How To Blend Cultures (Without Making Impossible Mixes)
This is a guide specifically about fantasy worldbuilding. WWC gets a lot of questions around “I’m mixing two cultures together, how do I do that?” and this is to explain both how to do that and when you very much should not.
Next up, mixing Greece/Rome with far-flung cultures gets a little bit eyebrow raising. Unless it was a direct trading partner/conquered property, Greek/Roman cultures do not mix with non-European cultures. The Greek empire only went to the Northern regions of India at its very peak, and that is limited to the ancient world. Rome stopped in the Middle East, so, again, you don’t have the cultural backing for a mixing of anything outside of its borders.
Depictions of Rome and Greece in ancient literature shows other ancient cultures found them quite backwards, and were adverse to mixing with them. By many standards they were very backwards, and it’s only Europe (and, as an extension, America) that revered them to the extent they do. Asia and Africa had no reason to see them as advanced, because they made many more technological advancements than either. North America and Oceanic cultures hardly interacted with either, and had both their own technological advancements+ cultures closer by to borrow advancements from, instead.
Outside of that, cultures are born out of the environments that made them. As a result, places with wildly dissimilar climates and resources pools will not be able to blend harmoniously unless you’re taking a modern analogue society where globalism has happened. This is plain old because resources only travel so far, and people are more likely to build culture around resources they have easy access to (even well-established trade links can lead to people re-creating things: Han purple and Egyptian blue point to an ancient trade link, but they were made with local materials processed differently).
Roman architecture exists because the Romans had access to copious amounts of concrete materials/marble and lived in the Mediterranean, which got very hot summers, heavy rains, and not a whole lot of cold. As a result they created structures that worked for this, which included open airways, pillars, easy to clean floors, shade, and ventilation. Places that lack these resources will not be able to replicate Rome.
Their resource pool was very specific to their regions, and there’s a reason Rome had the rule that anybody who did’t live like Romans were slaves: it was really hard to live like a Roman, and they wanted their slave pool as large as possible.
Different cultures with different resources formed in wildly different ways, and might not even have anything similar to Greece or Rome. Because of this, you need to look really close at why culture developed the way it did. If it’s because they had extremely dissimilar resources pools, it’s wise to not blend the cultures (or at least not think they’ll look anything like their original cultures)
Which brings me to value systems. Cultures put value on different things. Each culture ends up with a base philosophy for what they esteem and how they use resources, which proceeds to influence how it develops. Architecture has meaning to it. So does what colours you use in different applications. Because these things are sacred and/or practical for certain social orders. “Sacred” in cultures ends up becoming a shorthand for “this ritual helps us survive.”
There is no such thing as “aesthetic” when you get down to the root of each single item, because that aesthetic has a practical purpose. There is also no such thing as a “solely religious reason” under the same logic. Cows have become sacred in most varieties of Hinduism— because cows (and oxen) have been the main farming animal in the Indian subcontinent for millennia. They provide milk for sustenance, power for ploughing fields, and dung, which can be used as a floor polish and, when dried, a source of fuel for fire that gives off a more even heat than wood. As a single provider for crucial elements of agrarian life, their sacredness developed from their practicality. Having cows roam freely meant absolutely everyone could have access to an efficient cooking fuel.
Chinese brush painting has meaning. Jade sculpture has meaning. Pagodas and sloped roofs and gates have meaning. The philosophy, environment, history, and present circumstances of a culture is built into every. single. little. thing. about that culture, meaning you cannot just change it out.
Unless you learn the very root of culture, their values and stigmas and honours and shames, you cannot modify it accurately. Cultures survive because that was the best way to respond to the world at the time. A long-standing culture such as China’s has to be functional and incredibly well suited for the environment, otherwise it would not have survived. There is something about Chinese culture that works extraordinarily well for it to perpetuate itself, and you cannot disrespect that.
Learn the “why” of culture. Learn how it came to manifest and the reasons behind its manifestations. Study the geography and resources available to the people at hand. Know a culture so well you can explain how it works in real life and how your world’s history parallels the circumstances that created a similar culture in fantasy.
