Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Oppression of the Sith

When Bill Kristal explained on Special Report last year, “So Thursday we will have Obama versus Cheney, which is going to be fun, don't you think? Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, you know. And I want to say that I was always on Darth Vader's side, even when I saw the movie. And I'm sticking with him.” I think he intuitively got his and the other NeoCon’s place within the Star Wars Universe almost exactly right.

They are Sith all right; but they are not Sith Masters, just latter-day lackeys and leeches. The NeoCon response to the September 11th attacks has been a consistent campaign of fear mongering. They have made every effort to prolong the corrosive paranoia of Containment, Americas's post war response to the Soviet Union. And their policy responses have had no relationship to the reality of the threat (My father says the halmark of a bully is poor threat assessment). In his book The First Total War David A Bell writes that:
"Since September 2001, the United States has been involved in a War on Terror that has, to date, cost the same number of American civilian lives that are lost every two and a half weeks in road accidents on American highways. It is the same number of lives that the soviet Union lost every six hours, for four agonizing years, during World War II. Our opponents in this new conflict, for all their stated desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, have so far demonstrated no ability to wield anything more powerful than knives, guns, and conventional explosives. A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat. Yet the languages in which we speak are used to discussing war and peace make it difficult for this point to emerge."

A lot has been made of the fascist imagery in Star Wars, from the uniforms of the Imperial forces to the unfortunate resemblance between the Award Ceremony at the end and Leny Riefenstahl's nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. But the 1930s imagery in Star Wars was not limited to Fascist allusion.
In The Disappointment Artist Jonathan Lethem, admitted to seeing Star Wars twenty one times the summer of 1977 and to having found C-3PO sexy: "Its as if a strand of DNA from Fritz Lang’s fetishized girl robot in Metropolis has carried forward to the bland world of Star Wars.” And he is exactly right. C-3PO's appearance was based on Maria's. Additionally Luke's Land Speeder was a fragment of the very same deco future past that produced his golden robotic companion. It looks like it was produced by the same assembly lines that produced the massive airships in the 1933 film Things to Come. Those ships were as crisp and new as ebonite of course, and the Land speeder was love worn, but both were unmistakably stamped with the look of 1930s design.

Toward the end of Gates of Eden, Morris Dickstein’s account of the 1960s, he wrote “It didn't take long for us to become nostalgic for the thirties, when we hadn't even been born.” Gates of Eden was published in 1977, in the immediate wake of the period he was celebrating, and the same year Star Wars premiered. He and his friends, he tells us, “looked back wistfully at the excited ideological climate of the thirties, about which we knew next to nothing.” I think Lucas and his young crew were very similar to Dickstein and his young friends.
But waking up today and hearing on the radio that it is the 160 anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, made me want to unpack the “War,” in Star Wars. To those of you who think Star Wars is about the Allies struggle against capital “F” Fascism in WWII, or "an allegory for the Cold War and America's struggle against another Evil Empire" - please reconsider. The struggle the film re-imagines, is the Cold War, but it was the struggle against the lowercase “f” fascist pigs in the US government. The Rebellion was a resistance modeled on the North Vietnamese communists.

Here is what Lucas said at the time:

"I started to work on Star Wars rather than continue on Apocalypse Now. I had worked on Apocalypse Now for about four years and I had very strong feelings about it. I wanted to do it, but could not get it off the ground... 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" The Making of Star Wars: 7-8,17.

According to the French philosopher Michel Foucault, fascism is an all-but meaningless term, or what he called “a floating signifier whose function, is essentially that of denunciation.” I believe the real ghost that haunts Star Wars is not the WWII struggle against fascism or even the Cold War Struggle against the Soviet Union. The destruction of the Deathstar was a denunciation of the American Cold War tactics used in the struggle against domestic dissent.
To be clear: this conclusion is my own. I’ve have never heard Lucas or anyone else say this in anything I have read about Star Wars, but Lucas does say the Imperials are Nixonian gangsters. And more recently explained on his audio commentary for the Revenge of the Sith DVD that:
“When I first started making the film [the first Star Wars], it was during the Vietnam War, and it was during a period when Nixon was going for a third term - or trying to get the Constitution changed to could go for a third term - and it got me to thinking about how democracies turn into dictatorships. Not how they’re taken over where there’s a coup or anything like that, but how the democracy turns itself over to a tyrant."

Nixon was a cold Warrior. He was an active and aggressive anti-communist crusader. If the battle fought in Star Wars was Vietnam – a war that did not mark America’s defeat, but did mark the collapse of the by then septic policies (both domestic and abroad) of the Cold Warriors. When Obi Wan mentions the Clone War to young Luke Skywalker in Star Wars the struggle it evokes is the Black Lists of the 1940s and 50s and the rolling terror of the House Committee On Un-American Activities.

In no way do the Storm Troopers uniforms evoke Nazis, but they do seem like a natural progression from the robots in Lucas’ first film THX 1138. The robots in that film wore white riot helmets exactly like the ones worn by the American police who stood against and often beat protesters around the country as the Vietnam War withered and Cold Warriors became frantic to control the American public’s morale. It is as if in Star Wars the helmet grew to completely encapsulate the Clones.

Additionally those chrome faced robots repeatedly asked “Are you now or have you ever?” The robotic cops were a conflation of two of the ugliest chapters of American Cold War politics: the Post-War anti-communist witch-hunt of the 40s and 50s (a time when careers were destroyed by the question: “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the communist party?”) with the police riots of the 60s and 70s.

In Star Wars Lucas served us “a floating signifier” of such fantastic scale it is difficult to recognize the thing it is. The Deathstar can be imagined as many things, but at its core is an angry young fist raised up and flipping the bird back at the Cold Warriors. This one is for you Dick Chenney.

Happy Anniversery all you pinko Jedi.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Star Wars as anti-fascist, anti unelected / corruptly elected elite rulers... Fascism being Big Government and Big Business working together to put down competition, wages, free speech and dissidents using violence - whilst using nationalism to further its elite, globalista ambitions for global domination.....

    I've always wanted to ask Lucas if 'May The Force' and 'May The Fourth' were already linked in his mind as a reference to The May The Fourth Massacre (Kent State University massacre by the US military on its own student anti-(Vietenam)-war protesters - the US Tienanmen Square ) - and my birthday...

    Also, was the massacre of the 'jedi youths' in the later films a reference to the same real massacre - a life-changing, awakening, turning point for many US citizens... and the world.?