Does Star Wars represent a politically liberal or conservative view of the world? Michael O’Connor weighs the evidence of Star Wars politics and makes a verdict.
And don’t forget, she’s a politician. And they’re NOT to be trusted.”
– Obi Wan Kenobi, Attack of the Clones
“Not another lecture, Master. Not on the economics of politics”
-Anakin Skywalker, Attack of the Clones
We get touchy about our politics. Most of us can agree what is right and what is wrong; most of us can look at the big picture and come together around a shared moral and ethical code. But when we speak about politics, we get heated, we get passionate, and we get frustrated when others disagree.
It seems so obvious to us. “If people would only act this way…” we reason. “If only the government would do X,” we lament. So why can’t we agree? Why do we have to fight?
Perhaps it’s because politics is morality filtered through reality, through policy and action. We can all generally believe that life is sacred, but a political position challenges us to make exceptions. When does that life not count? If it’s an enemy soldier? A criminal who has committed murder? An unborn fetus endangering the mother’s life? The devil is in the details.
It’s little wonder that we choose sides and dig in. We feel passionately about certain issues and our political philosophy speaks to those ideas. And even when neither side represents us, we can usually identify the greater of two evils. The wrong ideology, the wrong policies, the wrong candidate.
Or we check out altogether and watch a movie. I recommend Star Wars.
THE GIFT HORSE
When I sit down to watch Star Wars, I tell myself it’s a great way to deactivate my brain for a couple of hours. Sure, movies should challenge and provoke us to consider enormous political and philosophical questions. Just not now. It’s been a tough week. Right now it’s time for fun. Right now it’s time for Star Wars.
But what a gullible Trojan soldier I am in the presence of this gift horse! For beneath its entertaining facade hides art. In between its vicarious thrills, its fantasy wish-fulfillment peppered by spectacles of sights and sounds, a message is massaged ever so subtly into my brain. A blockbuster candy yields nutrition beneath its sweet exterior.
But is this nutrition palatable? Does it conform with preconceived notions of right and wrong? More to the point, does it echo our individual political sentiments? Or is it a recipe for more discord and anxiety?
Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that Star Wars definitely picks a side, and it may not be your side. The good news is that it still manages to unearth the deeper values we all share. Perhaps the aisle between us and our political opponents is not so vast after all.
LIBERALS & CONSERVATIVES
If Star Wars is political, it stands to reason it must endorse one political ideology over the other. But is it liberal or is it conservative? Does it line up with our own political beliefs or has our childhood entertainment betrayed us for the enemy’s argument?
Before we answer this question, we have to make sure we’re both speaking the same language. Unfortunately, there’s no protocol droid handy. I’ll just have to take a stab at defining the two key terms: “liberal” and “conservative.”
If you and I can’t agree on this baseline understanding, then as C-3PO says, “We’re doomed.”
And so, flowery rhetoric be damned! I will embody that most dispassionate and logical of avatars: the droids of the Jedi Temple’s archives. If there is a missing system in these definitions, my apologies. Look for gravity’s shadow and the truth can’t be far away.
Liberals believe that the government is necessary to create a level playing field for Americans of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations. Regulations and laws are vital to preventing an abuse of power by private organizations, corporations, and individuals to harm others either directly or indirectly. It’s the government’s job to constantly change and adapt to acknowledge individuals and groups who were discriminated or overshadowed in the past and ensure every citizen is granted equal and fair protection under the law.
Conservatives believe in the power and the worth of the individual to make their own decisions and choices without excessive government interference. The role of the government is to make laws to empower individuals to become successful and ambitious members of society and to protect its populace with strong and assertive national defense. Traditional social and religious values promote the importance of strong, stable families and personal responsibility for one’s actions. Conservatives believe that notions of right and wrong, fairness and freedom have more rigid and established definitions.
If you’re still with me, then we are not enemies… yet.
I’ll admit that on paper (or the Temple’s databank screens), these both seem like perfectly reasonable contrasting philosophies. Robbed of their emotional polarization, we might look at the opposing side and recognize occasions when its philosophy might solve a problem our nation faces.
Imagine if we might feel gradations of these orthodoxies, rather than unyielding certainty of one’s absolute legitimacy over its opposite. What if we could see the wisdom in both approaches? How might our nation be improved if our elected officials could “decide what’s in the best interest of the people and then do it” as Anakin Skywalker suggests?
LUCAS: WHOSE SIDE IS HE ON?
