Is Star Wars really anti-fascist?

han-solo-quote

Recently, a group of neo-Nazis has declared that the upcoming Star Wars movie, Rogue One, is “anti-white,” “SJW propaganda,” and “another Jew masturbation fantasy of anti-white hatred,” saying that the film should be boycotted, with advocates incensed after screenwriter Chris Weitz said “please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization,” and Write Gary Whitta retweeted this, adding that it was “opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.” Of course, the reactionary forces will make wild proclamations but I thought it was best to come back to the topic of Star Wars and politics once again after my last post months ago, in which I wrote that “I still have some hope in the Star Wars series…this hope could obviously be shattered into many pieces,” which is what I aim to take aim at once again.

In order to go forward a summary what I pointed out in my last post on the subject is not necessary. [1] There is no reason to make the same points again. I have tended, in the past year, to drift away from Star Wars to Futurama, because of the incessant mention of war, and said that I wouldn’t watch the new movie. But, now with this controversy, which is probably, like with liberal anger at Trump’s diplomacy, fake outrage, I am intrigued. I wholehartedly recognize that the series is white-dominated by nature, easily quotable by imperialist politicians, seems to be nostalgic, can be used to ward off apologists for anti-Syrian terrorists, and has a growing number of female fans in a fan-base that is still male-dominated. On top of that, some may have made reference to Star Wars when talking about supposed anti-Trump resistance, along with the claims that politics is “like Star Wars.”

There have been a plethora of thinkpieces on the subject of Star Wars and politics as of late. Since I think the pieces are crap, I think it is worth just listing the titles and publications, just for laughs and giggles:

  • “Star Wars isn’t political, says Disney chief responding to boycott by Trump supporters. He’s wrong.” (Washington Post) (says that films don’t exist in a political void, Vietnam references in the early Star Wars movies, echoes of Vietnam in Rogue One, soldiers of empire are called stormtroopers and modeled a bit after Nazis, and ends with no strong conclusion)
  • “Star Wars Is Not Anti-Trump, But It Is Anti-Fascism,” Esquire magazine
  • “Star Wars Is and Always Has Been Political,” Gizmodo
  • “Outrage Warriors Are Only Ruining Their Own Fun by Trying to #DumpStarWars,” Forbes
  • “Disney’s CEO is wrong about Star Wars and politics, but right about the Rogue one boycott,” The Verge
  •  “Disney’s Star Wars screenwriters need to shut up about politics,” Red Alert Politics
  • “Why Star Wars Needs To Be Political,” The Young Folks
  •  “#DumpStarWars Is The First Shot In A New (Pop) Culture War,” Forbes

I could go on, but I think you get the point. There is undoubtedly public enthusiasm about Star Wars, but the connection to politics is nothing new, with horrid neoliberal comedian (who isn’t all that funny) declared that Star Wars Episode II (2002) could be analogous to Bush’s government, and some liberal critics casting Bush as Darth Vader and Cheney as Chancellor Palpatine. [2] But there are fundamental truths about the series, which will undoubtedly carry into the newest movie. For one, apart from weak character development in some movies, there is the creation of an “ideologically conservative future…[a] modern quest narrative” with Princess Leia in Episode 4 as a “damsel in distress” and the movies serving as a harbinger of “renowed American conservatism of the Reagan presidency” with the rebellion lead by “clean cut, well-spoken white youths.” [3] To add onto this, the Rebel Alliance, while it is fighting against an “evil empire,” is hierarchical (possibly authoritarian), celebrating its victory (at the end of episode 4) in a scene that seems to echo famed Nazi propagandist Leni Reifenstahl, with the white males “naturally” in positions of authority, with alien races downgraded while gender, class, and race relations are not challenged. [4] This return to “traditional morality” is not an “adventurous quest-narrative” that was part of Hollywood’s “revitalization” but it is a blockbuster which promotes nostalgia for the 1950s. [5] If this isn’t enough, the series, which has interwoven itself into familial relationships, and originally meant for children, moving family films back to the center of the global entertainment industry, while closing the “window for creative experimentation” in filmmaking that had supposedly begun in 1970. [6]

There is much more to be said about Star Wars. Apart from the obvious nostalgia for the past, and in this case for past films of the Star Wars franchise, dominates the spectator with crowd-pleasing entertainment, with a sword-wielding “elite warrior cadre,” the Jedi, honored in film after film of the series. [7] With the films being almost like a “myth of a fairytale,” a cultural dream, which have situations like athletic contests where various characters engage in a story set in a mythological time, with a story of broad proportions, supports the idea of male dominance. [8] There is no doubt symbolism in the movies with Chewbacca embodying a “wild man stereotype” some say, Christian imagery, a simplistic good vs. evil conflict, and some dreamlike locations like Dagobah in Episode 5. [9]

But there is more than this. It seems that progressives and bourgeois liberals saying the movie could be anti-fascist, and by extension the whole series is anti-fascist. In theory this would be a feat for such a successful franchise, even mocked hilariously in Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs, to be against fascism. However, that is too easy of a connection to make. There is no doubt that the Empire and First Order (the latter in ‘The Force Awakens’) are fascist and imperialist. The allusions are obvious. But what about the resistance? Well, in episodes 4, 5, 6, and 7, the Rebel Alliance, New Republic, and Resistance are undoubtedly anti-imperial forces. However, they are not like the soldiers of Cuba who fought in Angola against the murderous US imperialists and South African racists, the Soviets who fought off the Nazi fascists, the Koreans who fought off the US imperialists, or the varying anti-colonial efforts against faltering European empires. These forces, and no doubt those in the new movie, might be anti-fascist, you could say, but they are not by extension anti-capitalist. This means that the Rebel Alliance, New Republic, and Resistance, along with rebels in animated series, are bourgeois liberal forces. So, nothing to cheer for, really.

