| Books | Stories | Blog | About/Contact


Star Wars’ Uneasy Look at Good, Evil…Us

A lot has been made of George’s Lucas’s possible anti-Bush sentiment in the latest Star Wars blockbluster, “Revenge of the Sith.” Is Senator Padme an anti-Bush plant? When she asks if liberty dies “in thunderous applause,” is she making a back-handed reference to the Patriot Act?

These are the wrong questions. Popular culture is not a reflection of social truths. It is a reflection of the tensions that haunt a society. A better question is the one my 7-year-old wonders: If Lucas had all six movies plotted from the beginning, why did he make the last three first, and the first three last. Ah, my young apprentice, now you’re on to something.

The first three “Star Wars” movies could not have been made 20 odd years ago because they reflect a set of social tensions that would not have spoken to their late ‘70s and early ‘80s audience. Episodes 4-6, the one’s about Luke Skywalker bringing freedom to the galaxy – now those were stories Americans wanted to hear.

Luke’s story unfolded when the U.S., despite its global superpower reach, still longed to identify with its older, liberty-loving underdog status. One great example of this need was in Americans’ instant bestowal of legendary status on the 1980, U.S. Hockey team, the underdog group who beat the heavily favored Soviets. By that time, Lucas had already tapped the underdog vein and hit gold. No less a figure than Ronald Reagon cribbed euphemisms from Lucas, with his designation of the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire,” and Afghan rebels as “freedom fighters,” and, of course, the infamously proposed Star Wars defense system.

But as much as we wanted to be the good underdogs, we worried that we weren’t. We had, after all, just come out of a disastrous foreign engagement – the Vietnam War – in which many Americans perceived us as more Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker. And the fallout from Watergate was a none too subtle reminder that our leaders could be seduced to the dark side of corruption and obsession with power.

Fast forward to 2005; these tensions have flipped. We still want to be Luke Skywalker, but as the inquiry into Lucas’s political motives in “Revenge of the Sith,” suggest, we’re obsessively worried that we have become Anakin. We can’t even pretend to be underdogs anymore, even in sports. When the U.S. Basketball “dream team” lost in the 2004 Olympics, it was our turn to feel humiliated by rag tag players. Like Anakin, however well-intentioned we may have started out, we’re scared that we’ve been consumed and changed by fear and a thirst for power.

Think that’s a stretch? Broaden your net. It’s not just “Star Wars” that reflects our current state of anxiety over power and its influence. Look at every reality show that has captured the American imagination. Name one that does not create a social Darwinistic fetish over survival of the fittest, survival of the sneakiest, survival of the most willful. It is as if we are trying to find a personal narrative to defend our nation’s own global reach.

But, however much we want to hear this story rehashed, we can’t come to terms with the impact of power on American character. Like Anakin, we are too conflicted. So, like Padme, who insists that there is good in Anakin even after he has strangled her and murdered her will to live, we hope that there is still good in us. And we search for that good everywhere, even in the promise of twin babes whose own story was actually told a long time ago, in what seems like a galaxy far, far away.