To determine whether Star Wars represents a liberal or conservative orthodoxy, we need to start with its creator. After all, it’s not unreasonable to assume that his political biases and sentiments found their way into the finished films. We can argue later whether the films are political and if so, which side they support. But for the moment, let’s look at the evidence and make a calling on The Maker himself.
Exhibit A: The Genesis of Star Wars
“[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?” Lucas said during a 2005 Chicago Tribune interview. “Because the democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away.”
This is an interesting quote, because it contradicts long-held assumptions that World War II was the primary inspiration. Even more importantly, Nazi Germany wasn’t the model for the Empire, but rather the United States. This completely flips the narrative on its political joint. Lucas’ concern with a militarized dictatorship led by a conservative leader certainly implies sympathies with liberal ideology.
Exhibit B: Feelings on Capitalism
There can be no doubt that George Lucas profited mightily thanks to good old fashioned American capitalism overseen by conservative leaders who kept taxes lower for the wealthy. It’s also tempting to look at his business acumen, his maverick personality, and his decision to start his own company outside Hollywood as being representative of conservative principles of self-sufficiency and bootstrap success. A good rags-to-riches story is catnip to conservative philosophy, and Lucas embodies many of the principles and attitudes lauded under this ideology.
The difference lies in his personal feelings about capitalism and what kind of role it should play in government and democracies. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he had this to say, “I grew up in the ’60s. I grew up in San Francisco. And so I’m informed in a certain kind of way about, you know, 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.”
Exhibit C: “Dick Cheney isn’t Darth Vader”
Liberal columnist Maureen Dowd spent the majority of the Bush presidency nick-naming the neoconservative Vice President Dick Cheney “Darth Vader.” George Lucas had to correct her. According to Dowd, Lucas explained that “Anakin Skywalker is a promising young man who is turned to the dark side by an older politician and becomes Darth Vader.” He added, “George Bush is Darth Vader. Cheney is the Emperor.”
As Maureen Dowd put it, “In ‘Star Wars’ terms, Dick Cheney was more evil than Darth Vader. I hadn’t been hard enough on Vice!”
Exhibit D: Support for Obama
In 2008, George Lucas enthusiastically supported the more liberal candidate for president, saying “We have a hero in the making back in the United States today because we have a new candidate for president of the United States, Barack Obama… for all of us that have dreams and hope, [Obama] is a hero.” He then donated the princely sum of $33,000 to Obama’s election campaign.
Conclusion: George Lucas is a liberal. Nuff said?
THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY
“This is why Star Wars is better without politics,” some of you are going to interject. “Lucas shoehorning his political views is the main reason why Star Wars lost its way!”
But here’s the thing: Star Wars has always been political. As revealed in Exhibit A above, the primary reason Lucas created the series was to explore political ideas and to speak to certain philosophical questions between conservative and liberal orthodoxy. If politics were the impetus for Star Wars’ creation and reside in the films’ DNA, how is one supposed to extract them without disabling the films themselves in the process?
Sure, there are plenty of apolitical space operas, but name one with Star Wars’ resilience and influence. Name one that has affected you as profoundly. The difference is that we come for the lightsabers and laser blasts, the explosions and witticisms; but we keep returning because we sense something greater beneath the surface. We are drawn to the films’ rich depth, and that depth is profoundly political, regardless of whether we outwardly endorse its leanings.
While I will concede that the prequels are certainly more overtly political with their Senate scenes and talk of trade route taxations, the original trilogy may actually espouse a clearer argument of Lucas’ political sentiments.
Let’s return to the idea of the Empire as a Vietnam War-era America. When we look historically at the time period in which Lucas created Star Wars, notice how the American public’s trust in the government was in tatters after the long honeymoon of the post-World War II years. While critics often lauded (or demonized) Star Wars for being an antidote to antihero cinema of the 70s like Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, Coppola’s The Godfather, Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Friedkin’s The French Connection, in reality it tackled some of the same ideas and issues as these decidedly more grisly, downbeat films.
Consider the late 1960s and early 1970s, the formative years prefacing George Lucas’s creation of Star Wars. Liberal icons John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The Vietnam War resulted in plenty of body bags but little justification for the sacrifices. And the Watergate scandal revealed that corruption and criminal behavior led all the way to the White House. Despite party affiliations, the men in power leaned conservative with the one-term exception of Jimmy Carter. To be a liberal in this time was to feel like your country had become the very evil it had fought during World War II, that it had turned to the Dark Side.
