The ideology of Star Wars

I haven't seen Revenge of the Sith yet, but apparently the parallels between the the fall of the Galactic Republic and the contemporary world are more obvious than ever, summed up in Anakin Skywalker's phrase, "You are either with me, or you are my enemy."

I was surprised more wasn't made of this angle after the release of Attack of the Clones, which had a plot that begged for interpretation as a 9-11 allegory (Count Dooku as Osama Bin Laden, anyone?)

George Lucas has said he had Vietnam in mind when he was writing the films. has an interesting, if slightly eccentric article with more details, including this titbit:

The rise of the Evil Galactic Empire begins with a blockade by Lucas' version of the British East India Company, the Galactic Trade Federation. Acting on an official "franchise" from the central government, the viceroy of the Trade Federation is frustrated in his attempts to collect taxes from the planet of Naboo. At the instruction of a cloaked Sith lord named Darth Sidious – who turns out to be Augustus Palpatine, Naboo's representative to the Galactic Senate – the Trade Federation invades and occupies the planet.'s free market libertarian argument is developed further at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute:

The first prequel was based on British colonialism and the problem of mercantilism (the theory that nations benefits by protecting their producers from outside competition). Here the increasingly evil Republic uses its powers to tax trade routes, blockade, and invade in order to assert power and enforce mercantile economic policies on its subjects in Naboo.

The Viceroy is the old title for British colonial rulers. Queen Amidala rules over a society based on British India, and Jar Jar Binks comes from the water people on the other side of the planet, who are obviously suppose to represent the island people of British Jamaica. In the 19th century, both of these peoples were slaughtered by British Viceroys.

For an alternative take on the trilogy try the World Socialist Website's review of the Phantom Menace, which offers what is in many ways the standard critique of George Lucas.

Lucas is able to assume a prominent position in the vacuum at the center of American cultural life due both to his technical skill and to his ideological sensitivity to the desire millions feel, and that he perhaps himself feels, for some meaning or purpose in their lives. Unfortunately, he provides a shabby and false meaning.

Brian D. Johnson, in a useful article in Maclean's, the Canadian weekly newsmagazine, observes: “Amalgamating everything from Christianity to Buddhism, from The Wizard of Oz to Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, Lucas has concocted a story-cum-superstore of myths and archetypes. A major inspiration was mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), who suggested that basic narratives are hardwired into the human psyche. According to Campbell, all mythologies essentially tell the same story of an archetypal hero being transformed by a return trip to a supernatural world—and finding an identity with God.

Personally, I find Campbell's reading of mythology less reactionary than the authoritarian literalism of the major religions. It's a pity that the WSWS doesnt have a review of episodes II or III, which invite a more political interpretation.

Incidentally one of the things that Lucas took from Campbell is the observation that all major belief systems have some conception of fundamental energy – the inspiration for the Force.

This could even be applied to Marxism. After all, if I recall correctly, it was Karl Marx himself who produced the Yoda-like pronouncement, "What is real? Struggle."

For more on the Joseph Campbell influence on Star Wars check out's Phantom Heresies series from 2000. Among other things, it has an interesting theory about why the acting is so bad in the new films:

A long time ago, or so the anthropologists say, the function of drama was not to reenact the everyday world but to express the patterns lurking deep below the surface.

The earliest plays were religious rituals depicting unearthly events — the birth of the universe, the lives of the gods and heroes, the dance of fate and death. Psychological realism and the crusade to capture the inner workings of emotional life with photographic precision would come much, much later.

So there you have it, Star Wars from Libertarian, Marxian and Jungian perspectives. If you want any more overblown interpretations of Hollywood blockbusters, I suggest you check out my previous post: The Geopolitics of Indiana Jones.






6 responses to “The ideology of Star Wars”

  1. Young Irelander avatar

    I think if one wants to find a movie to draw parralels with the current US administration, they need look no further than Spaceballs.;)

  2. avatar

    I haven’t seen it yet either, apart from some snippets of an unofficial uh, preview, version. My son, Connor [12] has though, and came out of the cinema flat and rather unimpressed – and he’s a SW fan. Just felt suckered by the hype again, and that’s the REAL story.
    As for the politics of the movie: think marketing, zeitgeist, and focus groups; some slimy corporate guy in a suit, “Yes George, but is this what the kids are dreaming about these days? We need to be able to turn their aspirations into plastic figures and disposable PC games… Some small hint of rebellion? – yes I like that. Do you think we can tie this in with the upcoming staged protests at the G8 meeting? Like uh, Stop World Hunger Thru Star Wars, that type-a thing?…”
    George Lucas, nodded vaguely, glumly. He had lost it all, so long, long ago… in a galaxy far, far away…

  3. Chris Gaskin avatar

    Excellant movie, I saw it last week
    The score is particulary good.
    The parallels are plain to see but like LOTR I don’t think Star Wars is an alageory, just a timeless moral experiance that shows the dangers of power and what one will do to achieve it

  4. Tom Griffin avatar

    Looks like I will be seeing it on Saturday. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Anakin Skywalker!

  5. Tom Griffin avatar

    The Asia Times has another interesting article:
    The Force is with the Conservatives
    Incidentally, I’ve now seen the film, and I would say its probably the most effective and certainly the darkest of the new films.
    I’d say the politics is probably the most plausible thing in the film. There are plenty of historical parallels for the struggle between the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Council.

  6. Casino avatar

    Star Wars Rocks and is influenced by many genres

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *