The prequels explore two primary questions. The first, and probably much more anticipated question, was how Anakin became Darth Vader. This fall, however, occurs against the backdrop of a wider tragedy – how a democracy turns into tyranny. Unlike Anakin’s trajectory, which begins with an almost entirely innocent boy, the Republic is already starting to decline in Episode I. We see the corruption, the apathy and the decadence that allow such injustices as slavery in the Outer Rim or planetary invasions by the Trade Federation to go unpunished. Palpatine uses these circumstances, manipulates and deceives, but he did not create the corruption from nothing. And when the Republic finally becomes the Empire, it doesn’t happen by brutal force. As Lucas explained, “Democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away.”
This is foreshadowed by a line from Queen Jamillia. As she and Padmé discuss the alarming news of the Separatist movement, it is clear they share the same idealism. Both of them dread the thought of war, seeing it as the very last resort. They want to rely instead on diplomacy, on negotiations. War, for them, is the antithesis of democracy. It uses violence and physical force to accomplish its aims; democracy relies instead of honoring the voice and will of the people. Jamillia concludes the discussion with a somber observation.
“The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.
the politics of star wars
I feel like when people try to isolate Anakin’s moral failures as purely individual rather than tied up in the corruption and strife of a deteriorating Republic, they’re kind of..like…missing the remarkably unsubtle allusion Lucas was making to modern day American. Like, people realize we’re the Republic, right? We’re the ones supporting immorality through our apathy.
Exactly. The result of that apathy is that we cease to even try to stop the immoral things happening around us. We stop believing in the people’s right to govern. We stop voting, because what good does it do? We ignore the small problems, because someone else will handle it, and what could I do anyway? These small problems build up, and build up, and build up until you get a quagmire of corruption. Apathy, all of our apathy, is what destroys us.
In AoTC, Queen Jamillia says something that’s actually quite profound, “The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.” That’s true. The day you give up on government, and remove yourself from it, the day you remove the significance of the individuals’ political power from the community, is the day you allow a tyrant to rule over you. When you stop believing that your government can work, you stop trying to hold government officials accountable, and corruption runs wild, and you get a Palpatine in office, because you let him. Palpatine may have been a Sith, but his rise to power was ostensibly legal. As @redrikki and I discussed in Commanding Love and Respect, the message of Star Wars now is politics and diplomacy doesn’t work, blasters (guns) do. In reality though, the message of the prequels is that you are forced to use blasters, and violence, when you allow yourself to become morally stagnant, when you allow yourself to become trapped in despair, and that is a tragic thing indeed.
BTW I saw Rogue One today and while
a) This is not my fandom
b) I was expecting Space Ocean’s Eleven not Space D-Day At Normandy holy fuck
c) I am so ignorant of Star Wars that I once thought an origami Star Wars Spaceship was a poorly-executed origami flower
a) Pretty great movie
b) K2-SOF MY HEART
c) Even though I was expecting it I still almost cried when CGI Baby Carrie Fisher showed up
Also, I told my parents before the movie “This is a movie that is so political Disney had to make a statement that it wasn’t political” and after the movie my mum said “I have literally with my own eyes seen live anti-nuke protests in the sixties that were less political than that movie.”
PS WOW Darth Vader’s outfit does not age well huh? I feel like the grainy quality of the original films hid a multitude of costuming sins on that one, holy textured trousers Batman.
wait, how was this political? i’m 27, am i too young to see it? was it like an anti-nuke thing or something???
(legitimate questions, i’m not tryna start shit, i just genuinely didn’t notice anything political about it)
WELL I AM HAPPY TO EXPOUND :D
The Empire has traditionally been a symbol for totalitarian regimes – it’s an insanely repressive and corrupt police state ruled over by an emperor where violence stands in place of reasoned law. The film takes a strong stance against this totalitarianism, casting the film’s heroes as enemies of the regime. Also, notably, it is a cast of predominantly people of color as the heroes, pitted against predominantly white men as the villains.
So this is a movie about the first step in toppling a dictatorship, an empire, which America is uncomfortably close to being in letter as well as in aspect, both against other countries and against marginalized people in our own country.
Exchanges like “You would see the Empire’s flag across the galaxy?” “It doesn’t bother you if you don’t look up” are pretty pointed, especially followed by that same person saying “rebellion starts with hope” later in the film. This entire film is about people who were either active colluders in a totalitarian regime or passive subjects of it, awakening to the evil they live within and coming together with people who have spent their lives fighting it to throw the first punch in bringing it down. One woman trying to carry out her father’s legacy of sabotage becomes six people intent on finishing their mission becomes what, about two dozen soldiers assaulting a stronghold, becomes the entire Rebel Alliance engaging with the Empire, which results in the attainment of the Death Star plans that allow the Rebellion to strike a savage blow against the Empire in A New Hope. The power of one person to start a firestorm if they’re just willing to stand up to power is a pretty political message.
