Thursday, March 17, 2016

Star Wars told the story of a scrappy underdog, patterned after North Vietnam, doing battle with a corrupt American empire

In a post on The Force Awakens deploring the fact that "Star Wars has replaced the Bible as Western civilization’s primary cultural commonality" (both relevant and accessible to people across the societal spectrum), Benny Huang writes that
Star Wars has never been what it appears to be—good clean fun with spaceships and laser beams. Don’t feel bad; that’s what I thought it was too when I was a little kid playing with action figures.

Space ships and laser beams are the packaging not the story. To get to the real story it’s necessary to turn the clock back to April 1973, a time of great disillusionment, when the last American combat troops were withdrawing from Vietnam and the Watergate hearings were only a month away. With these generation-shaping events as a backdrop, twenty-eight year old George Lucas began typing the story of a courageous farm boy from the galaxy’s rural backwaters who took on a rotting empire replete with militarism and darkness—and won.
He told his audience that it all took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” but its actual setting was both contemporary and terrestrial. Star Wars was an allegory for the world as seen through the eyes of a baby boomer who had come of age on a college campus in the 1960s, who had felt the draft board breathing down his neck, and who had imbibed the spirit of San Francisco, where he was living at the time. The militaristic empire he imagined was his own country and the rebels were communist Vietnamese, though they could have been any number of “anti-imperialist” forces around the globe—the ANC in South Africa, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, etc. The Death Star was a warning against the destructive power of nuclear weapons, though it could be seen as analogous to the Pentagon. Darth Vader? Probably Dick Nixon or just a stand-in for the soulless admirals and generals in command of the war machine.

Lucas had other influences, of course, because inspiration is never that simple. Star Wars was also one part Flash Gordon serial and one part gun-slinging western with a whole heap of Kurosawa’s samurai cinema thrown in. The story also paralleled the Third Reich, starring Darth Vader as Hitler and stormtroopers as, well…stormtroopers.

But it was always about America, the only country George Lucas had ever known. If the film evoked images of Nazi Germany, the logical conclusion was that that’s what America had become or was on the verge of becoming. Star Wars could be read as a cautionary tale of what might happen if we didn’t change course.

 … From its earliest drafts, the script told the story of a scrappy underdog, patterned after North Vietnam, doing battle with a corrupt American empire. The underdog had only his convictions to give him heart, while the empire, which seemed invincible, was actually rotten to the core.
Read Benny Huang's account of what a Star Wars movie would look like if, instead of the Richard Nixon and the George W. Bush administrations, it were telling the story of Barack Obama's record and policies…
The Obama Administration has given us so much material to work with, the script would practically write itself.
 … Here’s a good one—the Jedi are prohibited from practicing their ancient religion for fear that some people might get their feelings hurt.
Read the whole thing