Five Contrived Legal Conflicts in Speculative Fiction

Anyone who’s ever applied for a business license or contested a traffic ticket can tell you that the law is incredibly complicated. It often doesn’t work the way we think it does, and since new laws get passed all the time, it keeps changing, too. Legal procedures are also notoriously bad at following narrative arcs, so it’s no surprise that a lot of law-based conflicts are contrived. However, no matter how understandable it is, it still hurts the story. Today, we look at five of these conflicts in the wild and see what we can learn from them.

1. Absolute Monarchy: Aladdin

The Sultan from Disney's animated film Aladdin.

Most of what we remember about Aladdin is the battle over who gets a magic lamp, and while that part is certainly important, the inciting conflict is based just as much on who Princess Jasmine should marry. The problem is that according to the law, Jasmine has to marry a prince by her next birthday, which is only in three days.

Naturally, Jasmine rejects all her royal suitors because they’re terrible. Later on, she meets a guy who actually interests her, but he’s the furthest thing from a prince. This leads us to the magical lamp plot and all its troubles for the kingdom. It’s pretty clear that no one is happy with the situation, not even Jasmine’s father, the Sultan, but what can any of them do?

Oh, that’s right, the Sultan can just change the law because this is an absolute monarchy. He does this at the end, and just like that, the conflict is solved. So…. why didn’t he do that earlier? There are a few likely explanations, but none of them fit what we’re shown onscreen.

It would make sense if there were social or political pressure stopping the Sultan from changing the law. But if that were the case, we’d expect some consequences for changing it, and there don’t seem to be any. Alternatively, this act could represent the Sultan changing his mind, but he didn’t seem to like the law at the beginning.

Finally, there’s the possibility that the Sultan just didn’t think of this until the very end. He is portrayed as more than a little dense. But in that case, we’d assume the much sharper Jasmine would have suggested it, since she was really not into this whole prince-marriage thing. Since there’s no consistent explanation, we’re left with a conflict that could have been solved from the start, but it wasn’t because the movie needed to happen. That’s the definition of contrived.

2. Unqualified Advocates: The Next Generation

Riker with Data's detached hand.

Next, we take a look at a Star Trek episode that’s rightly praised for its fervent support of universal human* rights. I love The Measure of a Man. You probably do too, unless you’re Dr. Pulaski, in which case you’re still mad that Data insists on being addressed by his actual name.

The basic premise of this episode is a legal case to determine if Data has the same rights as any other citizen of the Federation. There are a lot of fascinating, in-depth analyses of the case out there, and the people making them are often actual lawyers, so I won’t be touching the substance of the case itself today.

Instead, we look at who’s arguing the case. Picard is named as defense attorney, and Riker is drafted to be the prosecutor. From a meta perspective, we know this is done to create conflict for Riker, as he has to argue that his friend Data isn’t a person. It’s also so that we can get some epic speeches from Patrick Stewart.* Unfortunately, from an in-character perspective, this is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

The first issue is that Riker immediately states he can’t argue the prosecution’s case because he doesn’t believe it. The judge, Captain Phillipa Louvois, tells him he has to anyway, and she’ll know if he’s not trying his hardest. That’s putting way too much pressure on Louvois’s Sense Motive skill. How is she supposed to tell the difference between Riker intentionally throwing the case and Riker just being a subpar lawyer? It’s not like she knows him particularly well.

But that pales in comparison to the real issue: Picard and Riker aren’t lawyers. The law is incredibly complicated, which is why you need professionals to argue it in court. They need to cite precedent and understand legal philosophies, to say nothing of following the court’s complicated procedures. Neither Picard nor Riker is remotely qualified to do this, so no one is getting adequate representation. You might as well ask two laypeople to work as particle physicists.

The excuse given is that Louvois doesn’t have any proper staff because her base is new, so she needs to recruit Picard and Riker. That doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny, though. Why is Louvois in such a hurry to do this right now? Our knowledge of Federation law is hazy at best, but in the US, if a hearing or trial can’t be carried out somewhere, the procedure is usually to call for a change of venue, not to half-ass the thing. Or they could have just waited for Starfleet to send some actual lawyers out there.

3. Evil Social Worker: Buffy

Buffy and Spike talking to a social worker.

Season six is Buffy’s season of sadness, where everything seems to go wrong at once. In between the post-resurrection angst, magic addictions, ruined marriages, and gay burying, there’s also an episode where a social worker for California’s child welfare service tries to put Dawn into foster care. This highlights not only how strained Buffy and Dawn’s relationship has become, but also how they’re both still reeling from their mother’s death a season ago. It’s very sad, but also very contrived.

