Thursday, July 07, 2005

With Thunderous Applause

Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater. As a child, I was only allowed to watch “educational” television – movies and FM radio were verboten. But for some reason, my father deemed Star Wars important enough to make an exception. So obviously, Star Wars is very special to me.

I was seven years old in 1977, and immediately I became a huge fan. I joined the fan club, and impatiently waited the three years in between each film. Since I was a child, I was naturally attracted to some of the more surface aspects of the film: I longed to wear my hair in Princess Leia “donuts”, and gosh that Han Solo sure was cute!

But from the start, I was also drawn to the political aspects of the story. The Rebellion were a small, rag-tag group of people fighting against the evil Emperor and his police state, enforced by the Stormtroopers. When we first meet the Rebels, we don’t know how long they’ve been fighting the good fight, but we see their loyalty, and how much they’re willing to sacrifice.

Neither of my parents were activists, but politics were a topic of conversation in our household. I had an awareness of injustice in the world, and a desire from an early age to be part of the struggle against it. I wanted to be a member of the Rebel Alliance!

I can honestly say that I spent a lot of time wondering what happened in the Galaxy that the Jedi Knights were decimated and the Emperor came to power. How did the peaceful Galaxy become the fascist Empire?

Padme Amidala answers that question in Revenge of the Sith: “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.”

The steps that lead to this moment seem innocuous, even reasonable, in isolation:
*The Trade Federation blockades Naboo, a peaceful, out-of-the-way planet
*Senator Palpatine of Naboo is elevated to Chancellor by a sympathy vote.
*Obi-wan Kenobi discovers that a clone army has secretly been commissioned.
*Jar-Jar Binks leads a successful call for the Chancellor to be given emergency war powers, including calling up the new clone army. His reasoning: we must be able to act quickly in these uncertain times. (Sound familiar?)
*Small conflicts break out all over the Galaxy, and the Jedi, the peacekeepers of the Galaxy, are stretched beyond their capacity.
*Some Jedi start to sense that the agenda of the Sith is connected to that of the Chancellor.
*Meanwhile, a small group of Senators becomes concerned that the actions of the Chancellor may be moving them towards a fascist police state. Their solution is to cling to their democratic principles.

By the time anyone puts all the piece of the puzzle together, it’s already too late. The Chancellor, whose term has long expired, declares himself Emperor, to the aforementioned “thunderous applause.” At long last, the Jedi decide they must act to bring Palpatine down, but they are too late. Palpatine has successfully won over Anakin Skywalker, the star Jedi Knight, who then single-handedly brutally eliminates the Jedi Council, as well as all apprentices, even the children.
Many people see Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, as the story of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, through his literal physical transformation into Darth Vader. In fact, Episode III is much more. It is a clear depiction of how simple steps, often rationalized by the majority as needed for security or for the greater good, can quickly take a society to a point of no return.

The movie ends with the few remaining Jedi going into exile, and other potential leaders of a resistance movement disbursing (Yoda, Obi-Wan) or dying (Padme Amidala). Evidently George Lucas cut an early story line of Padme Amidala starting the Rebel Alliance. Scenes of Yoda going into exile on Dagobah ended up on the cutting room floor. So we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. We do not know how, but a resistance movement does form, presumably led by Senator Organa of Alderran, Princess Leia’s adoptive father. It takes approximately 20 years for the Rebel Alliance to gain the strength to take on the Empire in a serious way. All this time, the Senate continues to meet, albeit as a rubber stamp for the Emperor. Only at the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is the transition to a fascist police state complete with the dissolution of the Senate.

As fans of the original trilogy know. The Rebel Alliance was eventually victorious, killing the Emperor, and destroying the second Death Star, the ultimate weapon of a fascist police state. But at what cost?

We are not living “a long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away”. This is the United States of America, 2005. Our own trajectory parallels that of the Star Wars Galaxy in a frighteningly accurate way. Anakin, newly re-named Darth Vader, actually says to Obi-Wan, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy,” directly referencing George W. Bush’s pronouncement before the Iraq War began. Like George Lucas’ Galaxy, we are quickly approaching a point of no return. Unlike the Jedi Council, we cannot drag our feet in making bold moves to halt the current path of history. We cannot wait for everything to fall apart, for all resistance leaders to be jailed or worse, before we act. We cannot afford to wait to form our own Rebel Alliance until after the other shoe has dropped. As Steve Earle sings on his latest album. “The Revolution Starts Now.”

May the Force be with all of us.


t said...

I agree with your analysis of Sith except that I don't think it's merely a case of life imitating art, but something that was intentional on Lucas' part.

... said...

Hi there, great stuff on your blog!

You should check out this another revolutionary review of "Star Wars III" by comrade Kira from RCYB(Seattle):

Star Wars III film review: The movie delivers on account of its pro-people anti-fascism stand.

And T, you're right, it was intentional. From an article in Chicago Sun-Times:

"... At a news conference, [director George Lucas] was asked if the movie Republic's collapse into an evil Empire was directed at the Bush administration.

"Lucas said he originally wrote Star Wars in the wake of Vietnam and the Nixon administration and that he studied democracies that turned into dictatorships.

"'As you go through history, I didn't think it would get quite this close,' he said. 'I hope this doesn't come true in our own country. Maybe the film will awaken people to the situation, how dangerous it is.'"


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