Saturday, May 21, 2005

Revenge of the Democrats

Saw Revenge of the Sith last night. It was great. My buddy, Crusader Dave, said it was no “Kingdom of Heaven,” but I liked it a lot. It was big and epic and romantic in all the right places. The dialogue was hokey and terrible, and I still wonder why Obi Wan doesn’t remember R2D2 in Episode 4, but that’s quibbling. I really did feel a chill (and a thrill) when they put the mask onto Darth Vader at the end (no spoiler there—we all knew that was happening).

This was a tough sell: after all, everybody knows what happens. In that way it was like a Greek Tragedy, which people come to see even though they already know the story because they want to see how the playwright will handle it. We know that Annican becomes Darth Vader, we know that the Jedi will all die, we know that Luke and Leia will be born and we know who will raise them. It’s how those dots are all connected that we wonder about and, for the most part, they are connected well.

Vader has always been the most interesting character in the movie. Luke, Leia and Han are the characters people were originally supposed to identify with, and for some odd reason Chewbaca has become the most popular character from the series (nterviews, cell phone commercials, he even won the MTV Movie Awards Lifetime Achievement award a few years back--my girlfriend says it’s because he’s the most noble character in all the films). But Vader is the character everybody talks about. Villains do get all the juicy lines. This movie definitely turns the story arc of the whole series into Darth Vader’s tale. He is, after all, the only character besides R2D2 and C3PO that’s in all six films. We were told once upon a time that in the planned nine film series, which won’t get made at this point, the droids are the only constant characters. But “Star Wars” is about Darth Vader, plain and simple, about his tragic fall and about his eventual redemption. Very Greek.

Revenge of the Sith was also great as a creation myth. A lot has been written about how Star Wars provided a kind of spiritual experience for a my generation, and it did. These are our myths. We know them by heart. They inspire us. They encapsulate our cultural attitudes towards life and the world. They are our religion, in a postmodern way. The box office receipts for this weekend prove our devotion to the faith. This is no accident. It has been well documented how Star Wars is based on the work of Joseph Campbell, the religious scholar who documented common threads in world religions in such works as The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and, like Campbell, the people in Star Wars end up, essentially, Buddhist. A lot has also been made of Star Wars' relationship to Japanese samurai films, especially The Hidden Fortress, from which much of the first three movies (including the speeder chase through the redwoods) is taken. But it is just as interesting to see the elements of Greek and Hindu mythology (much like you could see threads of Viking mythology and Catholicism in Lord of the Rings): the great warrior whose tragic flaw, in this case fear of loss, destroys him; he hero who grows up on a farm unaware of his parentage until he has to fulfill his destiny; the Freudian battle with the father figure; it’s all there.

Recently, the most ink has been devoted to how this movie is an allegory for the current political situation in the United States. After seeing the movie, I absolutely agree. George Lucas has filled this film with transparent anti-Bush imagery. He has draws several parallels between the emperor and the president, implying a sinister evil lurking in the halls of the Whitehouse. It’s always been part of the plot line that the emperor would use the war as an excuse to seize more executive power and undermine the senate (it happened in Rome after all), and the lines that have been pointed out as relating to Bush (Anican says in the final battle “If you’re not with me then you’re my enemy,” to which Obi Wan replies “Only the Sith think in absolutes.” Padme says as the emperor seizes control “So this is how liberty dies: to thunderous applause”). But to me the real keys were the use of that (Liberty) and two other words that did not appear in the first five films Lucas made: Democracy, and Congress. Before, Leia would say she was fighting to restore the Republic, and that phrase appears here too, but time and again characters in this movie say they are defending democracy, a political concept, slightly different from a republic, which really didn’t come up in the series before. And when the Emperor called “a special session of Congress” at which he suspended liberties, seized executive powers, and created his empire that sealed the deal, it was clear which congress Lucas was referring to. Never before had they referred to the Imperial Senate as “Congress.” Lucas was using this last film as a warning to America. It’s an allegory for the Bush Administrations’ attempts to concentrate more power in the executive branch, their use of a phony “war on terrorism” (as if there could be such a thing) to frighten the public into giving up their liberty, and the emasculation of the legislature. With power concentrated in the emperor and no checks and ballances they can, as Anican says, stop bickering and actually get thigns done. Anyone who questions the course the emperor is taking is automatically branded a traitor. Where have I heared all this before? Star Wars is the tragedy of George Bush Tyrannous. It must really gall those republican who remember how Star Wars became the central imagery employed by the Regan administration, with his missile defense system (resurrected once again by GW) and his reference to the Soviet Union as “The Evil Empire.” Suddenly the Evil empire is not the Soviets or the terrorists but, quite unambiguously, the Bush administration. Some people say that Star Wars, which brought adventure melodrama with clear good guys fighting clear bad guys back into vogue after years of anti-heroes, was part of the birth of the Regan Revolution, and in a way it was, in that it was a reflection of how the Goldwatter movement had taken hold culturally in America and banished the anxieties and ambiguities of the 60s; but now all that has been turned around. This film could signify the birth of the rebellion. Vader/Anican is the ultimate anti-hero. It might be a reflection of how the public at large (and Star Wars represents nothing if not the mood of the public at large) may see the Bush administration for what it truly is: an evil empire, an Orwellian grab for power, fed upon fear, greed and a lust for power, thinly disguised as patriotism.

The only real question is this: is the emperor supposed to be Bush, or is Bush Darth Vader and the Emperor Dick Cheney? Think on that.


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