Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens Is A Parable That Supports US Empire
10 comparisons and 11 reasons to consider
By Chris Burnett
Just about everything in the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, is hard to believe, I mean, at least in terms of consistency. The plot is full of holes, but older Star Wars fans are willing to suspend disbelief for that warm and fuzzy feeling of childhood regression. Myself included. But in our modern day screen culture that is the US, where we sell wars and elections like toothpaste, I suppose suspension of disbelief is a daily occurrence.
People want to believe. The corporate culture produces “just war” narratives to satisfy an insatiable appetite for violence, exactly what Star Wars delivers, except this time, I would argue, it’s been turned upside down in the service of a real empire: The US Empire.
I am not saying that The Force Awakens was intentionally made as an imperial piece of propaganda for US wars, but it’s hard not to make the connections between Disney’s history of racism and xenophobia, the total absence of the Dark Side’s politics (other than ISIS like nihilism), and the way in which the “good guys” are always innocent and being attacked by an evil force that literally hates their freedom. The Dark Side in The Force Awakens is reconstituted as The First Order that explicitly engages in an act of mass terrorism to destroy the Republic, i.e democracy.
On a positive side, the actors playing the parts of Ren, Rey, Finn and Poe were excellent. The toned down use of CGI is a plus, and the landscape shots and the sets of The First Order were impressive. This thing was even shot on 35mm film!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Sci-Fi, but I am far more interested in deeper, radical socio-political-economic narratives you would find in the writings of Iain Banks or Kim Stanley Robinson. Star Wars is a kids movie, but I can’t help but see this new film as cynical in light of our current political climate. It’s reactionary in a way that strengthens current myths in our endless “war on terrorism”.
The Force Awakens (TFA) is weirdly post-post-modernist in that it kind of eschews skepticism, and embraces a kind of hopeful cluelessness. Indeed, the original film was made in the 70’s coming off of a massive cultural and political rebellion. The US just lost it’s first war after an illegal and immoral invasion of Vietnam. Corruption was in your face with Watergate and the Church Committee hearings.
You could easily identify with the rebel message of the original Star Wars as a fight against an unjust system. Stormtroopers were seen as either Hitler’s SS or riot cops bashing student heads, depending on your point of view. Today, 14 years into the Neo-cons endless war against independent states in the Middle East completely recasts the context for any war movie.
Terrorism has replaced communism as the existential threat to the US. It’s a very useful propaganda tool for justifying large military budgets, illegal invasions, illegal assassinations, illegal spying, illegal detentions, and a shredding of the US Constitution. Real war planners don’t really believe terrorism is a threat at all, in terms of an actual challenge to state power.
Non-state actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS don’t kill anywhere near the numbers that their state counterparts do. Industrial state terrorism like that conducted by the US in Iraq and Libya have murdered millions of innocents. And by definition, terrorism is the use of violence against civilians to advance a political cause. That definition applies equally to both retail (non-states) and wholesale (states) terrorists.
In TFA, it’s clear The First Order doesn’t want to take state power, unlike their previous counterparts: Darth Vader and the Emperor. Their goal is total destruction, total domination and total obedience, an existential threat of, literally, the first order. They are terrorists by definition.
With TFA, you can almost see how this warped world we have arrived at in 2015 could remake the original and interpret the Rebels as US soldiers fighting cult-like fascists with no politics other than nihilism (aka ISIS). Interestingly, we learn that the Stormtroopers in this Star Wars are taken as children and indoctrinated with one belief system: obedience. And in a very insightful moment, Captain Phasma asks Finn, “who gave you permission to remove your helmet?” (mask?). These are not-so-subtle references to an ISIS like world: abduction, obedience and anti-individualism. (okay, yes, you can say the same thing about the US military, except its abduction by economics).
The explicit lack of politics of the Dark Side, other than nihilism, makes it even more politically current by what scraps are left on the table. This strikes me as a very Disney thing to do: simple narratives of good vs. evil. If the original Star Wars was subtle political commentary, and I think it clearly was, the new Star Wars is more like political anti-commentary. It says more by what’s left out.
As criticized as the three prequel Star Wars movies were, George Lucas actually explained the political landscape of how the emperor rose to power, and made not so subtle references to the lunacy of the George W. Bush administration. Anakin said, “If you are not with me, then you are my enemy”. Under the guise of being attacked (a false flag attack), the Emperor demanded that the senate hand him full power, alongside a reduction of liberties (i.e. the Patriot Act). Not gonna happen in a Disney/JJ Abrams movie.
And of course, this film is a complete remake of the original ’77 film, repackaged on a foundation of quicksand with no new original ideas, and is a kind of fluff simulacra a la Baudrillard, arguably a reflection of the modern propaganda spun towards current day citizens of empire with the intent to turn the world upside down and portray the aggressors as innocent bystanders of someone else’s evil.
In other words, US citizens are always portrayed as innocent victims in support of truth and justice, and that their government is benevolent and full of good intent. Today, as a case in point, the dominant narrative is that ISIS came out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the US invasion of Iraq, or its policies in the Middle East.
To any clear headed observer, this is a blatant falsehood, but to a student of history, it’s a despicable distortion starting with the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mosaddeq in Iran, and the US policy of destabilizing secular Arab states for over six decades, especially those that chose a course independent of the US hegemon. Not to mention support of the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan ( see this photo of Reagan meeting with the Mujahideen in the White House: http://bit.ly/1OfEjIg
So, in a similar fashion, the Rebels in The Force Awakens are always innocent victims responding to an outside Evil of great magnitude. Except today, that great Evil isn’t fascist states hell bent on world domination, they are rogue nihilists Attacking Us For Our Freedoms™.
For both the audience of Star Wars and the US public generally, we are both meant to identify with the good side of the Force, but instead of Luke Skywalker as the ultimate savior in the film, we just need to endorse a yearly Pentagon budget of $600 billion to rule the world, with the best of intentions, of course.
So with that…
Star Wars: The Force Awakens repackages Episode IV almost entirely:
1. Rey = Luke
2. Finn = Leia
3. Ren = Darth Vader
4. Death Star = Planet Weapon (seriously, again?)
5. Jakku = Tatooine
6. New bar scene = equals old bar scene
7. Obi Wan, the mentor, dies = Han Solo, the mentor, dies
8. Rebels meet before they attack death star = rebels meet before they attack planet weapon (same scene basically)
9. R2D2 carries message = BB-8 carries message (a map that makes NO SENSE at all in this case)
10. Rebels are underfunded = rebels are underfunded (how this is possible is a total mystery since they, um, WON last time!)
And on it goes…
Also…as we look closer:
PLOT LINES TO CONSIDER:
1. I am supposed to believe Luke just gives up because of guilt over training Ren because he went to the dark side, and self-exiles to some far away place? Seems like a chump move for a guy who was the original hero. Shit, not even Obi Wan acted that cowardly. At least he stayed within earshot of Luke as we was growing up.
2. So, there is a jigsaw like digital map (why the fuck does it look like a puzzle? seriously?) that someone made to identify Luke’s location, even though Luke doesn’t want to be found, and isn’t training Jedi anymore. So why exactly is Luke such a threat to The First Order? I mean the dude just stuck his tail between his legs and ran. He blames himself for creating this mess, and then runs away from it? What are the filmmakers unintentionally saying about this guy?
3. And who made the map? Can’t he just email the location, encrypted with PGP, and send the thing on to the rebels? I mean, can’t the Map-maker just tell a couple of comrades where Luke is, or did he die being the sole carrier? How did he royally fuck that mission up? Was it a mission? If so, why was this Map-maker on his own if this was so goddamn important? And how, do tell, does a digital map get split up into perfect puzzle pieces? WTF?
Ok, let’s say that Luke made the map and split it up on purpose with R2D2. What’s the point? Why even make a goddamn map in the first place? Can’t you just let your friends know where you are going? Again, encrypted mass email? WTF?
4. Ok, what is up with The First Order anyway? I get that they look like the 3rd Reich Nazis, but they act more like a planet-destroying ISIS. And how exactly how did the last rebel alliance royally screw up their victory? I mean, how did these guys get their hands on massive quantities of ships, technology, and weapons so easily? Are we to believe the Republic is that weak, and incapable of, oh i dunno, disarming it’s enemies!?
Are the filmmakers really saying that General Leia and Luke are that truly incompetent not to see the rising Nazis/ISIS in their midsts? Did the Republic invade the Star Wars version of the Middle East and set the groundwork for the rise of The First Order? Where were the anti-fascists?
This isn’t necessarily JJ Abrams problem as much as it is the shallowness of the original idea of the Dark/Light side of the Force. That dichotomy is so ridiculously simple, it doesn’t allow for much in the way of nuance. Star Wars is truly a fundamentalist world. But to Lucas’ credit, he tried to explain the larger political context. Clearly, JJ Abrams and Disney don’t really give a shit about that.