Only then will you be able to pull it off with respect.
So. It seems that the Galra Empire not only did not get crippled by the loss of its leader, it became stronger, more effective, more ruthless under Lotor’s reign.
Sure, Zarkon’s gone. The King is Dead.
But, Lotor is here. Long Live the King!
Which means, that the Paladins only made things worse for the galaxy as a whole, while trying to make them better.
Which, again, means one thing: Shiro’s sacrifice was for nothing.
OK, let’s back up.
There are many interesting things to say about Lotor right now from the sneak peak of him we had yesterday (cowface included). Many hints about what he’s like as a character and most importantly, as a leader.
Mainly his speech:
“My father built our empire on the backs of resemblance. The universe can no longer doubt our strength. Each ally gained only makes us stronger. All those who continue to stand against us… will be crushed.”
The most interesting and the most important thing to take from this speech is that Lotor is the Empire’s Shiro.
Look what he preaches: “our empire”, “resemblance”, “ally”, “stronger”, “strength”… not only what Zarkon himself used to preach is there, “strength”, but something new, something Zarkon never counted on and even spat at:
Lotor literally says that the more allies the Galra have, the stronger they get. He introduces strength in numbers, in unity. FiveMany becoming one in order to crush their opponents. That united, the Garla Empire is strong. That working together is the key to strength and success.
Remind you of anyone?
(there it is)
(There are more examples in S1&2, so go ahead and rewatch. They’re EVERYWHERE.)
And the most baffling of all in this speech, maybe:
It implies that races other than the Galra are important to the Galra Empire as well.
Try and wrap your mind around this: Lotor basically supports acceptance of anyone who wants to join the Galra Empire as an ally who gives the most important virtue said Galra Empire holds dear: Strength.
“United, we are stong against our enemies.”
That’s Lotor’s speech in a nutsell.
Which is what Shiro has been preaching since day one in the Paladin duty. And indeed, was what made the Paladins indeed strong enough to beat Zarkon:
Hey, it’s a reboot of a shounen series. What did you expect?
And now, we see that the enemy brings in this virtue along, unifying whoever is an ally to the Galra and welcoming them.
Check this out:
“My father built our empire on the backs of resemblance.”
Wait, “resemblance”? Between who and what?
Taking into consideration his line about “allies”, it’s easy to see who and what: between the Galra and others.
Lotor has the gall (and the brilliance) to call the conquering dictatorship of the Galra a way to unify the galaxy under one flag, to find resemblance amongst different kinds of myriads of races with miryads of differences and even appreciate said differences, since they aid into becoming a stronger unit.
Lotor preaches union, cooperation, and working together as a team empire to defeat enemies.
It’s basically, “Either you’re with us, or against us.”
Going away from all the real life history for a while and back to the idea of unity Lotor preaches, yes, you understood correctly:
The Galra Empire just found its Shiro. Its inspirational, motivational, charismatic, good leader… in Lotor.
Keith isn’t Lotor’s mirror. Neither is Lance. It’s Shiro.
And how fitting, according to the Rule of Drama (things will become worse the worst possible time for our heroes), that the Empire’s Shiro appears…
…when the Paladins’ Shiro goes AWOL.
Oh, and another nifty parallel:
Shiro made a name for himself in the Galra Empire by being a “Champion” gladiator in the arena…
…a very familiar-looking arena.
…where Lotor firstly appears to the public and earns its favour by beating his opponent:
So, a fighter as good as the Legendary Champion gladiator, who reveals himself as the son of their fallen Emperor, who preaches that unity is the key to strength?
You can bet your butt the crippled and in dire need of leadership Galra Empire will believe and latch onto him.
In the 80s cartoon, Lotor was a joke of a villain.
He’s absolutely terrifying and realistic. And effective.
So, our own heroes, with their own lynch taken away God knows where and why, they’re absolutely vulnerable towards this kind of opponent.
But hey, we’re only in the 3rd season in September, meaning that at least, even if it means they’ll go in hiding, they WILL face him at some point and they WILL survive (hopefully). It means that someone WILL rise to the occasion and at least TRY to be Shiro’s shadow and unify the Paladins once again.