The “military industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned of in his farewell address was now a reality. The military, enormous defense companies, and the government had brokered a deal that resulted in substantial financial profits even as it resulted in exponential misery and death.
When we look at the Empire, what is it but a personification of this concept? Endless resources, a militant government, and its ultimate symbol, a giant weapon; the dreaded Death Star was the science fiction exaggeration of the atomic bomb. While fears of a Cold War heating up lurked, regret over the advent of nuclear weapons intensified among those on the left. The Soviets and the Americans had the power to obliterate all terrestrial life. And the process was no more complicated than firing the Death Star’s superlaser.
But the iconography doesn’t end there. Look at the Imperials themselves. Immaculately uniformed, old, rich white dudes who sneered and looked down their nose at “rebel scum.” Yes, they had British and not American accents, but the metaphor isn’t lost; the Empire was the older generation, the fathers who supposedly knew best. Britain had been America’s father before the Revolutionary War; now Lucas was encouraging a second rebellion. This time it was directed against the previous generation who had exploited America’s postwar power and prosperity by forcing its will on the rest of the world. In the parlance of the times, the Empire was The Man, the Squares, or Big Brother.
Contrast that iconography with that of the Rebellion and consider the counterculture liberal movement of the hippies. The heroic Rebels were unkempt, scraggly, and colorful, wearing earth tones, hanging out with
Bigfoot Chewbacca and speaking reverently of heady notions of a mystical energy field that bound the universe together. They were a diverse group of beings, humans and aliens, men and (a couple) women, whites and, well, one black dude.
But the Imperials couldn’t even muster that limited level of diversity.
THE CONSERVATIVES STRIKE BACK
By the trilogy’s end, conservatives were back in charge of the government, but Lucas got a few final jabs against the establishment order in Return of the Jedi. In the audio commentary for Jedi, Lucas revealed that the Viet Cong inspired the Ewoks’ creation for their ability to defeat technological superiority with inferior weaponry; it was a reminder that hearts, not weapons, win wars.
Though the Ewoks were the most obvious example of this association, the Rebels are an extension of it as well. Outfitted with old dilapidated starfighters, no armor, and an assortment of cobbled together basic weaponry, the Rebels pale in comparison to the Empire’s overwhelming power. But the genius of the Rebels is how they turn the Empire’s war machines against them. Like practitioners of Judo, the defending Rebels redirect the enemy’s violence back at them, whether it’s tripping up their enormous AT-ATs with basic tow cables or exploiting a small vulnerability with a single torpedo within the seemingly insurmountable Death Star. Intelligence triumphs over brute strength.
It was also in Jedi that Lucas would more fully explore the ultimate evil of the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine. In J.W. Rinzler’s Making of Return of the Jedi, a choice quote reveals The Emperor’s true inspiration. When asked during pre-production whether the Emperor had once been a Jedi, Lucas responded, “No, he 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.”
In the decades since its release, conservatives have appropriated the original trilogy like liberal rock songs at campaign rallies. In 1983, the same year as Return of the Jedi‘s release, Ronald Reagan named his space-bound anti-missile system “Star Wars”; Lucas sued but lost. And in 2006, Republicans used footage from the Star Wars films to show their struggle against the Democrats as freedom fighters against the evil Empire in an eight-minute video called Election Wars. It’s worth noting that at the time Republicans were in charge of the White House, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.
To anyone paying attention, Lucas had already made his political intentions perfectly clear with the saga’s conclusion. When Luke Skywalker faces imminent death at the hands of Emperor Palpatine and Vader, he discards his weapon rather than strike down Darth and risk a fall to the Dark Side. He rejects his father’s generation by defying the lure of power and violence, a rebellious act that echoed the sentiments of Lucas and other counterculture artists of the time. The film ends with the most hippie celebration since Woodstock with dancing teddy bears, tribal music, and Rebels hugging and laughing in the middle of a pristine, natural forest.
Some conservative pundits have argued that the Empire represents a conservative’s nightmare: a liberal Big Brother Government left unchecked. There are a couple problems with this theory.
The first and most obvious is that the only big government that existed when George Lucas dreamt up the Empire was the conservative-led government of Richard Nixon. As was mentioned previously, a liberal in those times was a Rebel against the conservative authority of the previous generation.
But a closer look at the Empire as a model for liberalism left unchecked reveals even more glaring contradictions. Chiefly, the Empire is a dictatorial militant government, not an intrusive socialist bureaucracy. While it’s certainly possible it has imposed health care on a populace in need of bacta and new mechanical appendages or is cutting welfare checks to the poor souls on Coruscant’s lower levels, ask yourself if that really lines up with how the Empire is portrayed in the films. And I think we can safely say that gun control is not a big issue for the Empire, considering that everyone and their alien mother is packing blaster heat.
