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|Star Wars : The superstitious myth of our times|
|06/08/02 at 16:43:41|
|Star Wars as Modern Myth Metaphor |
By Ali Asadullah , Islamonline.net
The long awaited Star Wars Episode II finally hit theaters.
It’s always fun to observe how people invariably take entertainment and read more into it than was ever intended by its creators. Take Star Trek for instance. Not only are Trekkies fans, they are nearly religious devotees, forming clubs and societies devoted to espousing the principles derived from the popular television series.
Following in the footsteps of the Trekkies have been Star Wars fans. They read all the books, buy all the merchandise, quote the film and make it part of their everyday lives. For some of them, “The Force” is a perfect substitute for religion itself and they take the principles surrounding the Jedi arts as guideposts for living. Even political writers are getting in on the act.
Consider Jonathan V. Last, the online Editor of The Weekly Standard, that bastion of American neo-Conservative thought. In a May 16 analysis piece entitled “The Case for the Empire”, Last goes to great lengths to deconstruct the Star Wars series, mapping its themes and elements to aspects of modern political realities. As could be expected, he took a very right-wing approach to his dissection.
With the tagline of “Everything you think you know about Star Wars is wrong”, Last argues that the Galactic Empire that is surreptitiously formed by Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine is actually a good thing, and that the rebels, led by Luke Skywalker and his cohorts, are little more than an anarchic band of thrill seekers who bring more harm to the universe than good.
It’s an interesting point to make, although normally such an assertion would be left for Star Wars geeks to flesh out. That a truly serious political publication has taken up the argument is somewhat of a departure from the norm. However, in a day and age when even the most conservative and stuffy right-wingers are scrambling for relevance with the public wherever they can find it, it isn’t so odd to see the National Review taking an interest in something so socially penetrating as Star Wars.
Unfortunately for Last, however, he is very wrong in his analysis. And along the way to being wrong, he shows the reading public exactly why Americans should fear the Republican Party and political right in general.
To start, Last explains to readers that his analysis is based wholly and solely on the movies themselves, admitting that he is unfamiliar with the Star Wars Universe of books and other apocryphal material that provide context for the films. This is so typical of conservatives. The likes of Chris Matthews and Alan Keyes on MSNBC and Sean Hannity on Fox News seem never to hesitate in their ignorance of the “back-story” on important issues of contention, especially as those stories apply to Muslims.
But Last pushes on. He proceeds to argue that the Galactic Empire is an entity that brought order and peace to a dysfunctional universe. He likens the Trade Federation from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, to those modern institutions (governmental and otherwise) that simply strive for free trade and order in an inefficient, non-optimized commercial world. Last even remarks, “Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with.”
That’s just great – a dictatorship people can do business with. Coming from a conservative this is so predictable. After all, it was Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who helped prop Augusto Pinochet up in Chile. Of course in retrospect it is clear that he was a ruthless despot who blazed a path of human rights violations that landed him in hot water a few years ago. But as long as he made Chile – and by extension, the region – safe to “do business with” American was more than willing to look the other way.
Basically, in analyzing the Galactic Empire, along with all its unsavory characters, Last makes the thinly veiled assertion that despotic dictatorships are a good thing. How American of him.
As for the noble order of Jedi knights, Last has this to say: “Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy [Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy], and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly.”
Well if that’s Last’s argument, then Nazi Germany was, for all intents and purposes, a meritocracy. They had schools for the Hitler Youth and special units and ranks that people could aspire to. And as long as you towed the party line and didn’t have any qualms about things like morals, ethics and scruples, you too could have a splendid career serving the Fuhrer.
But maybe it’s wrong to read so much into Star Wars. In fact, it is very wrong to read so much into Star Wars. The original trilogy and the prequel trilogy are both fantasy. In fact, when the first movie debuted, Lucas eschewed too much deep analysis of his work telling Time magazine in 1977: “The word for this movie is fun.” But as he continued his work, he admitted being influenced by Joseph Campbell, one of the best-known mythologists of the 20th century.
Is Star Wars myth for the modern man? Sure it is. The motifs put forth in the films are timeless: Fathers and sons; good and evil; ignorant youth and aged wisdom. But did Lucas try to make a coherent commentary that mapped directly to the modern world? No. He tackled some issues here and there, and left it up to audiences to take from the films what they liked.
So maybe Mr. Last (and this author as well) should shelve the pseudo-intellectual Star Wars acrobatics. It’s a story. It’s myth for the modern era. Let’s leave it at that.
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