First, why is the social worker even there? The episode acts as if social workers just show up as a matter of course when a parent dies, but that’s not the case. Buffy is an adult, so there’s no inherent reason for the state to get involved in Dawn’s care. The other possible reason is that someone called child welfare services and reported that Dawn was in a dangerous situation, but that also seems unlikely.

There’s no reason anyone would legitimately think Dawn was in danger. She gets injured in a car crash, but kids get in accidents all the time and no one calls the state on them. Her grades slip, but again, that’s just something that happens with teenagers. Perhaps Dawn’s kleptomania is meant to be involved, but that doesn’t get revealed until several episodes later. If someone knew she went out slaying, that would be something, but the entire show is predicated on the conceit that humans don’t know about monsters.

Alternatively, a villain might have called a social worker just to mess with Buffy. That does sound like something the Trio would do. But if that were the case, the episode would have shown us. It’s also unclear what such a villain would hope to accomplish, since it’s incredibly unlikely that any social worker would recommend re-homing Dawn.

This brings us to the even more contrived part of this conflict: the social worker wanting to take Dawn away. The US foster care system is both underfunded and overburdened. Real social workers only place children into it if they absolutely have to. Even in situations where state intervention is needed, social workers do everything they can to keep the child at home. It’s both inaccurate and insulting to portray social workers as child-abducting gremlins.

As a final caveat, there are instances where marginalized children are taken from their homes because of systematic prejudice.* However, Buffy is white and comfortably middle class, so it’s unlikely that would apply to her. There’s a brief insinuation that the social worker thinks Buffy is a lesbian, so homophobia could be involved, but even that is stretching it.

4. Mind Crimes: Voyager

Torres strapped into the memory erasing machine.

Jumping back to Star Trek, we have the Voyager episode Random Thoughts. This time, the conflict focuses on B’Elanna Torres, who gets arrested for being angry. This week’s aliens are so susceptible to the thoughts of others that they can fly into a murderous rage because a visitor stubbed their toe. As a result, all violent thought is illegal on their planet.

Star Trek has a lot of contrived legal conflicts, but this one is my favorite because it’s absurd from so many angles. First, there’s the entire premise. If these aliens are really that vulnerable to other people’s thoughts, why do they allow visitors at all? Why isn’t there at least some warning before people visit? This can’t be the first time such a problem has arisen. These aliens would probably conduct all their diplomacy over subspace if face-to-face contact is that dangerous.

Second, there’s the punishment Torres faces: having the angry memory in question erased from her mind. What purpose does this serve? It doesn’t reduce the likelihood of Torres having more violent thoughts in the future, nor is it a significant punishment. It doesn’t fall into either the punitive or restorative model of justice, and it certainly won’t act as a deterrent against anyone having angry thoughts in the future, since those are involuntary. The only reason this is even a problem for Torres is that the procedure includes a risk of giving her brain damage. Maybe the brain damage is the real punishment, which would be incredibly evil, but in that case, we’d expect it to be the main consequence rather than a possible side effect.

That brings us to the third leg of this contrived trifecta: Captain Janeway going along with it. Instead of breaking Torres out and warping away from this horrible planet, she puts all her chips on Tuvok finding someone else to pin the blame on. To be fair, this isn’t the first time a Starfleet captain has let their crew suffer under terrible alien laws, but it never made sense before and it doesn’t make sense now. Starfleet’s stance of respecting local laws would be a laudable one in a setting with rational laws, but not so much in a galaxy where aliens will fry your brain for getting mad.

And even if we accept Starfleet’s silly and inconsistent policy, there’s no reason Janeway would hold to it. This is just a few episodes after she gave the Borg bioweapons, so it’s not like she’s some Prime Directive stickler. These aliens don’t have anything Voyager especially needs, either. They don’t even seem particularly powerful, but for some reason, Janeway is happy to let them give her chief engineer brain damage.

5. No Self Defense Allowed: My Hero Academia

A dog-headed police chief bows to young heroes.

This high-action anime is all about young heroes training to get their certifications so they can fight superpowered crime, and that sounds reasonable at first. In a world with superheroes, regulating how and when powers can be used makes perfect sense, especially when it comes to law enforcement. However, in the show’s second season, we quickly learn how contrived these laws are.

It starts when several of our protagonists come across a villain named Stain as he’s about to kill someone. Naturally, they step in, and while it’s a difficult battle, they’re eventually able to capture him. Good job all around. But not so fast, because afterward they find out they’re in real trouble.

