May the Fourth be with you!
For many, it’s difficult to succinctly state the essence of Star Wars today. What started out as filmmaker George Lucas’s vision of a Flash Gordon inspired movie transformed into one of the largest and most influential franchises, spawning countless memorabilia and appearing in almost all media forms.
With almost 50 years of history, it can be easy to forget the origins of Star Wars. As Mr. Lucas has indicated on multiple occasions, he was heavily inspired by history, politics and anthropology, as much as mythology and mysticism.
Writer and author Christopher Klein detailed some of Mr. Lucas’s historical influences in 2015. You may already be familiar with a few similarities between the Galactic Empire and Nazi Germany: stormtroopers, military dress/organizations and the political careers of Führer Adolf Hitler and Emperor Sheev Palpatine. However, I was surprised to learn that the ending scene of A New Hope in which Princess Leia give medals to Luke and Han (Chewie got robbed) was inspired by the propaganda film The Triumph of the Will created for the Third Reich.
Emperor Palpatine’s chief initial inspiration was not a dictator such as Hitler, but rather President Richard Nixon. That surprised me even more. I did already know that the Vietnam War was a key inspiration for Mr. Lucas, but I didn’t realize how much the President Nixon played a role in creating its chief antagonist. Since I’m a child of the ’90s and ’00s, the reverberations of Vietnam, Watergate and his resignation are more historical than personal.
JC: “You did something very interesting with Star Wars, if you think about it. The good guys are the Rebels. They’re using asymmetric warfare against a highly organized Empire. I think we call those guys terrorists today. We call them Mujahedeen, Al Qaeda.”
GL: “When I did it, they were Vietcong.”
JC: “Exactly. So were you thinking of that at the time?”
JC: “So it was a very anti-authoritarian, very kind of ’60s, against the man kind of thing, nested deep inside of a fantasy.”
GL: “Or a colonial, you know. We’re fighting the largest empire in the world. And we’re just a bunch of hay seeds and coon skin hats who don’t know nothin.’ And it was the same thing with the Vietnamese. The irony of that one is, in both of those, the little guys won.”
There’s a ton of ways you could analyze with these quotes. I don’t want to praise or criticize the conclusions being made here, but rather point to a more fundamental, banal conclusion: Star Wars is very political. It was from the start. It deals with the rise and fall of empires, resistance movements and the struggle for freedom.
As the franchise became larger, branching off into hundreds of books and dozens of video games, it acquired a variety of new tones and influences. I grew up in the prequel era and became ensnared into the mystical and philosophical parts of the mythos with the Jedi vs. Sith dichotomy. Sometimes I forget how the original trilogy were protest films with very profane influences.
One of the great things about Star Wars is that you can chose to leave its politics at the door. There’s so much going on from the technology to the lightsaber battles to the alien species that if you want to turn your political brain off, your enjoyment won’t suffer.
At any rate, whether or not you decide to partake in some festivities in a galaxy far, far away tonight or in the near future, may the Force be with you.
As well as politics, the art of the possible.