On the politics of 'Star Wars': Sometimes force is the answer to fascism

In response to threats from the Alt-Right, Disney CEO Bob Iger claims 'Rogue One' has "no political statements," which sounds like a politician's answer

On the politics of 'Star Wars': Sometimes force is the answer to fascism

[Disney]

“It is not a film that is, in any way, a political film,” is what Disney CEO Bob Iger told the gathered press at the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story recently, adding: “There are no political statements in it, at all.” His comments came after a fake news story – claiming the film’s widely reported reshoots were down to demands the film be changed to take a more critical point on its villain, seemingly a cipher for the new President-elect of the United States – led to calls for a boycott of a film that even the most conservative estimates assume will be taking home a billion dollars at the global box office.

Iger’s attempts to cool the tension of the hard-line Alt-Right movement distaste for a movie about attempts to subvert a fascistic regime ignore one thing that everyone knows about all of the films in the Star Wars canon,the much-maligned ‘Holiday Special’ included; It’s nigh-on impossible to look at any Star Wars movie and not notice the subtle and overt allegories to the goodness and evils inherent to political and faith-based ideologies. Ask any child who’s sat rapt to the frettings of C-3PO and bloopings of R2-D2 who the baddies are and they’ll point squarely towards Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers, soldiers of the Empire ruled with an iron and lightning-firing fist by a dictator who has no problem manipulating the truth to get his acolytes on side.

The idea of scrappy rebels banding together to restore democracy to the galaxy is a political statement, a palatable introduction to guerrilla warfare and the grey area terrorist groups can operate inside. And having seen Rogue One, which even the most casual fan can tell you is about a group of devil-may-care revolutionaries attempting to find the plans of the Death Star, the planet-destroying super weapon wielded by the despotic Empire, in an effort to turn the tide on the decades of authoritarian regime that has knocked everything, from the force to galactic commerce, out of balance, this is a movie about politics.

The Empire has always been an allegory for fascism, even going so far as to name check Nazi Germany with its in-universe nomenclature; Stormtrooper is derived from the German rank of Sturmtruppen during WWI, as well as a reference to the Sturmabteilung, or ‘Storm Detachment’, the paramilitary wing of the Nazis that played a significant role in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s. Even the tailoring of the costumes in George Lucas’s original trilogy was about depictions of authoritarianism, with original costume designer John Mollo saying Lucas instructed him to dress the Imperial cast members “to look efficient, totalitarian, fascist; and the Rebels, the goodies, to look something out of a Western or the US Marines.”

The franchise’s ultimate big bad, the villainous Emperor Palpatine, has even been, repeatedly, compared by his creator to “a politician. Richard M Nixon was his name. He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a really nice guy.” That was in 1981. A quarter of a century later and Lucas repeated the allusion, throwing in a reference to the Vietnam War, which he claimed “got me thinking historically about how to democracies get turned into dictatorships? Because the democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away.”

Of course, Iger wasn’t talking about the movies that have come and gone, so the above collection of canonical facts doesn’t mean that at some point in the future we won’t end up with a Star Wars movie that isn’t politically charged. But Rogue One is most assuredly not that movie, wearing its politics so clearly on its sleeve that its arm is just waiting for Darth Vader to slice it off in Cloud City. But Rogue One is about an ethnically diverse group of radicals hatching a plot to steal the schematics to a satellite specifically designed to keep people in line with the threat of planetary eradication. While the film might eschew the traditional opening crawl of bright yellow letters, it is set in the lead-up to Episode IV’s iconic declaration that the franchise kicks off during “a period of civil war” that can only be resolved by “stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.”

Rogue One, albeit short on speaking roles for women, does boast the franchise’s most racially diverse cast ever, a fact copper fastened by two now-deleted tweets from the film’s scriptwriter Chris Weitz and former writer Gary Whitta. On the Friday following the historic election of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States, Weitz tweeted “Please not that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organisation,” with Whitta adding, “Opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.” It was comments like these that led to last week’s Alt-Right clarion call to boycott the film altogether, with the hashtag #DumpStarWars unlikely to affect the film’s reach at the global box office.

When the film opens at midnight screenings across the world, audiences will be treated to a solidly entertaining feature, if a little light on the character development as per the Newstalk review, but a stirring story of the power of well-timed protest and necessary paramilitary disobedience. In a world without Jedi, sometimes you have no choice but to force it yourself when standing up to fascism.

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