Riffing on Star Wars: #28 – Why Star Wars Matters Now

For a majority of Americans, the morning after Election Day was not a good one.  A candidate who ran on a platform that degenerated people based on their religion, ethnicity, and disability won the office of the President of the United States.  It was a campaign which unleashed brutal misogyny, sometimes from the winning candidate’s own mouth or technologically shouted from his twitter account.  For those who voted against him, it was all abhorrent.  It was even abhorrent for some of those who voted for him, but for at least a few of his supporters, it was anything but.  The days, weeks, and years to follow, however, are not ones to spend angrily denouncing those who supported him, except when they espouse the very ugly elements that historically Americans have progressively rejected.  Instead, between now and the next election, the time should be spent exemplifying those characteristics that the majority of Americans believe in, and the values that are woven deeply into the fabric of the Star Wars universe.

Since 1977, Star Wars has settled comfortably into the consciousness of the mainstream, even those who have never seen a Star Wars films know its heroes, its villains, and the dramatic and exciting moments that inspire children everywhere to gaze at obstacles in their lives with bold inclinations fermenting in their hearts.  Star Wars is successful because it embraces the storytelling format of good versus evil, something simple to understand and convey.  In doing so, it purposefully constructs a message that remains clear over the three decades of its existence, empowerment of women, the success of diversity, and a rejection of demagoguery.  As a result, not to delve into hyperbole, but by extension, Lucasfilm through its continual crafting and creation of Star Wars is a machine for democracy and equality.

In equality, both gender and race have become important parts of the Star Wars formula, more so now than ever before.  A New Hope featured Princess Leia, a female character who played against type, a damsel who co-opts her own rescue from distress.  Almost two decades later, Leia’s mother, Padmé Amidala, not only pursued the rescue of her people from the front as Queen of Naboo, but fiercely championed liberty in a senate eroding away under the influence of a quietly growing dictator named Palpatine.  In the third decade and in the third trilogy, a young woman named Rey repeatedly rescues herself, is a technology whiz, an ace pilot, and a powerful Force user.  The last character gifted with such abilities was a hero named Luke Skywalker.  All these women, and many more in the blossoming Star Wars universe, exist as promises to every young girl that for as much as the world might be hostile to their dreams, they can find the strength within to overcome those barriers.  They can be the hero who wields the blaster with pinpoint accuracy or elegantly save the galaxy with a glowing lightsaber in hand.  They can enter into STEM fields and be loud when it comes to politics and opinions.

The strength encouraged in values and beliefs in Star Wars for women, also extends to diversity in general.  It’s not for happenstance that the principal villain of every Star Wars film is an old white man or that the cinematic Galactic Empire is generally filled and staffed by white men.  Star Wars is against a society ruled over solely by one gender and one race.  Instead, it has pushed for increasing diversity, more so with every passing entry into the film franchise, as well its other outlets for adventure.  The Force Awakens featured a woman and two people of color as the heroic trilogy of the film, around whom the future of the current trilogy’s story will be told.  And while Rogue One hurts for the absence of a more equal division of the gender, the rebels who are seen to band together for a do or die mission more fairly represent the America that is and will be, than that which supported the winning candidate in the election.  Most beautifully, this is entirely by intention.

At its heart, Star Wars has supported women and diversity, and did so using a storytelling framework that relied upon a principal belief that democracy matters.  A New Hope introduces the villain, Grand Moff Tarkin, by opening a meeting announcing the dissolution of the Galactic Senate.  In the same meeting, when the question arises how the Empire will rule the galaxy and keep systems in line, the answer is fear.  Fear of the Death Star, rule by oppression.  Our heroes are anointed as such entirely for their role in destroying the main tool of that oppression.  Ever since A New Hope, that fight and struggle against oppression and dictatorship has been echoed repeatedly in the adventures that fall under the title of Star Wars.  In every battle, militarily and politically, the weapon of the just has been democracy.  Moff Tarkin’s own beliefs, later expanded, rested on imposing fear on those who would resist the Empire by threatening harm.  In turn, the Rebel Alliance’s secret weapon, best displayed in Return of the Jedi, is the coalition of different races to fight the Imperial regime.  From Admiral Ackbar to Nien Nunb, the message is strength together, and in the post-Jedi story detailed in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, the New Republic dispenses with the weapons of war in favor of a peaceful diplomatic environment.

Regardless of how one views the coming four years in the United States, be it the start of something wonderful or the beginning of something dour, in Star Wars are the themes and messages which reject the path which lead the most recent candidate to the White House.  As the franchise endures, reaching out to the newest generation and those before them, it will continue to shape the way everyone views the world around them.  For those who play an active role in the development and creation of every new Star Wars product, remain strong and committed to the foundational beliefs of the galaxy far, far away.  You are doing good and bettering the world with every young child who is enabled to see the strength within them, regardless of gender, to strive for their dreams; and every child who sees heroes of every race, color, and gender, working together for a common good.  Look upon your work, from minor to significant, and know it means something.

For those who do not create, but examine and discuss the franchise, keep at it.  Your discourse embellishes and enriches everyone’s understanding of what is wonderful about Star Wars.  So podcast, blog, tweet, or draw, spend time crafting that perfect costume replica or cut eyeholes in a five gallon bucket and drop it on your head and play away with your kids.  Promotion leads to awareness, and awareness leads to discussion and understanding, and a brighter light at the end of even the most seemingly dark tunnel.  The election may not have gone the way the majority desired, but consider it the opportunity to look upon a fertile field, where the lessons of Star Wars can take root, and a new hope can grow.


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