however, believe in the Force. The Rebel Commander ends the strategy briefing by saying, "Then man your ships, and may the Force be with you." The power of the Force also aids Luke during the Death Star assault. Even the initially skeptical Han Solo has a change of heart when he tells Luke, "May the Force be with you." We doubt Han's going to go pious on us, but he isn't openly mocking the idea as he was earlier.
All of these facts—individualism, diversity, and freedom of religion—point to Star Wars infusing the values of modern Western democracies into the Rebel forces. These forms of government value an individual's right to choose how to live their life without fear of government coercion. They value the diversity, accepting different cultures and lifestyles. And they value freedoms such as those of religion and speech.
It also makes sense. If you are going to give your villains the authoritative traits of fascists, you want your heroes to exhibit traits that are the opposite. And these qualities of the Rebels do just that.
The Rebels are also underdogs, giving audiences more incentive to root for them. From Mighty Ducks to the American Revolution , we all love a good underdog story.
The Rebel's underdog status is particularly evident in the film's imagery. In the film's establishing shot, we see a rebel cruiser being pursued by an Imperial Star Destroyer. The size difference of the ships alone tells us all we need to know about the difference in the power of the Rebel and Imperial forces. The Rebels are outgunned and outmanned. Then, of course, we have the Death Star assault where the small, one-manned ships go against a space station so big that Han Solo mistook it for a moon.
All of this leads audiences to understand the odds the Rebels face empathize with their plight, leading to louder cheers when they succeed at the end.
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