George Lucas’ Secret Message In Star Wars

The biggest film franchise on the planet is Star Wars It is an unstoppable juggernaut of popular movies, bestselling merchandise to suit any need, and a veritable phenomenon

There is no one alive who doesn't know Star Wars With that immense presence in pop culture, also comes incredible influence It has the potential to shape our view of the world Ever since George Lucas first shared his creation with the world in 1977, it has been praised and criticised for being an antidote to the more complex, challenging films of its era Star Wars is simple, accessible fun for all

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But like any person, George Lucas has his own political views and his work is inevitably infused with them What are the deeper political messages of Star Wars? On the surface, the politics of Star Wars are simple It is a tale of good versus evil The villains rule the Empire, all-powerful and dictatorial Our heroes are classic underdogs, literal rebels who value ingenuity and freedom

As a result many right wing conservatives identify with Star Wars and have appropriated it During the Cold War, Republican President Ronald Reagan described the Soviet Union as an evil Empire In 1983 he launched a space defense program dubbed Star Wars In 2006, at a time when they controlled the Supreme Court, the White House and both houses of Congress, the Republican party launched a campaign ad in which they portrayed themselves as the plucky Rebellion underdogs In the 2016 presidential race, John Kasich presented himself as the only hope for Republican voters in an advert emulating Star Wars’ famous opening crawl

However, a closer reading of the narrative and characters in Star Wars suggests they have misinterpreted the political meaning of the films Republicans are not the heroes George Lucas had in mind For starters, the main hero, Luke Skywalker is not an individualist He relies on a network of friends and allies to help him He pursues a deeply spiritual path, guided by mentors who found peace by retreating from civilisation and shunning materialism

Luke heeds their lessons, particularly when it comes to the use of violence SOUNDBITE: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense Never for attack” As foreign policies go, this is far from the militancy of right wing conservatives In fact, Luke is a pacifist, refusing to kill when he can save or rehabilitate

This is in stark contrast to the villains of the series, the Sith, who use anger to give them strength and who silence their opponents with violence They are true authoritarians, viewing themselves as the only solution SOUNDBITE: Anakin: “We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problems, agree what’s in the best interests of all the people and then do it Padme: “That is exactly what we do The trouble is that people don't always agree

” Anakin: “Then they should be made to” Padme: “That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me” Anakin: “Well, if it works…” They prefer to maintain control through the threat of violence, rather than the mechanisms of a democratic system In A New Hope, we are explicitly told that the Emperor dissolves the Senate when he is satisfied he has the ultimate superweapon to replace it A superpower creating the ultimate destructive force to keep its position has obvious parallels with the arms race of the Cold War

The Empire is racist and sexist, dominated by white men, either British or American Whereas the heroes are diverse and inclusive In summation, the villains of Star Wars represent a militant individualism They believe only they can rule, and they rule by military might, enforcing conformity and suppressing self-expression In the sequel trilogy, the First Order emphasises this same suppression of personal liberty

SOUNDBITE: Gen Hux: “My men are exceptionally trained Programmed from birth” Yet, in the world of Star Wars, personal liberty means nothing unless used for collective good This is best represented by the character arc of Han Solo

He starts as a purely self-interested and self-dependent capitalist SOUNDBITE: “I take orders from one person Me!” The clue is in his name SOUNDBITE: “I’m in it for the money!” But by the end of trilogy, he has transformed into a hero What defines him is his willingness to sacrifice

Instead of guaranteeing his safety by paying off Jabba the Hutt, he risks his life to save Luke on the Death Star He lends his precious Millenium Falcon to Lando Calrissian, and at the conclusion of the trilogy offers to give up the love of his life in the belief that she will be happier with someone else The fact that all his friends come together to rescue him from carbon freeze is demonstrative of how the individual cannot survive and prosper alone Although this same subplot acknowledges the inherent risk of the many working for the benefit of the few, since they all come close to death or enslavement; nevertheless, collectivism defeats autocracy In the broader scope of the series, democracy defeats totalitarianism, and self-sacrifice accomplishes more than self-interest

But in Star Wars, totalitarianism is granted, not imposed The Emperor arose from within the democratic system He is a smarmy, duplicitous politician who games the system to get himself to the top, even fabricating a war to compel the Senate to voluntarily give him more and more power This parallels the way Adolf Hitler turned the Weimar Republic into a Nazi dictatorship, but the Emperor himself had a much more American inspiration In “The Making of Return of the Jedi”, George Lucas said, “[The Emperor] was a politician

Richard M Nixon was his name He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an Imperial guy and he was really evil But he pretended to be a really nice guy” Other Republican politicians are unflatteringly evoked in the prequel trilogy

In Revenge of the Sith, a defining line for Darth Vader is, SOUNDBITE: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy” This deliberately echoes President George W Bush’s statement three years earlier that SOUNDBITE: “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” Journalist Michael O’Connor notes that the greedy and cowardly Trade Federation leaders Nute Gunray and Lott Dodd are named after Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott, prominent Republican senators at the time The Phantom Menace was made Indeed, the prequel trilogy’s villains are corrupt capitalists and corporate entities

The Trade Federation even has a seat in the Senate alongside representatives of planets and peoples, an extension of the American idea that corporations are people In this context, we have to wonder whether the Empire is less inspired by Nazi Germany, and more a dark reflection of American Imperialism, with its love of the military and habit of waging war on false pretences According to George Lucas, this is how Star Wars began In 2005, he said, “[The original Star Wars] was really about the Vietnam War, and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships? Because the democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away” SOUNDBITE: “So this is how democracy ends

To thunderous applause” The parallels to Vietnam are obvious in Return of the Jedi, where a technologically superior army is defeated by more primitively armed but also more motivated indigenous population Moreover, the film clearly criticises the invaders This is unsurprising, given that Lucas grew up during the struggle for civil rights, the tragedy of Vietnam and the corruption of political scandal He experienced the violent ends of great figures of reform, and the repression of freedoms by an increasingly militarised government dominated by old white men

As he said, “I grew up in the ’60s I grew up in San Francisco And so I’m informed in a certain kind of way about [] believing in democracy and believing in America And I’m a very ardent patriot But I’m also a very ardent believer in democracy, not capitalist democracy And I do not believe that the rich should be able to buy the government And that’s just the way I feel

” All the same, there is nuance to the politics of Star Wars The Empire could not have formed unless the democratic system was dysfunctional Moreover, the Emperor could not have succeeded if the the self-defined policemen of the galaxy had not been so self-righteous as to be naive Their ascetic lifestyle is too extreme, their rejection of materialism and rigid hierarchy as authoritarian as the villains The implication is that, in Star Wars, the happy medium is to allow personal liberties and possessions, but to work together and contribute to the collective good

Avoid violence, promote love Preserve democracy but challenge authority Celebrate diversity and encourage free thought Be your own person, but help others Back in the 80s, George Lucas sued to stop Ronald Reagan appropriating his creation

In 2008, he lent his vocal and financial support to Barack Obama In 2012, he said, “I only hope that those who have seen Star Wars recognize the Emperor when they see him Anybody who’s talking about hate or doing bad things to people, they’re on the Emperor’s side”

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