Though the biggest hole in this theory is claiming that liberals would ever spend that much on the military. Conservatives routinely criticize their opposites for defunding the military, not to mention going soft on our enemies. Liberals also condemn torture, insist on negotiation and diplomacy, and resist attacking countries unprovoked. The Empire tortures its captives, insists that the threat of the Death Star will maintain order, and invades the planet of Bespin just because the Millennium Falcon makes a quick pitstop.
To contrast, consider Yoda’s teachings to Luke on Dagobah. “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense,” he says. “Never for attack.” Which side of the foreign policy argument does that sound like?
INDIVIDUALISM VS. COLLECTIVISM
Let’s get something straight. You can believe in a lot of conservative orthodoxy without agreeing to the more hawkish tendencies of the party. But even when you divorce conservatism of its militant aspects, you’ll find that its message of individualism at the expense of collectivism is at odds with the larger message of Star Wars.
Liberals believe that government must solve the big problems in life: unemployment, health care, infrastructure, education to name just a few–and that the only way we can accomplish that is by all pitching in together. We must guide our government towards the changes we wish by sacrificing part of our livelihood to see that everyone benefits. That’s the Us philosophy.
Contrary to that is the individualism of the conservative philosophy. It says “No thanks. I’ll find my own way.” And to be fair, that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction amid reports of government waste and corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle. It’s tempting to think you can be your own individual without government intrusion or charity; that’s the Me philosophy.
On the one hand, you might look at Luke Skywalker and think he’s a Me philosophy kind of guy. A humble farmer, he rebels against Big Government, resists the urges of Darth Vader to join the Dark Side and succeeds as a hero and leader of the Rebellion. He’s an inspirational example of the self-made conservative ideal.
But here’s the problem. Luke doesn’t get there alone. Without Obi-Wan stormtroopers kill him with his uncle and aunt at home… or aliens do the deed at Mos Eisley’s cantina. Sans Han Solo, Vader blows him up while he attempts to destroy the Death Star or he freezes to death on Hoth. Minus Yoda, he doesn’t learn the ways of the Force to survive his Sith encounters on Cloud City and the second Death Star. And then there’s Leia, Wedge, Biggs… I could go on.
But instead let’s talk about Han Solo for a moment. The whole purpose of his character is to illustrate this larger point. If there’s any doubt whether Han is an Us or Me philosophy guy at the beginning of A New Hope, consider this line of dialogue, “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money!” or “Let’s get one thing straight. I take orders from one person: me!” Or you could just notice his last name.
Fortunately, actions speak louder than words. By the film’s end, Han risks his life to save Luke and deliver a crushing blow to the Empire. And by the trilogy’s end, the guy who was only ever in it for his own enrichment lends his most valued possession–the Millennium Falcon–to Lando and is prepared to sacrifice the love of his life–Princess Leia–to Luke (unaware the two are siblings of course). Han migrates to the Us camp after realizing the value of sacrifice isn’t about who owes whom how many favors; rather it’s that being kind to others with no thought of reward pays back far greater dividends.
Han and Luke’s stories illustrate a crucial point of Star Wars: no man is an island; we all need help occasionally. That means banding together with not only friends and family but also strangers. Conservatives believe in tight knit smaller communities–your family, your neighbors, your church. But the success of the Rebellion comes from people of all different backgrounds hailing from different planets across the galaxy; it comes from compromise and being open to new cultures and ideas; from trusting strangers even if they don’t look or speak like you; from recognizing that suspicion and fear won’t make you safer.
While Han may dabble with the Me philosophy, it’s best personified by Darth Vader. As Anakin Skywalker, he turned his back on his peers and superiors, convinced he alone could improve the galaxy. He acted out his own desires to further enrich himself, mistakenly believing that what was good for him benefited everybody.
His actions had consequences. As Vader he has no friends, only lackeys. As Vader he has no family, only a surrogate father he wishes to overthrow and a son who resists him. He doesn’t want to work with anybody; he wants them to work for him. Yes, he’s powerful and successful and can rock a black helmet better than anyone in the galaxy, but all that status and influence are lonely consolations.
