Monday, May 23, 2005

Birth of An Empire

by William S. Kowinski

The political dimensions of "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith," currently still breaking box office records, seemed to take many people by surprise. The Washington Post reported on a number of observations, some of them angry, that the transformation of the Republic into the Empire had certain clear similarities to U.S. actions and rhetoric in respect to Iraq. The article was entitled "The Empire Strikes Bush."

Then the New York Times weighed in, with news of conservative blogs attacking Lucas for anti-Bush sentiments, such as Anakin Skywalker--- who'd just been re-named Darth Vader--- saying, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," (a close echo of Bush's "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.")

The Times also reported that a conservative website it described as "little trafficked" had called for a boycott of Star Wars, along with films starring Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, and the music of the Dixie Chicks. It's either little trafficked, or largely ignored.

Cornered on the question in Cannes, where he opened "Sith," Lucas reinterated that his movie was devised in response to the Vietnam war, but he did allow that"The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."

However, if anyone had paid attention to what Lucas had been saying for several years now, they couldn't be surprised. He's announced over and over that the theme of this film and the prequel trilogy it completes is meant to be " a democratic society turns into a dictatorship, and how a good person turns into a bad person."

A pop culture phenomenon like "Star Wars" has an inevitable relationship to other cultural currents in the society of its time. This has been especially true of the Lucas films, since the story within their space opera adventure is partly political: the rise and fall of an Empire.

That first "'>Star Wars" burst onto screens in 1977 when science fiction films were rare and dour. After Vietnam and Watergate, and with the Cold War superpowers still facing off with immense nuclear arsenals, and dire planetary warnings coming from a fledgling environmental movement, the future seemed doubtful, and the anti-hero ruled the screen. Enter Lucas with a simple and revolutionary concept: to consciously inject heroic mythological themes into the fantasy world of the space opera serial: Joseph Campbell directs Flash Gordon.

"Star Wars" edged the old innocent virtues with contemporary knowingness in recognizable new heroes: Hans Solo, the swaggering mercenary with hidden heart, and Princess Leia, the damsel in distress who runs the war room and shoots the bad guys. Soulless technology became personable in the robots, C3po and R2D2. But the true classic hero was Luke Skywalker, all impulse and openness, with buried powers that could be used for anything, depending on who and what he trusted to bring them forth.
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