(there are MUCH more…)
Hey, how about…?
(there are more…)
Good brains for teamwork and strategy, but…
…those self-confidence issues cripple him too much.
Too bad the creators said that she won’t pilot a lion.
So, what happens? Who will face Lotor?
Yes, Keith is the least equipped to face such an opponent and be a leader of… anything.
Yes, Keith will face Lotor.
Exactly because he’s the least suitable for the job.
You see, season 3 is the first part of the middle of the series (6 in total). And what happens in the middle of a story?
The darker sequel.
The Empire Strikes Back (literally, in our case).
Keith wil try to be the Black Paladin, the leader, Lotor’s opponent… and he will fail.
The heroes will be damaged, left weak and defeated. In the Hero’s Journey, this will lead to their Lowest Point, to their Darkest Time.
After all, Lotor needs to prove himself an effective villain. To become so, he needs a win against our heroes and the best way for Lotor to win, is for Keith to be the leader.
The irony is that Lotor (it’s him, jfc) has already shown to Keith that “working together bares better results/success”.
And Keith is gonna fail this one.
Because he’s part Galra, and he’ll feel torn (the opposite of the union Lotor and Shiro preached). I’m fully expecting Lotor to offer Keith an alliance, paralleling the Weblrum adventure.
(And no, sorry, it makes little sense for Lotor’s focus to be Lance. The creators have said that they keep elements of the original intact, so a Keith-Lotor rivalry is to be expected. Only, instead of “Who gets Allura” this will be an ideology and identity battle. Both Keith and Lotor are of mixed race; their connection is already there, Allura or no Allura).
And then, we can wait for seasons 5 and 6 to come, for Keith to FINALLY get proper Character Development (I actually do expect Lance to play a big role in this one; he unified the paladins first, he’ll do it again), stop being coddled by the narrative and rise up to the occasion.
And when he does beat Lotor (or redeems him, who knows), Zarkon and Shiro return for the final battle and the series ends.
In the meantime, Allura sorts out her feelings towards a possible future with possibly innocent Galra existing in the so-called coalition her father had made, Pidge gets her family back, Lance gets confidence, Shiro finds self-value, Keith matures, and Hunk continues to get braver and wiser.
Coran keeps being gorgeous.
Season 2 was… sub-par, to say the least. Let’s hope for a better continuation.
I’ve been wanting to talk about the themes of enlightenment & salvation in rogue one (along with the force & hope) for a really long time, and I think I have the words to explain what I’m thinking now so here goes:
As a Hindu (a religion star wars has been inspired by) one of the common themes I’ve noticed is how enlightenment works. One of the main ideas is that anyone in any situation can be salvaged in the end (ie. redemption. Like how Anakin rises to the light in ROTJ). Some people, are dedicated believers their entire lives (see: Chirrut in the Force, Cassian in the Rebellion). Some lose faith but regain it in the end (see: Baze in the Force, Jyn in the Rebellion).
The moment this really clicked for me was Cassian and Bodhi’s arcs in particular, but it works really well for the others too.
Bodhi’s arc is pure poetry for this, mainly because of his name choice (which I’ve mentioned before): it literally means ‘enlightened/awakened one’. It’s more prevalent in Buddhism (which admittedly I’m not as familiar with) but it’s a Sanskrit word why I’m so glad he’s played by a south asian. Bodhi’s main struggle is within himself: self doubt. He grows throughout the film (his enlightenment is when he defects, then he faces a series of trials, and he’s at peace in the end). (“Bodhi had only ever doubted himself” to “He’d done enough. It was okay.”) His struggle is two-fold: he feels like he needs to right a wrong (his time spent with the Empire - “praying that he had found his salvation at last”) and also prove himself/his capability. It’s why he’s so easily crippled by everything that goes wrong (ex. every rebel that dies, Jedha’s destruction “it’s too late”) because he takes it personally/as his own failure (he should’ve been faster in delivering the message). However in the end, he’s both righted his wrong and is at peace (fulfilled Galen’s mission - he didn’t fail him.).