I certainly don’t mean to imply the Me philosophy is inherently evil; nor is the Us philosophy always relevant or advisable. But those who would lean too strongly towards themselves at the expense of others are vulnerable to greed and arrogance. Star Wars celebrates individualists with rebellious streaks but definitively demonstrates the value of sacrifices both large and small. To friends and family, certainly. But also to strangers and, occasionally, even to enemies.
THE PREQUELS AND THE WAR ON TERROR
The prequel films were George Lucas’ opportunity not only to show how a good man could turn evil, but also how a Republic could become an Empire. He was interested in mirroring Anakin’s fall with the Republic’s. Good men don’t turn evil overnight; similarly, political institutions crumble most commonly from within. Rome was already a broken shell of its former glory when the barbarians showed up at the gates.
It’s worth pointing out that just as the original trilogy films were products of their time, so were the prequels a response to the new millennium. The original trilogy films had been reactions to the conservative policies and attitudes that had led to a far more militaristic American government during the Cold War; the prequel trilogy films were arguably even more remarkable. They presciently predicted the effects of anger, fear and aggression on the American populace and how those dark emotions would lead to a consolidation and gross abuse of power on the part of neoconservative leaders.
Lucasfilm marketing may have thrown up its hands at the time, insisting that Mr. Lucas was just using ancient history to provide the background conflict for his latest round of diverting space opera adventures. But any careful observer has to realize the political similarities are anything but unintentional. Even the casual fan must admit that slimy, greedy Trade Federation bigwigs Nute Gunray and Lott Dod sound suspiciously like conservative politicians Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.
Whereas the original trilogy films’ rebukes of the Vietnam War were more subtly inscribed into the DNA of those films, the prequel trilogy didn’t shy away from confronting current political events as they happened (or even before they happened). The contested election of George W. Bush would not occur until 2000, but 1999’s The Phantom Menace put the writing on the wall. It demonstrated how political gamesmanship can subvert the spirit of fair representation and carry a candidate into power.
The Iraq War would not start until almost a year after 2002’s Attack of the Clones hit theaters, but it accurately predicted the ways in which a phony conflict could be constructed to cement patriotic support of an administration, silence potential critics, and grant the leadership increased political influence and power.
In 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, the media seized on Anakin Skywalker’s “If you’re not with me then you’re my enemy” line of dialogue as being a play on Bush’s “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy.” But news stories about the film rebuking the Bush administration and the Iraq War curiously ignored the earlier prequels’ role in the same endeavor.
That’s probably because before 2005, it wasn’t fashionable in the mainstream media to criticize or question the Bush administration. Such doubts were met with angry denouncements of anti-patriotism and treason. Our enemies had attacked us unprovoked on domestic soil; the time for debate was at an end. It was time to support our leader by pledging commitment to his cause.
Attack of the Clones visualizes this atmosphere in Chancellor Palpatine’s office after receiving Obi-Wan’s transmission from the Separatist stronghold on Geonosis. Like alarming rumors of atomic weapons in Iraq, the transmission causes the Senate to immediately strip away the checks and balances that restrict gross abuses of power. The Chancellor’s emergency powers are the Star Wars equivalent of the Patriot Act or the Iraq War’s rubber stamp. The irony is that like the phantom atomic weapons, Obi-Wan’s evidence of danger is a facade. It is merely a puppet army under the control of the Chancellor through his surrogate Count Dooku.
Upon receiving emergency powers, Palpatine insists that “The power you give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated.” But of course, there will always be other conflicts, other enemies–like the Jedi or the Rebel Alliance–that will require strong leadership and a steady hand at the wheel of the battleship. As George W. Bush warned during his reelection campaign in 2004, it would be too dangerous to elect someone else while embroiled in foreign conflicts; he was the “war president.”
In Bush’s case, having failed to track down Osama Bin Laden, the administration pivoted to the broader War on Terror. It was a brilliant move akin to Palpatine’s shift from the Separatists to the Jedi and the Jedi to the Rebels. A War on Terror is a war without an end. Blind patriotism had given the president and his neocon allies carte blanche to invade other countries and perform global housekeeping with a ballooning military budget. In the Star Wars galaxy, Palpatine successfully created a series of conflicts to spin the Republic (and then the Empire) in the role of defender and victim; they were fighting a noble war against dangerous insurgents.
In Revenge of the Sith, after he orders Anakin to murder the Jedi in their temple, he suffixes the command with that most convincing political lie about violence. Once the messy business is out of the way, once the necessary culling is complete, everything will be fine. Or as Palpatine puts it so gently, “…we shall have peace.”
