There’s so many things to love about Star Wars. It’s a classic tale of a plucky band of rebels who take down an evil empire, and it’s got a great soundtrack too. I think everyone gets something different out of these films. Some people probably just enjoy shooting and explosions, some people enjoy the spirituality, and as for me, I enjoy the politics. At its core, Star Wars is the tale of a small group of passionate activists who beat all odds to take down a huge empire that is way more powerful than they are. They put their lives in danger knowing it’s the right thing to do, and they win. According to Wikipedia, the politics in Star Wars makes a reference to World War II, where the rise of the Empire symbolizes the rise of the Nazis. I don’t think about Nazis while watching it though. Although that’s a relevant comparison, and there are details in the original film that allude to it, when I watch Star Wars I imagine that it symbolizes the fight against capitalism. Capitalism, after all, is planet Earth’s evil empire.
I found the prequels from 1999 to 2005 downright stupid, but the sequels that have come out in the last two years have been awesome. There are more roles for women and people of colour which has been really great to see. Both sequels have been very similar to the original film—once again the group of rebels has to destroy the empire, with many of the steps along the way occurring in the same way—but this hasn’t stopped me from adoring them. I could watch this story over and over forever.
I’m going to talk a little bit about this year’s film, The Last Jedi, and I’m warning you now that spoilers will follow!
It was amazing to watch a film with Carrie Fisher in it a whole year after she died. I was so touched to see her on the screen again.
There were a few new roles for women in this film. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes over for Leia Organa when Leia is injured. At first I was glad to see female leadership replaced by female leadership, but it turns out this character was portrayed as incompetent, which was really disappointing. I would have been disappointed by any member of the resistance being incompetent, and I would be disappointed that anyone Leia chose to replace her would be incompetent, but it’s even worse that one of these new parts for women in Star Wars turns out to be an incompetent woman trope. Men like to believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to do important jobs because we’re incompetent, and Vice Admiral Holdo appeared to have no plan in mind for a large portion of the film. The male hero disobeys her to save them all, only his plan backfires when she turns out to have somewhat of a plan in mind and he ruins it by running off and being impulsive. This was the only thing that disappointed me about the film. I wish they would have made this character a more satisfying one.
One of the other new roles for female characters was totally awesome. The character Rose Tico had a large role as a maintenance worker/hero for the resistance and she was played by an Asian actress. During scenes where she was talking to Finn, there were no white characters on screen. This is a vast improvement from the original trilogy, where there was only one non-white person in the whole galaxy. I love that Tico was a smart, geeky hero who had an excellent technical knowledge and lots of courage to go with it.
Although there are clues that the Empire in Star Wars is a symbol of the Nazis, to me they’ve often represented capitalists. They are an empire that rules on power and control, on belief that they have the right to rule over others, and who basically want to be in control over everything. It’s very hard to oppose them and if you oppose them you’ll basically die. There is a comment in The Last Jedi about how the galactic economy is based on serving the Empire and the only way to get rich is to mine your planet and sell weapons to the Empire. Isn’t that exactly what’s happening on planet Earth? We are literally taking everything we can from our planet to sell to the Empire, to get our little bit of riches while they control everything. There is no opting out.
It’s Rose Tico who points out how evil it is to profit off of war. We keep learning more about how evil people become when they sell weapons to an evil empire—there is animal captivity and child labor going on in the city full of riches. The little boys who labor there are very much the proletariat of a morally corrupt society. They are shown locked inside of animal cubicles and sweeping straw from the floor, but when they get a chance, they tell stories of the Rebels who are working to stop the Empire. They are little politically-aware laborers who support the Rebellion and dream of joining it one day. To me, that was one of the most precious things about the film. The little boy who stops sweeping for a moment to look at his secret Rebel symbol resembled a communist to me. He knows the empire he labors for is evil and he wants to grow up to resist it.
Star Wars provides an interesting portrait of a resistance movement. In any resistance movement, you need a group of people with varied skills and lots of determination and teamwork. You need leaders, you need people with technical knowledge, you need fearless heroes to carry out difficult and dangerous tasks, you need people to do research behind the scenes and report to the group, etc. Of course, the resistance movement against capitalism isn’t exactly like the one in Star Wars, but the parallels were delightful. I love how the Star Wars resistance contains a contingent of fearless pilots, a contingent of war strategists, a contingent of people with technical skills, and the Jedi contingent, who provide the spirituality. I think the spirituality contingent is necessary too—they provide reminders of what exactly people are fighting and sacrificing their lives for.
It was delightful what Luke did at the end, when he sent a spiritual representation of himself to fight Kylo Ren. Through meditation he was able to summon the light side of the Force in order to counteract the Dark. I don’t believe that the two sides exist in the physical world, in the sense that they’d be capable of having a sword fight, but it’s a gorgeous metaphor about summoning love to fight evil. Yeah, I guess I like the spirituality of Star Wars as much as the politics.
It’s so satisfying to see the good guys win. They so rarely do, in real life.
I’ve always loved the original Star Wars film, and I just keep loving these new sequels even more.