Brush off your storm trooper helmet and practice your wookie sounds, there’s a new star wars movie coming out! Hype is reaching galactic proportions and projected box office numbers are off the charts as moviegoers await the next generation-defining Star Wars epic. So naturally, to prepare myself I found myself rewatching my favorite Star Wars movies… the prequel trilogy.
I’ll give you a minute to recover from the no doubt gasps of shock. Yes, I’m aware of the criticisms of episodes 1-3; the dialogue is cringeworthy, the character development non-existent, and the plot broken. Yet, to 10-15 yr old me, Star Wars blew my socks off (I even went as Darth Maul for halloween.) But more importantly, the prequel trilogy introduced and defined politics for me, I may even go as far to say that it was the reason I became interested in geopolitics.
For the first time it introduced me to the, albeit fantastical, universe of exciting politics. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about economic trade policy, the seemingly innocuous foundation for Episode 1, I was much more interested in “aggressive negotiations.” In the Star Wars universe, power was literally wielded, politics took on grand proportions and conflict was layered. Star Wars opened up a world, not entirely unlike our own, where actors with bounded rationalities faced irreconcilable issues. Where worldviews clashed, you got a plot device, exemplified by Anakin’s final turn to the darkside.
While I’m sure everyone’s interested in my whimsical childhood fantasies of podracing and wielding lightsabers against mindless droids, the more important point I realized while rewatching the prequels was that Star Wars didn’t just introduce me to politics. It introduced me to a value-laden way of thinking about political discourse, a mode of politicking that was as fraught with inconsistency as it was problematic future political rhetoric.
While baby-boomers are constantly stressing that millennial-types have never known a world without 9/11, their concern is with a dichotomized way of thinking about political issues–a demonstrated tendency that is unusually conspicuous in the the Star Wars prequels.
Ultimately, I want to point to the unquestioning moral absolutism in the politics of the prequel trilogy. Over and over again, audiences are hit over the head with how righteous the ‘good guys’ are supposed to be. I could talk about Anakin’s obviously echoic words of George Bush’s “you’re either with me, or you’re my enemy,” the similarities between the Patriot Act and the end of the galactic republic, or the comparative justifications for extra-judicial… judgements for enemies of the United States/Galactic Republic, but these movies are ten years old and that analysis has been exhausted. I will declare that horse beaten. What I want to highlight is that the Star Wars prequels propagated the validity of universalist liberalism. Just as opponents of the United States “hate our freedoms,” the dark side is downright evil.
For myself, and I think many other enthusiastic students of policy, this presents an interesting epistemological phenomenon for those that were politically inspired by Star Wars. ‘Good vs. Evil’ was the starting point for understanding political discussion and where you sat was usually the ‘Good.’ In fact, all throughout the Star Wars series, there are few places where moral relativism is even explored. Only Anakin, driven by heretical motives such as emotions’ (#feministtheory), really tries to understand the opposing side’s point of view – and as we know he gets some heat for it…
I understand that Star Wars was catering to a culturally primed audience, ready for good-versus-evil story lines, but there is also a generational effect in play. Consider that, for an entire generation of policy-makers that grew up with Star Wars, the agenda for understanding political discourse was structured/reinforced as such:
- You’re the good guys,
- Others are the bad guys,
- Don’t bother with relativist thought.
Sure, this is Cultural Studies 101, but the blatant method in which the prequels deliver the practice of politics demonstrates, more so than most films, how it’s possible to not only sculpted the political minds of younger generations, but also configure political knowledge for the future.
And so, ready with my midnight ticket to the next generation defining Star Wars epic, I am extremely interested in how politics will be portrayed to the ‘post-millenial’ generation.
- Will it espouse the relativism of Obama’s multilaterally-oriented foreign policy?
- Will it make room for non-traditional sources of power?
- Or will it return to the tried and true Star Wars formula of polarizing good vs evil?
I guess it could also dissolve into rebooted Trekkian nihilist adventurism. Please don’t 🙁
Lance Hadley is a first year PhD student at NPSIA and Managing Director at iAffairs.
Featured Photo From Wikimedia.