It turns out they’re not allowed to use their powers in any way that injures another person because they don’t have their hero licenses yet. No exception is made for the fact that they were saving another person from immediate death or that the situation quickly became one of self-defense. The only way they avoid getting into serious trouble is that the police agreed to lie about what happened.

Let’s unpack this. We’re told that in this setting, no one is allowed to use their powers violently, not even in the most clear-cut self-defense case you could possibly ask for. This sounds like someone took “duty to retreat” laws to a straw-man extreme. In real life, those laws are designed to prevent situations from escalating, but Stain was already using deadly force, meaning there was nowhere left to escalate. So, if someone tries to kill you in this setting, you apparently have to let them.

Not only is this ridiculous, it gets retconned a season later, when our heroes are allowed to defend themselves with no serious repercussions. The only explanation I can think of is that the writers were trying to depict the characters getting in trouble because one of them went out looking for Stain, but that’s not what the dialogue says. Even if it were the case, the other two characters were only looking for their friend, not getting into a fight on purpose.

At best, this is simply a contrived conflict designed to put a damper on what should be a moment of triumph for the main characters. It’s not clear to me why the writers would want to do that, but it matches the way other episodes turn out. The whole sequence also plays into one of the show’s more sinister themes: that society would be better off if superheroes were allowed to do whatever they wanted.

The cops who explain the situation quickly clarify that they hate this law and think it’s terrible, right before they offer to falsify their reports. In other episodes, we’re told that the press just really has it in for superheroes, and that public opinion will turn against them at the drop of a hat. This all has the hallmarks of police propaganda. First, My Hero Academia denigrates the press, a traditional check on police power. Then we have several episodes that portray people who don’t like law enforcement as sheep who are only following the latest trend. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but it’s upsetting either way.

Previous entries on this list got here because the writers wanted a type of legal drama that their story didn’t support, so they cut corners and ended up with contrived conflict. My Hero Academia is the first one that feels like its problem is a feature, not a bug. This is yet another reason why it’s important to understand how the law actually works before you sit down to write a legal conflict. Not doing so means you risk including both contrived conflict and potentially harmful messages.

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  1. Cay Reet

    When it comes to Data, one might wonder why Starfleet didn’t first figure out whether or not to treat him as a person and then hired him to work for them. I mean, either he’s a person, then he’s hired and a crew member, or he’s not a person, then he’s a tool and one might wonder why he has a cabin and not, say, a cupboard. So, in essence, by giving him crew-member status, Starfleet has already closed this particular case with the verdict that he is sentient and thus to be treated as a person.

    When it comes to those aliens who react so violently to other people’s violent thoughts, things are even stranger. One might think that, as you pointed out, they only do inter-species contact through long-range means and never face to face. Or, alternately, they have a drug of some sort which visitors have to take which suppresses any strong or violent emotions (we are in a science fiction setting and that’s not half as unlikely to exist as FTL drives or only bipedal sentient species). They must be aware that other species don’t suffer from the same weakness and can think as many violent thoughts as they want.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I find the question of Data being admitted to Starfleet fascinating. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think it actually works okay. When dealing with untested law, there’s often a period were we just do whatever feels natural until someone thinks it’s illegal and takes it to court. This is especially common with new technology.

      For Data, I could see Starfleet just assuming he’s a person because he acts like one. Maddox doesn’t think so, but he has no reason to take Data to court, yet.

      • Jeppsson

        It’s also true for oppressed minority groups. In certain times and places they might be more tolerated and gain de facto rights, and only later might this be settled by law or by a court.

  2. Cip

    As a child I always assumed that the issue with the Sultan in Aladdin was down to Jafar’s mind powers. We see in the (original) film that every time the Sultan has a slightly original thought Jafar bamboozles him, it’s reasonable to assume that he has tried to change the law (for his own reasons, or Jasmine persuading him) and has been magically persuaded that it’s impossible/unreasonable.

    • Richard

      My problem with this whole question is…..

      DIDN’T THE GENIE MAKE HIM A PRINCE AT THE BEGINNING? What was that parade all about if he didn’t? Someone just needed to show the Sultan the earlier pages in the script….

      Now, in Aladdin III, representatives from a distant kingdom come looking for their long lost heir…..

      • James

        The Genie never made Aladdin a prince. He gave Aladdin a makeover, which isn’t the same thing. Otherwise the problem with marriage would have been resolved–the only roadblock to marriage would have been removed. So Aladdin still had 2 wishes left when he wished the Genie free.