Cassian’s arc is really beautiful as well. He dutifully serves the greater good, but takes an emotional toll in the process (he loses a part of himself for every life he takes). Are sinners allowed to achieve eternal peace? Religion says yes and the Force agrees with me. It’s really well done in the novelization: Cassian’s stuck in a mental prison (possibly as a sinner, but there’s a phrase we use: “the prison of the flesh” ie. mortal life - the whole purpose of life is to not be reborn) and he is seeking redemption (enlightenment). It’s why he saves Jyn so many times against his instinct (though he doesn’t realize it). It’s why he doesn’t shoot Galen. It’s what drives him (and the other rebels) to volunteer so easily for Jyn’s suicide mission (this is really clear in the novel) - they see it as an opportunity for redemption. It’s like the Rebellion is his religion and Jyn helps him to his salvation. What greater sacrifice is there than self-sacrifice?? Cassian is the pinnacle of the concept. And so, on the beaches of Scarif, he’s freed from his prison (or as we like to call it, the burden of life).
In terms of literal religion, we can compare Baze and Chirrut. Chirrut is the ideal believer, he trusts in the Force more than anything. (His faith is why he didn’t get killed when he went to pull the master switch. But after, he realizes his work here is done, and no longer has the will to live. unlike padme cough cough That’s why he dies.) So of course he will become one with the Force. He’s completely at peace. There’s no question. I’m so glad they made a Chinese actor play him. But Baze? We don’t really know really when or why he goes from a Guardian to a non-believer. But in those moments after Chirrut’s death, he become a believer again. And that’s what counts (Hinduism is really big on this. No matter your past is, redemption is possible. Like Anakin!). He become one with the Force.
Jyn’s a little harder to describe. She falls out of love with life
after being abandoned so many times
and doesn’t have a purpose other than her own survival. She sees political opinions as a luxury (which in this case, is true for a different reason. Jyn’s the one who has the luxury of not choosing a side. People like Cassian did something about it because they had to.) Somewhere after Galen’s death and Cassian’s attempt to knock some sense into her (and this is my only issue with rogue one - we don’t actually know how or when Jyn decides to be the champion of the cause, but it’s sometime after Eadu and before they get back to the base) Jyn finds her life’s purpose. This is really well done in the novelization, it’s described as the mental cave in her mind (modeled after the cave on Lah’mu) and how it’s broken open with light on Scarif. That’s her salvation.
I hope all of this made sense so far.
Salvation in Hinduism is almost always described as “the person stepped into/were enveloped in a bright light, and attained true peace/became one with god”. In star wars terms, they become one with the Force.
What I noticed while watching the movie is “Why does everyone die in great big bursts of light?”. It only clicked after reading the novel and seeing how important it was that everyone died at peace, and became ‘one with the force’. To back this up just take a look at everyone’s death scenes (now that we have gifs of them). Bodhi goes in a flash of light, so does Baze (and Chirrut). Even Galen’s face is illuminated when he dies.
Especially these two:
The visual of them literally being surrounded with light, becoming one with the Force, screams salvation. Redemption. (and according to the novel, they’re both at peace, chains broken and free of burden).
I’d never thought tragic endings for characters could be beautiful, but rogue one proved me wrong.
(I’m done, but I also want to talk about hope. Someone last weekend told me “hinduism is a religion of hope. you can live however you want, but in the end, as long as you do the right thing, you’ll be at peace.” I’ve always thought the same about star wars. It’s a story of hope. Of hope the good in the world universe (or literally, the good in Anakin, that he is redeemable). It’s about hope being passed on (quite literally: the stretch of rogue one from Chirrut moving the master switch to the plans landing in Leia’s hands is so. beautiful. for this reason. Leia is more than right: the plans are Hope, they’ve traveled between so many hands hoping that they’ll get to the right place, willing to die just for this little disk of hope (some of them not even knowing what it is). Hope is what gives the rebels this strength, while fear himself - Vader- is killing them all.
Hope - belief in anything - is the strongest thing there is.)