To expand on this topic, the Rebel Alliance in episodes 4-6 has monarchist elements (Princess Leia), underworld elements (Han Solo and Chewbacca). This puts doubt on whether this organization is really anti-fascist. Any radical with any sense would decry monarchical rule as anti-democratic and call for something more representative, so to sympathize with the rebels is to support monarchy, glimmers of fascism in an organization basically run by young white men, and underworld elements. In episodes 4-6 there is a subplot of Han Solo and Chewbacca, who represent the lumpenproletariat, are painted as outcasts, rebels-for-hire who are on the run from the wealthy Jabba the Hut (a crime lord that is like a Mafia figure) who demands payment, works with the empire, and has hired goons (bounty hunters who track down Han Solo in episode 5). In the animated series, these horrid figures return, and also have state sponsors, this time the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) which is a bit like the early United States (1776-1787) which had a similar form of government.

One may ask about the first three movies (1, 2, and 3). In the first movie, a beleaguered galactic republic, a bit like the United States’s federal-style of government, is plagued by an invasion in a capitalist haven of Naboo by the mercantile alliance called the Trade Federation, with their own private army of robots that serve to enforce their interests. Ultimately, the Sith Lord, a person who led an order of ancient religious warriors, Palpatine/Darth Sidious takes power in the republic in order to carry out his ultimate plan to massacre the widely regarded elite religious warriors called the Jedi. In episodes 2 and 3, Palpatine engineers a brutal war between the republic and the CIS which had a legislative body, the Separatist Senate, a bit like the British House of Commons, more than the House of Lords, with both sides having profiteers gaining fat sums from the war. With the end of the war in episode 3, an empire is established in place of the galactic republic, and the Jedi are almost all killed in a pogrom (order 66), with the clones becoming the stormtroopers who enforce the dictates of the new empire. So, these movies don’t necessarily take an anti-fascist take. You could say they are critical of authoritarian government, but the forces on both sides, the Republic and the CIS are not forces to cheer for, although the audience is supposed to sympathize with the Jedi and the Republic, as was made clear in the animated series.

There’s not much left to say here. I’d say that the politics in Futurama, the Simpsons, and Star Trek, among other science fiction, are much better and leave much less to be desired than Star Wars. I haven’t decided if to watch Rogue One when it comes out later this week, but regardless of this we should stay critical of the Star Wars franchise while looking at imagined Communist life in space, existing relationships between socialism and science fiction, manifested in authors like H.G. Wells. By the same token, depending on films in the Star Wars series to be anti-fascist (if it even is), without looking to actual examples of anti-fascism such as the Soviets fighting the Nazis (mentioned earlier), the Black Panthers standing against the capitalist system with their form of black liberation, and new efforts to defend one’s self using armed self-defense against bigots and fascists from Robert F. Williams in the 1950s to the unfortunately dogmatic Red Guards in Austin, Texas and people pushing to arm themselves since the advent of Donald Trump as President. As always comments are welcome.

