My father never got my love of science fiction and frequently dismissed it as a bunch of silliness. Perhaps that is true of campy books and programming, which can be charming in their own way. The genre offers a way of safely addressing provocative topics in the popular culture.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas admitted that the villainous Empire of his epic films was inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire, but the subtext is relevant to today’s governing.
The galactic Empire arises out of populist anger at a Republic Senate no longer in touch with the concerns of the governed, bogged down by bureaucracy with elected officials on the payroll of corrupt industrialists. Sound like any senators you know in Washington, D.C.?
A charismatic leader manipulates the passions and prejudices of both sides to provoke conflict. Confronted with a crisis of his own creation, he is entrusted with temporary authority. His public face is a gentle old man who speaks fondly of democracy as he promises to protect it.
“Revenge of the Sith” reveals the supreme chancellor, self-elevated to emperor, falsely scapegoating the Jedi religious order as attempting to assassinate him in order to take over the Republic. Conditions that, sorry, he’ll need to hang on to that extra power and reorganize things to make sure others don’t do the same. His actions ensure he cannot be removed from office by a popular vote.
A weary populace is simply glad to have what his new government claims to represent: stability and peace. Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
In a democracy, people lose rights because they aren’t politically engaged and a vocal minority fills that vacuum to seize control before permanently dismantling representative government. As Sen. Padme Amidala puts it, “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”
This reminds me of the mindset we see from many in today’s political climate in which winning the next election seems to concern members of the earthly Senate far more than finding actual solutions for problems. Actually, it feels like they root for greater misery so they can criticize. Rather than talking about improving lives, we’re encouraged to look outward and feel outrage over the culture instead of their lack of action.
Propaganda lets men justify atrocities by portraying those taking up arms to resist them as anarchists seeking disorder. Resistance during a time of high alert makes the case for using extreme measures to crush rebellions.
A super-weapon like the Death Star becomes justifiable if you lead others to believe that extremists seek to unleash their own terror.
The United States learned from refugee scientists that Nazi Germany wanted to develop nuclear weaponry during WWII. President Harry Truman justified ordering the dropping of the “Little Boy” on Hiroshima because the city served as an industrial hub for a Japanese military that vowed to continue the bloodshed. The nukes presented a devastating counter to the kamikaze tactics meant to create unacceptably high casualties for the Allies, but it also incited a terrifying arms race. Mutually-assured destruction is the only thing that has made them too horrifying to unleash on the world again.
If “Star Wars” was real, the propagandists would likely portray Darth Vader, a fascist’s brutal enforcer, as a former Jedi serving the Empire as penance for what followers of his former religion did years before. They would paint the anti-fascist Rebel Alliance as a network of scum with ties to organized crime like Han Solo. “Rogue One” showed us rebel fighters and spies willing to cross terrible moral lines to defeat tyranny.
Devotees of the First Order of the later films might view the fallen Emperor as a heroic, benevolent ruler who provided order until his trusted lieutenant betrayed and murdered him, enabling power-hungry anarchists to force the government to collapse in chaos.
In a scene from 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker,” captured resistance heroes Finn and Poe Dameron are rescued by a First Order general who reveals himself to be a spy.
Finn: “Why are you helping us?”
Gen. Hux: “I don’t care if you win. I need Kylo Ren to lose.”
Rather than the redemption of a soul tortured by guilt, it’s a case of “the enemy-of-my-enemy is my friend”. Hux loses authority as the story progresses. He fears and hates his professional rival, who was once his equal but now, after murdering the boss in 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” stands to inherit the full sinister might of a hidden armada that no one dare to defy.
Traitorous treachery in the service of ruthless personal ambition. How many in D.C. want to sabotage investigations to delay/deny accountability?
Some don’t measure the success of a politician by what he does for them as much as what he does against people they don’t like. Despite his flaws and vindictiveness, supporters won’t abandon him because they are sustained by how much he scares and angers the annoying “others” and dismisses their needs as little more than noise.
“Star Wars” teaches us to beware those who manufacture conflict and manipulate the system to gain/sustain power.
— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.