It is, also, I think, extremely anti-nuke, yes. Every time the Death Star fires, you get a cloud that looks very like a mushroom (atomic bomb) or bubble (hydrogen bomb) cloud. The Death Star is the ultimate evil, because once you have it, you don’t argue with someone who disagrees with you, you just obliterate them. It’s rule by fear. And if the other side doesn’t have it, then we don’t even have “nuclear deterrence” (which is kind of an insane concept) – there’s just this one single planet-destroying weapon in the hands of a madman. America has a lot of nukes and we keep wanting to be the ONLY ones who have nukes…sound familiar?
Others who have seen the film more than once and know the background better than me can chime in, but in my view this was a film with an exceptionally political point to make about anti-authoritarianism, the essential corrupt nature of empire, the sacrifices that rebellion requires, and the priceless value of those sacrifices.
I haven’t check through all the reblogs so it’s possible someone’s already mentioned this, but it’s worth remembering the context of the original trilogy, released between 1977 and 1983. In the US, this was the period of the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War–a war large sections of the US population (and eventually a significant portion of the US military) had come to oppose. This was a war where the US dropped more bombs on Laos, a country the size of Utah, than fell on all of Europe during all of WWII. It was also a war in which the most powerful military on Earth was defeated by a small guerrilla army sometimes fighting with literal sticks. (Remember Jyn’s line about one determined fighter with a sharp stick?)
For a guerrilla force the Rebels seem relatively well-armed, but it’s always clear they’re fighting an enemy much bigger and more powerful than them–often literally bigger (think of the recurring imagery of city-sized star destroyers and towering AT-ATs, plus the fact that the Death Star is big enough to be mistaken for a small moon.)
The early 1980s were also a period of increased tension between the US and the USSR, a time when the world seemed as close to nuclear war as it had at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Apocalyptic destruction of an entire planet seemed like a very real possibility. (See also, the popularity of the Mad Max franchise during the same era.) There were huge anti-nuclear movements in the US and many other countries. I think the idea that the Death Star is a stand-in for nuclear weapons–and that people who would build such a thing are the bad guys–would have seemed like a fairly unsubtle political metaphor to many people at the time.
The thing about the original trilogy is that while the idea of the Death Star is terrifying, the actual effects of it are…kind of cheesy on screen. In Rogue One we get to see what it’s like to be on a planet when the Death Star strikes, and it’s terrifying. The strike on Jedha City is given a lot of visual attention and dramatic weight, from the giant rock tsunami to the view of the blast from the Death Star, which looks very mushroom-cloudy in nature. As for the strike on the vaguely Polynesian-looking Scarif, convince me that’s not supposed to evoke a South Pacific nuclear test.
Rogue One is interesting because it mixes the Cold War imagery of the original trilogy with a whole bunch of other war imagery, from WWII to the present. So, visually, the Battle of Scarif looks like Space D-Day or Space Okinawa, but a better description of the balance of forces might be Space Tet Offensive. Jedha is
Baghdaddistinctly Middle-Eastern-looking, with occupying stormtroopers on a very tank-like transport vehicle getting attacked by insurgents who blend into the civilian population. In case you haven’t been following the analogy, in both of these case, the US is the Empire and the Rebels are a stand-in for the people of a small nation in the Global South resisting occupation.
So, yeah, Star Wars is kinda political.
I mean the prequels are literally about the slow collapse of a republic rotting internally from corruption and the animated series (the CG one) also features an ongoing plotline is the slow destruction of a neutral power because forces outside the war invade and the republic that could help decides not to because the power chooses to be neutral.
Star Wars is hugely political – you should’ve seen the shitstorm when Revenge of the Sith came out – and I love it dearly.
Can we not just enjoy Star Wars as a movie instead of referencing it to political events?
You can ignore the political context, if you want, but there’s no reason why other people should. Star Wars is and has always been intensely political.
The original trilogy was written in the context of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War, and intended to resonate in those terms. The prequels are deeply concerned with the Bush administration. Lucas once corrected a NYT reporter who scornfully described Cheney as Darth Vader: “Anakin Skywalker is a promising young man who is turned to the dark side by an older politician and becomes Darth Vader. George Bush is Darth Vader. Cheney is the Emperor.”
And even if Star Wars weren’t obviously relating to specific eras of United States politics, the power of art is in connection to our lives and the world around us, not in some sterile isolation. People are never going to enjoy art in a contextless vacuum, and it’s both absurd and unfair to expect them to.
“A lot of my interest in Apocalypse Now was carried over into Star Wars…I figured I couldn’t make that film because it was about the Vietnam War, so I would essentially deal with some of the same interesting concepts that I was going to use and convert them into space fantasy, so you’d have essentially a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters or human beings…a small independent country like North Vietnam threatened by a neighbor or provincial rebellion, instigated by gangsters aided by empire…The empire is like America ten years from now, after Nixonian gangsters assassinated the Emperor and were elevated to power in a rigged election; created civil disorder by instigating race riots aiding rebel groups and allowing the crime rate to rise to the point where a “total control” police state was welcomed by the people. Then the people were exploited with high taxes, utility and transport costs.“ -Lucas
Also, Revenge of the Sith was considered so anti-Bush, people actually boycotted it!
Why is it the Clone Wars?