DANGERS OF A CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY
Prescient War on Terror criticism aside, Lucas’ greatest magic trick in the prequel trilogy may be his timely warning of the dangers of a “capitalist democracy.” The disturbing trend in our own recent history has been the extent to which large corporations have gained increasing prestige in the government, using their political power to influence legislation that would help them at the expense of individuals and organizations that can’t afford to wine and dine politicians to their cause.
This is not necessarily a stark liberal or conservative issue; corruption affects both sides of the aisle. Greed knows no political affiliation and silences even the most moral instincts when the payoff is tempting enough. But the difference between liberal and conservative views of corporations’ rights to insinuate themselves within government is far more evident.
Under conservative orthodoxy, a corporation should see minimal interference and regulation by the government; after all, these larger businesses support countless jobs across the country. The conservative “greed is good’ argument states that successful corporations unburdened by regulations will make everyone profitable, from the high-power executive to the janitor emptying his trashcan.
So if it saves that corporation money pumping pollutants into the air, rolling out cars without functioning airbags, or paying its women employees less than men, so be it. And because these corporations are so wealthy, they can afford powerful lobbying organizations to ensure politicians only see the story from their perspective. They can even contribute unlimited funds to political issues thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court conservative ruling that essentially said “corporations are people.”
The Phantom Menace has the most blistering parody of this idea I’ve seen, especially since it occurs a decade before the ruling. In the Senate chamber, corporations like The Trade Federation and The Intergalactic Banking Clan aren’t just lobbying for votes from Senate politicians. They have actual representation in the governing body. After all, if a corporation can be a person, why can’t it be a politician as well?
The problem with giving corporations political power should be obvious enough to most of us. But in case it isn’t, the Star Wars prequels show us. When corporations get their way, people suffer. Palpatine intentionally exploits the greed of these corporations in The Phantom Menace. As senator he pits them against regulations, laws and taxes that would burden their lucrative operations; as alter-ego Darth Sidious he completes the manipulation by stoking their righteous, entitled greed. The innocent citizens of Naboo are the victims. The rest of the galaxy soon follows.
When corporations have free reign to do whatever suits them, their primary responsibility is to shareholders and increasing profits. Moral or ethical considerations will always come secondary. In our own world, the enormous housing bust of 2007 led to a country-wide recession due to policies executed during conservative leadership that slashed regulations and gave the housing industry free reign to act essentially unsupervised.
Lucas’ point is that giving political power to corporations hinders necessary legal changes that would benefit the larger populace. Entitled and emboldened and never punished after Naboo’s invasion, Nute Gunray and his ilk foment a Separatist movement. Like many corporations, they see themselves as being more important than the common man; they are immune to justice. Or in the parlance of our times, they’re “too big to fail.”
STAR WARS POLITICS
Ultimately, Star Wars is a political parable, looking at our world through the lens of a big epic fantasy/sci-fi story. You can embrace its lessons or ignore as you see fit, but they are political, and I personally believe they support a liberal ideology. That’s not to say they’re intended to brainwash anyone; like all good art, they make an argument and do so convincingly.
I happen to feel that no matter which side of the political divide you find yourself on, we can all find shared values and ideas to rally behind. It’s important to remember that while we bicker with each other and ignore opposing viewpoints, remaining divisive and unwilling to compromise allows the worst kinds of people to rise to power. We must work together to ensure that doesn’t happen and remember that, as my editor put it so well, “no matter what side a person is on, a dysfunctional government gives rise to megalomania, empire, and dictatorship.”
George Lucas said something similar in a recent interview with Bill Bradley. He was asked what was the one thing he hoped fans understood about his films. “I only hope that those who have seen Star Wars recognize the Emperor when they see him,” he said. “Anybody who’s talking about hate or doing bad things to people, they’re on the Emperor’s side.”
About Power to the Prequels
Power to the Prequels is an ongoing column that aims to critique and analyze the Star Wars prequels and demonstrate their worth as individual films and also as components of a larger saga. The goal is neither to blindly praise these films nor condemn them. Rather, the aim is to specifically and respectfully consider the artistic decisions made by director George Lucas and draw conclusions that may differ from the mainstream consensus.
Sounding Like a Separatist: Star Wars Politics
Michael O’Connor is a writer, filmmaker, and designer with a deep affection for film, literature, comic books… and craft beer. You can read his musings, check out his stories and watch his films at OCONNOBLOG. You can also check out his apparel company, George Shot First, and pick up a one-of-a-kind t-shirt or hat in honor of Star Wars creator George Lucas! Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at the links below.