Being a racist, sexist, science fiction-obsessed Twitter melter-downer may not sound like an appealing combination. But why would that stop anyone?
Apparently a group of people are planning to boycott the upcoming Star Wars VII movie because its cast is fronted by a woman and a black man, according to the Mary Sue. The fact the cast isn’t as white and male-dominated as the previous iterations of the space adventure series has some escalating things rather quickly, claiming it points to white genocide.
Liberals are getting mad at people for noticing something that is manifestly true—and something that was, no doubt, discussed in detail at the all-White and Jewish productions meetings in which the Force Awakens script and casting were hashed out. The galaxy is being diversified. And Hollywood is selling a post-White future, not through revenge fantasies like Django Unchanged, but through the nostalgia trip of a new Star Wars movie.
Before we decide to sit this next one out, it’s worth exploring the ways in which the Star Wars universe is much more ambiguous—or ambivalent, in a Freudian sense—than most recognize.
When the cultural phenomenon of the original Star Wars (1977) is discussed, most claim that audiences were attracted to a story of “Good vs. Evil” (with Good triumphing), a welcome change from the messy cinema of the 1970s. Star Wars, in this way, resonated with Christian theology, as well as American messianism, embodied in Ronald Reagan’s call for righteous America to defeat the “Evil Empire.”
Perhaps that was true. But ultimately, the texts of the Star Wars films are not informed by Manichean dualism (that is, Good vs. Evil). In Star Wars, there is one Force—“Its energy surrounds us and binds us”—with a Dark and Light side. And with Anakin and Luke Skywalker, the Light and the Dark exist within the same human heart.
When Luke is training in The Empire Strikes Back, he asks Yoda, “Is the Dark side stronger?” Yoda answers, “No, no, no,” essentially brushing off the question. Some might assume that Yoda meant to imply that the Light side is stronger and will inevitably triumph. But that is not what he said. And Yoda—that is, George Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan—knows all too well that this is not the case. The Force is the ally of Darth Vader and the Emperor just as much as it is the ally of Yoda and the Jedi, maybe more so. Yoda warns Luke of the dangers of the Dark Side (namely, anger, hate, fear, and pride); nevertheless, Yoda and the Jedi embody the weaknesses of the Light. The Jedi’s pacific, Buddhistic conception of the Force makes them indecisive, impotent losers. Indeed, in the Prequels—at the height of Jedi Power—Yoda and the Council resemble neutered academics presiding over interminable committee meetings. In Yoda’s words, “Failed, I have.” And unlike the Jedi, The Empire can genuinely claim to be bringing order and rightness to the Galaxy.
This ambivalent nature of the Force informs the political resonances embedded in The Force Awakens. In the original trilogy, The Empire reminded many of Soviet Communism, maybe even of the British Empire of old, with upper-class Englishmen, like Peter Cushing and Julian Glover, cast as villains. But the unspoken, obscene model of The Empire is undoubtedly The Third Reich. In The Force Awakens, Abrams and Kasdan have turned the dial up many notches. The remains of The Empire, now called The First Order, are presented in tableaus that are nothing less than Riefenstahl-esque. Take these, for instance, from Star Wars’s official Instagram account.
So what is the message? Much like the Force, there are Dark and Light sides. The exoteric message is, of course, that we should root on the scrappy, multicultural—indeed, multi-species—band of “Rebels” as they battle the mean ol’ fascists.
The esoteric message is more complicated. I think Abrams and Kasdan are telling us that the spirit of fascism—that of hierarchy, greatness, dominance, and overcoming—is ever-present in the postmodern world, even if it seems defeated and must act in a subterranean space. Fascism is just as much a potentiality of the contemporary Zeitgeist as is the “Rebel Alliance” (which was always unfit for rule and never actually “won” at the end of Return of the Jedi). The great lightsaber battle in The Force Awakens thus seems to be between a “Knight of Ren” and a young Black man who’d seem at home among #BlackLivesMatter protesters.
So as opposed to boycotting Star Wars—and effectively allowing our enemies to dictate what culture means—why not go see the film, and see it through our eyes?
And Star Wars is not the only product of contemporary pop culture in which a thin line separates propaganda and subversion.
- No, I’m not going to call it A New Hope. In the original crawl, it was just Star Wars, with no episode number. It only became A New Hope in the 1981 re-release, the first time Lucas imaged making Prequels. ↩︎
- Notably, Kasdan penned both The Empire Strikes Back, the greatest Star Wars film in an uneven franchise, and The Force Awakens. ↩︎