Notes

[1] I argued, replying to another commentary on the subject, that: (1) Jar Jar Banks is a racial stereotype, a “modern version of Stepin Fetchit; (2) greedy Neimodians of the Trade Federation who could represent an Asian stereotype; (3) the major “six Star Wars movies are white and male-dominated with female characters mostly pushed to secondary roles [for the most are]…and male characters are put in the primary role. Literally there are only two black characters I can think of”; (4) Rebels (in episodes 4-6 and in the animated series) are not leftists, only a rebellious force and arguably right-wing, with monarchist elements, and almost a guerrilla movement, but could still be considered a state to an extent; rebellion is made up of middle-class folks; (5) Leia is part of rebellion, not leading it; (6) Galactic Republic is not elitist but like the “American federal system”; (7) Galactic Empire is evil, and not democratic, authority goes to the Emperor; an authoritarian government, a worthless legislative body, the Imperial Senate, abolished in Episode 4; (8) First Order in ‘The Force Awakens’ is also not democratic, and is a fascist military junta; (9) Luke is part of the petty bourgeoisie?; (10) Rebellion includes, arguably “lumpenproletariat people like gangster Han Solo and his companion Chewbacca”; (11) Naboo had an elected monarchy and was not a democracy; (12) Jedi almost act a bit like slavemasters of the clones; they are elite warriors but also arguably religious leaders (the Force is a religion); (13) Jedi want a coup in the Galactic Republic which would have made them “theocrats and actually kinda philosopher kings too in a sense”; (14) Jedi didn’t start the war, it was started by Dark Sidious; (15) Audience is cheering for “right-wingers/rightests [sic]”; (16) Not accurate to say that the Gungans in episode 1 are “slaughtered by Aztecs as that almost implies that the movie condemns imperialism which it obviously does not”; (17) Jedi are not racial supremacists, but might believe in genetic supremacy, which is akin to the Nazis; this doesn’t arguably constitute eugenics; the Jedi could be arguably theocrats but are not fascists; (18) Jedi and Smith are conflicting religious warriors who are rogue; (19) Blowing up of the Death Star (and the space station in ‘The Force Awakens’) is not “ludicrous” because the Empire was “over-confident”; (20) Luke and Leia were never in charge of the rebellion; (21) Han later becomes “a loyal footsoldier of the Rebellion”; (22) Yoda never headed an “official state religion,” and never was more than a religious force or feeling of any government of force; (23) Luke was not a leader, only a valued footsoldier of the rebellion; (24) “Palpatine was more like a religious leader who masqueraded as a political leader than the latter. He is almost more a theocrat than the Jedi since he holds a leading position in government”; (25) Anakin is “a religious warrior who will serve an authoritarian Empire and/or the Emperor” and is not won over by democratic values; (26) “Jedi were like high-level thinkers or philosopher kings to some extent, except that they didn’t really have political power but had political prestige”; (27) “if the Empire is secular, it is a murderous secular state”; (28) Empire that blew up Alderaan, not the force; (29) Star Wars is not a “state propaganda film”; (30) There is no “Skywalker regime” but only “two rightist forces fighting each other”; (31) Lucas was “broadly a conservative and wanted to reinforce “traditional” values coming from the 1950s”; (32) “…the six major movies have a conservative element and reinforces traditionalism along with arguably patriarchalism”; (33) one historical analogy in Star Wars is Vietnam in Episode 4 with the killing of Skywalkers family (a My Lai), help from the natives and “Third World mystics” in the “anti-imperial adventure” some argue; (34) others argue that the film is not critical of the United States, saying Episode IV with the West and the Empire with the Soviet Union, painting the West in a positive light, allusions to Vietnam and the US in Episodes 4, 5, and 6, and say Luke is an “optimistic Reaganite,” (35) another author says that the episodes 4-6 constitute a “post-Vietnam critique of military superiority” with the films offering a dual reading of US military might, with the rebels and empire as one and the same side; (36) yet other writers says that episodes 4-6 portray the Vietnam War positively, and feeds into feelings of frustration in the audience while endorsing “traditional structures of racism, sexism and social hierarchy that have helped to create and maintain those frustrations”; (37) in a book about the making of Star Wars, Lucas originally said he wanted to make “Apocalypse Now…a very antiwar and anti-Vietnam War film” and Lucas, since he was apparently in debt and poor, turned to Star Wars, implying that “Star Wars was about the Vietnam War with political ideas he was going to put in that movie going into Star Wars” including the idea, as Lucas puts it of “a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters or human beings”; (38) numerous books say Star Wars is “a reflection on the Vietnam War”; (39) “argument that the Rebels and the Empire are just two sides of the same coin, representing different elements of the United States, is relatively convincing”; (40) both forces, “good” and “evil,” are arguably right-wing”; (41) “I guess I still have some hope in the Star Wars series and think that it has at least some value due to its deeply problematic aspects. But, this hope could obviously be shattered into many pieces”; (42) we need to stay critical of Star Wars.

[2] Marc Diapolo, War, Politics, and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film (London: McFarland & Company, 2011), 32, 169, 180.

[3] Peter Lev, American Films of the 70s: Conflicting Visions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 166-168, 170. Lev also says that “some phrases borrowed from the film became key ideological points during the Reagan years.”

[4] Lev, 171, 174, 175.

[5] Lev, 179; “Introduction,” Action and Adventure Cinema (ed. Yvonne Tasker, New York: Routledge, 2004), 2, 7; Martin Flangan, “‘Get Ready for Rush Hour’: The Chronotype in action,”  Action and Adventure Cinema (ed. Yyonne Tasker, New York: Routledge, 2004), 103, 108; Yvonne Tasker, “The family in action,” Action and Adventure Cinema (ed. Yyonne Tasker, New York: Routledge, 2004), 254; Peter Kramer, “‘It’s aimed at Kids–The Kid in Everybody’: George Lucas, Star Wars, and Children’s Entertainment,” Action and Adventure Cinema (ed. Yyonne Tasker, New York: Routledge, 2004), 358.

[6] Kramer, 361, 363-366; Barry Langford, Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology Since 1945 (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 128.

[7] Langford, 207, 221, 230, 250, 278.

[8] Steven A. Galipeau, The Journey of Luke Skywalker: An Analysis of Modern Myth and Symbol (Chicago: Open Court, 2001), 1-2, 4, 5, 11, 14, 16.

[9] Galipeau, 38, 60, 66, 116.

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