Star Wars Belongs to the Rebels

Published in Solidarity 389, 13 January 2016

Eric Lee’s critique of Star Wars is right about some things. But it is, as the Emperor would say, “mistaken, about a great many things”.

Yes, it is okay to be critical of films and other cultural output. Yes, ‘The Force Awakens’ is a massive improvement on the awful prequel trilogy. Yes, it is rather casual about violence and war (as most films with “war” in their title are).

However, Eric’s central point — that there is nothing to morally distinguish the two sides — is so wide of the mark that I wonder if Eric has been paying attention to the plot.

On some things, Eric is simply factually wrong. He claims that there is no reference to the Republic in the new film. But there is, both in the opening scrolling text and during the film. It does not show the bureaucratised democracy of the prequel Republic, and I hope that the next two films show more of how the political system works, but it is there.

Moreover, the Republic side is certainly not “ruled” by General Leia Organa as Eric claims. She is a leader of the Resistance [to the First Order] not of the Republic.

There is no evidence that the Republic is a “despotism”, as Eric states. Indeed, when the First Order denounces it for “acquiescing to disorder”, we can assume that means that it allows freedom.

The First Order is from the same place (the Dark Side) as the Sith and the Empire. It is only that side which destroys whole planets, unless Eric is seriously arguing that destroying a planet-obliterating Star Killer in self-defence is the moral equivalent of blowing up a planet of peaceful civilians for no purpose other than testing such a weapon. Eric is simply wrong to assert that “neither side seems to care in the slightest about taking the lives of millions on the other side.”

Moreover, it is only the Dark Side which orders the sadistic murder of populations of innocent civilians, only that side which steals babies from their families to program them as nameless killing machines. It is from this that one of the central characters, Finn, flees at the outset of the film. Although initially this is to run away from the First Order, and only later to join the Resistance, he is clearly rejecting his role as a killer for the First Order, at great risk to himself. So much for Eric’s claim that in this film, “no one does anything because it is the right thing to do”.

Even Eric’s assertion of similarly militaristic uniforms on both sides is mistaken — while Stormtroopers wear identical uniforms including face-covering helmets, Resistance fighters are dressed in a less uniform, more casual, more human way. The lead characters Finn, Rey, Han and Chewie do not wear uniforms at all.

In the years since the defeat of the Empire, the Republic has obviously experienced a loss of direction and clarity, and seemingly failed to build a new democratic order that would prevent the return of the Dark Side. With two more films to come, and the imminent return of Luke Skywalker, there is an opportunity for the films to consider these issues more deeply.

‘The Force Awakens’ has set the scene for this, introduced some excellent new characters (I would like to see a developing role for Maz Kanata as well as the two new leads). To the great reassurance of Star Wars fans, it has shown itself to be a continuation of the original trilogy rather than the prequels – I can accept the plot similarities because of the importance of doing this.

Star Wars is not beyond criticism, but it remains an epic story of popular resistance to sadistic totalitarian power. Star Wars belongs to the rebels.


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