Why Is Star Wars So Obsessed With Maps?

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but someone in the new Star Wars needs to find a map to somewhere before someone else does. Yes, same as it ever was, even Ahsoka cannot escape the mapification of Star Wars storytelling—from the map to Luke Skywalker to Wayfinders and unknown regions of the galaxy, the franchise keeps revisiting this idea.

Ahsoka’s double-episode premiere, “Master and Apprentice” and “Toil and Trouble” introduce us to the latest cartographical MacGuffin in the form of the Pathway to Peridea, a starchart that both Ahsoka Tano and Morgan Elsbeth are seeking, believing that Peridea itself—an extragalactic location—is wherever both Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn disappeared to during the climax of Star Wars Rebels.

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

It’s perhaps why in part generational knowledge in Star Wars seems so spartan compared to our own cultural approach to history. Luke Skywalker is a mythic legend after three decades after fighting the Empire, the Clone War and the Jedi Order themselves are pretty much hearsay and superstition just two decades after the outbreak of a debilitating galactic conflict. Speaking of the Jedi, their temple archive, the closest thing to a contemporary historical record of the galaxy, is largely dismissed and destroyed when the Empire takes over, and so when characters do engage with history, it isn’t with recent archival examples of it rendered in Star Wars’ high-tech holographic slate style, but specifically ancient history—the battered old written texts, actual physical books like the ones Luke and Rey pore over. History is lost to the characters of Star Wars in this manner, and in being so, they are often doomed to repeat its mistakes, leading to the cyclical generational conflicts we’ve experienced throughout the franchise.

And what is a map if not the history of the universe itself? From the ancient days of charting hyperspace routes, to the knowledge of historical locations like Ahch-To and Exegol, to a broadened knowledge of the world these characters in habit both extragalactic (in Peridea’s case) and intragalactic in places like the Unknown Regions, the maps our heroes and villains scramble to seek in these stories are all about a quest for understanding the power of the world they exist in. Star Wars’ entire society as we know it couldn’t exist without the knowledge hyperspace mapping brought, the Unknown Regions are such a vast and unidentified area of space that entire civilizations exist there largely unaware of the world beyond their interstellar borders, and you can rebuild a whole Empire under the universe’s nose. Controlling that knowledge is as necessary to our characters as amassing power of any sort, so it makes sense that Star Wars is fascinated by it.

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Maybe it isn’t that Star Wars has recently become obsessed with maps—maybe it’s that deep down it’s always been obsessed with them, and what they represent: a fabric to its history that is constantly in danger of being lost, a struggle that permeates so much of what Star Wars is to its characters, more than it is to us as an audience.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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