Why is it not, the Separatist Wars, the Civil Wars, the Droid Wars, since, in order, the so called “bad guys” are the Separatists, it is a galactic civil war, and droids are the bulk of the combatants on the Separatist side. Naming it only the Clone Wars, when the clones are the soldiers of one side and not the actual instigators of the conflict, make me think that it was a spotlight on them and on the rest of the forces that were associated directly with them— aka the Jedi.
Names have powers. They shape how one thinks about things.They imply and can direct one’s thinking— without outright saying what is going on. There’s this term, “weasel word.” Wikipedia has a good start on what it is and how it’s used, but I really like this sentence in particular: “Weasel words can be used in advertising and in political statements, where encouraging the audience to develop a misleading impression of what was said can lead to advantages, at least in the short term.”
Every time Clone Wars is used, one hears clone. Well, must mean that they have something to do with it right? Of what’s the other side, nothing. Of what’s the core of the war, nothing.
Before the war was even used to completion, the impression words gave was turned against the troops.
It must have been pretty easy, after that, to phase them out of the army. After all, no-one would want clones there, when they have been the reason the last war had been named.
Brilliant point. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Jedi’s hand in the creation of the clone army was emphasized in the aftermath: the Jedi orchestrated their own downfall in their attempt at power, and thus the continued importance of a loyal, standing army to keep the Grand Order of Things.
And I mean, Dooku was a Jedi, right? Obviously he left the Order on the Jedi’s orders so he could create the separatist movement.
Don’t you love how the Empire’s propaganda essentially says that the Jedi tried to do exactly what Palpatine did do?
I have a theory that one of the reasons it’s called the Clone Wars, rather than calling it a civil war (I do wonder if on the Separatist side it was called a war for independence; I’m pretty sure that the Republic never acknowledged the CIS as an independent state), is to de-emphasize the fact that it was a civil war. Nearly all the Republic combatants that we see in the show and in RotS are clones and Jedi; those that aren’t are naval captains and admirals like Tarkin and Yularen (and a few others), and rear echelon officers like Colonel Gascon. This isn’t a war that’s being fought by the citizens of the Republic, by and large. It’s not personalized — it’s not personal. Inhabitants of worlds like Naboo, Alderaan, Coruscant, etc., can’t claim to be fighting and dying for the Republic. Someone else is doing all that. And that “someone else” isn’t someone’s husband, someone’s daughter, someone’s brother or sister, it’s the Jedi — who hold themselves apart from the rest of the Republic — and the clones, who are literally manufactured for that purpose.
So what does Palpatine do in the aftermath of the Clone Wars? No more clones. No more Jedi. Stormtroopers, pilots, and other military personnel are recruited from the peoples of the Empire. Suddenly it is personal. You might not be able to see the face of the stormtrooper beneath the helmet, but it’s someone doing their patriotic duty for the Empre. It’s someone who has a stake in the Empire fighting for the Empire, because they’re defending their families, their homeworlds, their loved ones. The clones and the Jedi don’t have any of that, as far as the average citizen knows. But a stormtrooper, a TIE pilot, an imperial officer…they’ve got a family. They’ve got a mother, a father, maybe a husband or wife, maybe siblings, children, cousins, friends. They’ve got a homeworld. You know what they’re fighting for: something that somebody, somewhere, might want to take away. You can trust them, because they’re just like you.
Or at least, I bet that’s what the propaganda says.
You can trust them, because they’re just like you, which also reinforce the “clones aren’t people” and that the war seems like a “play war"— the ones on the battlefields are clones and droids created for that.
I’d love to have a look at the propaganda of the galaxy at the time.
“A lot of my interest in Apocalypse Now was carried over into Star Wars…I figured I couldn’t make that film because it was about the Vietnam War, so I would essentially deal with some of the same interesting concepts that I was going to use and convert them into space fantasy, so you’d have essentially a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters or human beings…a small independent country like North Vietnam threatened by a neighbor or provincial rebellion, instigated by gangsters aided by empire…The empire is like America ten years from now, after Nixonian gangsters assassinated the Emperor and were elevated to power in a rigged election; created civil disorder by instigating race riots aiding rebel groups and allowing the crime rate to rise to the point where a “total control” police state was welcomed by the people. Then the people were exploited with high taxes, utility and transport costs.“
– George Lucas, Director/Filmmaker/Writer of the Star Wars saga, whose words warn us of the dangers of an oligarchy with which we are feeling the Vader-like grip of in the current political and social climate
The trouble is that people don’t always agree.
Well then they should be made too.
By who? who’s going to make them?
I don’t know. Someone.
Of course not me. Someone wise.
#also who taught him that the senate would be completely paralyzed #and that the Republic all the slaves used to whisper of in wonder #would effectively throw an entire PLANET to the wolves #‘sorry these procedures take time we know your people are being killed #but there’s not much we can do sorry’ #who showed him that it wasn’t the senate or voting that saved the day on Naboo #but rather DIRECT MILITARY INTERVENTION #whoops it was Padme and the Jedi! #no wonder the kid’s view of politics is so warped!
I have somehow never put that together before but holy shit you’re right. It’s not just the Jedi structure and worldview. It’s Padme herself.