        • Cay Reet

          He is introduced as ‘Prince Ali’, but no country is ever given. Jaffar’s ‘Just a con’ (in the reprise of the song “Prince Ali”) is, therefore, correct.

      • Jeppsson Existential Comics did one on this! What does it actually MEAN to “make someone a prince” through magic?

  3. Uly

    re:4 – I think their reasoning is that you remove all the violent impulses from a person and then that person doesn’t go around being contagiously violent anymore. Which is fair, I guess – but Voyager going away with Belanna in tow would have solved the problem just as easily.

  4. Elda King

    In point 2, I disagree quite a bit with the idea that only professional lawyers could possibly participate in a legal procedure, and the comparison with particle physics. In many places and times, that wasn’t the case; while deep knowledge of the law could probably be helpful, it wasn’t a requirement to advocate for either side. Or in another example, defense and prosecution usually require professional qualification but jury duty doesn’t… There is an assumption that federation law is extremely complex (including complicated court procedures and common law “knowledge of precedents”) and specialized (you wouldn’t know enough unless you were specialized in that)… and most important that the federation, like our modern society, considers that specialization crucial to the fairness of the trial. (We do know from other episodes/series that there are lawyers in the federation, but IMO ship captains seem to require a deep knowledge of many laws and regulations).

    Of course there are other issues with the contrived trial, like how the judge instead of objecting to a friend of the accused being prosecutor instead demanded it. But absolutely don’t think having two high-ranked officers in a fictional society defend a case is what makes this episode contrived.

    • Cay Reet

      Not all countries have a jury duty. Mine, for instance, doesn’t. We have a judge, a prosecutor, a defence lawyer. In some cases we have two ‘laymen’ judges who might fill in as a very small jury, but that’s the closest regular humans get to being in the process and they merely discuss with the judge, they don’t decide whether or not someone is guilty. Those laymen judges also aren’t chosen at random, they come in regularly. In other cases, we have three to five judges sitting in on the same case at the same time. I, personally, prefer it that way, as it is.

      The law is highly complicated and very contrieved, which is why the commentary of a law book usually is thicker than the law book itself. In the roles in which we find Picard and Riker in the episode, regular people just don’t fit at all. To accuse or defend someone, you need a very good and very deep knowledge of the law, which can only be gained through long studies. Through law school. There’s no way two military men can simply take up those jobs and do them well.

      • FlauFly

        Yes, in my country we don’t have jury duty too. But I agree with Elda King and I had the same feelings when I read this example. I don’t understand why we assume that every society needs to settle conflicts by means of highly educated professional group. Actually, I think that it’s highly fucked up in our societies that law is so complicated that laypersons couldn’t understand.
        I think that forcing Riker to fill the role of prosecutor was very contrived, but I don’t believe that high officer in Starfleet couldn’t fill the role of lawyers, if they are already perform roles of diplomats and mediators.
        Case of Data was moral case and I pretty much see why some society (very distant from our today) could thing of taking respectable citizens (for standards of Federation Starfleet high officers) are good to settle the matter.

        • Kelliott

          The main issue I have with Picard and Riker filling to role of lawyers is more about the importance and ramifications of the case. It’s an unprecedented case that will set the standard for years to come, and not only that, but revolves around a subject of whether someome is a person or property. If it was a case of less importance then perhaps you could make an argument for non-lawyers fulling that role, but given the case’s nature it’s something that should have been delayed until it can be given the full care and attention it required.

          • Jeppsson

            I think I can buy Picard as a defense lawyer, but it should be set up in the right way. You have to establish that this isn’t some second-best option, but that it’s actually a rule that in a case that’s, say, more moral than technical, the important qualification is wisdom, not technical expertise. And Picard, being both a seasoned diplomat and a close friend of Data, is the one with the most wisdom for this particular case. Just spitballing here, but you could set it up so that it seems reasonable that ok, this is not how we’d do it, but it’s a different culture’s way of doing things.

            Riker being forced into arguing for something he doesn’t believe in is still really weird, though. As Oren said, no way someone else can just SEE whether he’s doing his best or not.

        • Cay Reet

          The problem here, as Jeppsson has also pointed out, is that this is a very high-profile case. It’s not just about a minor infraction of an officer which needs to go to court, for example, where one could, at least, argue for their captain to take up defence for them. It’s a case that will set a precendent. Is an android with personality a sentient being or not? Is any android on a development level with Data going to be a person or property of Starfleet? That’s a huge thing which will touch on a lot of different aspects of the law. Something no senior diplomat is fit to be involved in deciding – that is a job for professional lawyers.