5. If Ren was trained by Luke, there is NOT a chance in hell that either Rey or Finn could have fought him for more than one second in their lightsaber battle at the end. Not one second, especially given the supreme powers that Ren displayed earlier, like stopping a laser blast mid-air, or pulling a guy across a room using the Force. To be consistent in the Star Wars world, Jedis need training, and there’s now way to believe that Rey, let alone Finn, could have survived that encounter. It was a joke. But, I supposer there is one cop-out for the filmmakers: Luke Skywalker is the WORST teacher ever in the history of the Jedi.
6. The Star Wars universe have some pretty fucking bad parenting problems if all the kids keep falling over to the dark side. How the fuck did Leia, Solo and Luke fuck that one up so bad? It’s seems pretty clear that Rey and Ren are cousins, that Rey is the daughter of Luke, so why did he abandon her? That coward of a parent just sits sulking on an island hidden somewhere in the Universe, and doesn’t go in search of his daughter? Ok, for the sake of argument, lets say it’s not his daughter, but this guy is a JEDI and Ren’s uncle, and he still leaves his nephew behind? WTF?
7. Generally speaking, Empires don’t destroy the places they conquer which is precisely why they are EMPIRES!! They conquer land to extract resources as the US did in securing its hegemony in the Middle East. Even ISIS conquers land, steals the oil, and sells it to Turkey! (side note: ISIS sells oil to Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan). Why would The First Order destroy the planets they want to conquer? It’s far too nihilistic. Where are the politics of The First Order? Is it really that simple: nihilism? This is the strongest evidence for comparing The First Order to ISIS.
Also, why do they do what they do? Apparently, they aren’t racists (Finn) or misogynists (they have females in leadership roles), but yet they conquer to only destroy? Where does that make sense? The best antagonists are smart ones. These guys are cardboard cutouts. Pretty fucking stupid. At least the old emperor was a senator first who skillfully connived his way into dictatorial power. There is logic to that.
8. Remember when The First Order destroy the home world of the Republic, are we to believe that they are in the same solar system as the rebels? Because we see the red laser sun-ray gun killing planets from the Rebel’s home world. How the fuck is that possible? i mean it’s been 30 years since the original Star Wars, and a lot has progressed in our Sci Fi worlds, and in particular, our understanding of the distance between stars. I was baffled by this obvious oversight.
9. Was I the only one concerned with the repeat of Mr FishHead talking about the shields? Another bad rip off. But more importantly, it took them a total of maybe 60 seconds to figure out where to attack the planet weapon. That was pathetic, something that even an 8 year old wouldn’t believe. Just a little too easy, and a little to squeaky clean and fast, based on so many assumptions about a weapon they know nothing about. At least with the Death Star, there were STOLEN PLANS that were studied for a long time to find a weakness. That was believable, this was horrendously not believable.
10. Wasn’t it just a little too convenient that Solo and Chewy found Finn and Rey at the exact time and place that they did? It’s not impossible in Star Wars world, okay, but it is highly improbable. I was just rolling my eyes at this one. At least write something into the script that makes this encounter just slightly believable. Solo claims to have been tracking the ship, but WTF, for how long? Thirty years?
11. Ok, how is it that the rebels this time under “General” Leia are so under-equipped? I mean, didn’t they WIN last time? They defeated the Emperor with the help of Darth Vader, and you might think that they have the upper hand in terms of force, no? Somehow the tables got turned once again significantly in favor of the Dark Side. Yes, it is necessary for a plot line, but you got some explaining to do JJ.
I am all for a little suspension of disbelief, especially in a space movie, but this was just too much.
Last year in his radio show, Ralph Nader described Star Wars as making war/the Military seem attractive. And I just came across an interview with Stuart Gordon, founder of the Organic Theater at the University of Wisconsin, whose movie work has included adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft horror stories (e.g., Re-animator). One of Gordon's plays was borne out of his dislike of Star Wars, an adaptation of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.
"I thought that the Star Wars movie was simply glorifying war, y'know? And what I liked about The Forever War was that Joe Haldeman was a Vietnam veteran, and he was writing about a futuristic war like it would really happen. And it was not fun and it was not guys with light sabers; it was dirty and bloody and pointless. It was not one of our biggest hits!"
He subsequently tried to make a movie adaptation of Haldeman's story--and is still trying. This is from a book called Empire of the 'B's: The Mad Movie World of Charles Band (page 208).
I myself arrived at the same conclusion about Star Wars early in adulthood and thought it was telling when a Star Wars exhibit was at the LA Science Center nine years ago and was sponsored by numerous weapons manufacturers (Raytheon, et al).