          As said, had the episode revolved around some infraction from a crew member that resulted in a complaint to Starfleet (perhaps misbehaviour during shore leave – eh, do they still call it that in space?), I could see at least the defence position manned by a person from the ship – and then by Picard himself as the senior officer and a seasoned diplomat. This would also be a question of military laws and regulations, which makes it twice as likely that a high-ranking officer would be qualified for it.

          • Elda King

            Well, precedent is also not a thing in many law systems. The idea that a single trial will set up the precedent for future ones is kind of at odds with civil law – only the text of the law, as created by the legislative body, matters; courts can’t decide how it will be interpreted or decided in the future, and are under no obligation of following past rulings.

            My point is that the idea of exclusively professional lawyers isn’t universal. Sure, there are good arguments for that, and in our current society is the norm (though with variations from country to country). But there are also arguments for having laypeople participate, and situations where even today in major countries that is true. I see no reason to assume that in the fictional society of Star Trek the judicial system is exactly like our current one in this aspect.

          • Cay Reet

            Consider this: judical systems on earth are usually limited to one country (even though the EU does have a legislative body for the whole Union, not just for one country). They’re highly complicated, because they are meant to govern a certain number of millions of people (or more, depending on the size of the country – I’m in Germany, we’re about 82 million). The problem about laws is not that they’re too specific, it’s that they’re not. They’re meant to cover a large number of different cases, so they can’t go too much into detail.

            Now look at the Federation, which is the legal body we’re talking about here. It doesn’t only include the whole of earth (which might have more inhabitants, too, post-scarcity), but also a lot of other planets filled with sapient species. The law has to be even more un-specific to cover them all. It’s not just humans, it’s also species which need to mate every seven years, species which might not breathe air but something like methane and many others. There’s so many more possible problems coming up that there’s only two ways, really: make the laws ultra-specific and have a lot of them (like a whole, heavy lawbook per planet) or make the laws ulta un-specific and have a lot of interpretation every time they’re used. Some areas of the law will, probably, not be as important as today (I would presume that, post-scarcity, economy-based laws around the right way to conduct business would be less important). Others will be more important (such as, I presume, everything which helps different species to coexist).

            There will still be a huge number of laws and, that’s something a lot of people do not consider, even a bigger number of commentaries on the law. Commentaries are often more important than the law itself, because they’re interpreting it in the ‘right’ way – the way people specialized on the law will interpret it. As a lawyer, I’m sure, you spend more time with the commentaries than with the actual law book (I know the financial sector of the German government does, I’ve worked for the German equivalent of the IRS). The commentary is where the ruling on whether Data is or is not a person would really live on, even without the principle of working with precedents. It would still be in the commentary that startime XXXXXX, it was ruled than an android with a human-like personality was considered a person and, thus, cannot be considered property under Federation law. It would influence further rulings. It might even lead to new laws being created or existing laws being changed. That is where professionals come in.

            The bigger a society, the more need it has for laws to keep things going. A village hardly needs more than the ten commandments: don’t kill each other, don’t lie to each other, don’t steal, don’t swindle. A city already needs more laws to organize the way everything plays together. The Federation will need a lot more laws to keep going. So, yes, there will be specialists on the law, professional lawyers, in the time of the Federation. And on the first ruling of a case which has never happened before, they should and normally would be called in, because that is what they’re there for (especially in a society where legal squarrels over business contracts or divorces probably aren’t that common any longer).

          • Elda King

            I think this is a disagreement about how a post-scarcity space utopia would set up its laws.

            I’m perfectly willing to believe that, in a world where people created sapient AIs and faster-than-light travel and we have one culture where all emotion is suppressed, they could create an advanced law system where people can settle legal disputes without a formal lawyer and law is not too complex for lay people (if very qualified individuals) to understand. This is no contrivance unless previously established to the contrary.

          • Richard

            Suddenly I’m wondering if it would have been more realistic if they were trying to decide if Data gets a salary and a pension. If he is a “person” for payroll purposes, then Yes. If Data is an object, then No.

            And even if the Federation is a “moneyless” society (HAH! Right….), there are still very likely to be the matter of “perks” and social benefits….

    • James

      Something to remember as well: We’re not discussing a civil trial or civilian law. We are discussing Starfleet, which is a military organization. The prosecutor, the defense, and the judge are military personnel. These people are trained to handle courts martial and the like. So these aren’t lay people; these are people with legal experience, though an argument can be made that it’s not applicable to this situation.

      • Cay Reet

        I’m quite sure ‘is my officer a person or not’ isn’t part of the legal procedures a Starfleet captain has to be trained in.

        So, yes, Riker and Picard most likely have training in military law. The question of whether the personhood of an android is military law, though, would be answered with ‘no’ by most people. It’s not just about Data being an officer, the question isn’t ‘can an android serve on a ship?’ The question is whether Data is a person or a possession. I dare say that’s the kind of decision which would normally go up to the highest civillian court.

  5. Devor

    Regarding My Hero Academia, there is no right to self defense in Japan, and the show is pretty much reflective to the real world laws there.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s Note: I’ve been trying to find a source on how self defense works in Japan, but so far all I’ve found is a bunch of unsourced Reddit comments, most of which make contradictory claims. This gets more difficult because any search for “self defense Japan” turns up results related to Japan’s military rather than the type of self defense we’re talking about.

      • Jeppsson

        I’d be surprised if there’s a country with NO right to self defence.

        From what I understand, the US (or at least many states ) have very permissive self defence laws. Sweden, in comparison, is very restrictive. But I’ve heard several Swedes, independently of each other, weirdly claim that we have no right to self defence at all (and they think the US is so much better).
        Maybe there are similar stories going about Japan…
        or maybe that really is the case with Japan, but I’d be surprised.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          The best consensus I can get from the various online comments I’ve been able to find is that people are mostly referring to the fact that if someone punches you, you’re expected to flee, restrain them, or otherwise hold them off. If you punch back, you can get in trouble.

          The rules seem to change when a deadly weapon is involved, and more aggressive measures of defense are allowed. But again, this is from reading a collection of unsourced comments, so take it with many grains of salt.

        • Kelliott

          A lot of countries also have a lot of gray area around these laws.

          The UK, for example, has “reasonable force” being completely legal as self defence, while “excessive force” is illegal. What those two terms mean is usually determined on a case by case basis and there’s room for leway on reasonable force, due to the high stress nature of self-defence scenarios.

          • Cay Reet

            Same in Germany.

            Apart from the interpretation of “reasonable force”, there’s also aspects like specific training of the person who defended themselves. If, for instance, they practice a form of martial arts, they’re supposed to be better at defending themselves without causing severe injuries. Nevertheless, they are still allowed to defend themselves, of course. The attacker takes the risk of receiving injuries when attacking someone, that’s the basic line of it. Every human has the right to defend themselves from an attack – unless it’s from the police trying to arrest you.

            Quite often, the attorneys decide whether or not self-defence was reasonable or not, so a lot of cases of self-defence never go to court.

  6. M

    1. I kinda figured the the sultan was being manipulated by Jafar and his staff, although this isn’t specified.

  7. M

    5. That just sounds realistic to me. Exactly like real school.

  8. James

    The real issue with #1 is that we don’t see the politics of Agrabah. Sultans historically had a lot of trouble with their underlings. They were hailed as absolute monarchs, but in reality were wrangling a herd of underlings, each of whom was trying to carve out their own domain in which they were absolute rulers (their underlings in turn were doing the same thing, all the way down). The sultan likely couldn’t just decree that the princess could marry whomever she wished, because marriage was a political maneuver. The sultan likely needed a strong alliance with someone outside his domain, or to strengthen some time inside his domain, and marrying off his daughter was the best way to do it. He may not have cared which faction he ended up allied with, so Jasmine could choose–he needed someone, but specifics weren’t critical.

    • Cay Reet

      That’s a very realistic look on the situation of a Sultan – on the politics which have always played into the choice of a mate for nobles and, specifcially, royal families of any kind. Yes, in real life, Jasmine would have had to marry a prince – and most likely a prince picked out by her father or his council/vesir/other trusted consultant for political reasons.

      I doubt, however, that anyone at Disney ever looked that far – and from the history of the story they adapted, the Sultan would be more equal to the Chinese Emperor than to an Arabian Sultan. The original ‘Aladdin’ is set in China.

      From what we see in the movie, from the background we’re given, Jasmine’s father really is an absolute ruler and can, therefore, make the decision to do away with the law on his own at whatever time he likes.

  9. Coley

    With the Sultan, I always had two answers:

    1, The Plot Answer:Jafar is using magic to manipulate the Sultan, as seen at least once in the film.

    2, the character answer:The Sultan isn’t that bright. It seems to be in-character for him not to realize it till when he mentions it.

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