Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is twenty years old.
I love the prequels. And by love I mean I have to skip through entire scenes just to watch Episodes I and II. When you exclude slave Anakin/Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace and the Padme/Anakin scenes in Attack of the Clones, the movies aren’t bad.
After you toss out the crappy parts of the movies, you find that it’s really a Billy Mumphrey story. As Kramer explains, “You see Elaine, Billy was a simple country boy. You might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.”
Substitute world diplomacy and international intrigue for intergalactic political intrigue and you’ve got Anakin Skywalker. And as I draw stupid comparisons to Seinfeld, Vox feels the need to explain Trump through the lens of The Phantom Menace.
“But look past all of that — and it’s a lot to look past — and you’ll find three films that are weirdly concerned with political questions, with ideas about how best to divvy up power, and which tell a strangely prescient story about how inequality can breed fascism. If the first Star Wars trilogy was a rousing adventure tale about a boy who becomes the promised leader, the prequels are a dark meditation on how chosen ones can be evil, too. In some bizarre way, The Phantom Menace— the first Star Wars prequel, released 20 years ago, on May 19, 1999 — anticipates every major sociopolitical and cultural movement of the 21st century, something that only becomes more obvious with the two movies that follow it (2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith). I’m not a fan of any of these three movies, but they just might help us understand the present.
And they just might help us understand — sorry for the very 2017 headline I’m about to drop on you — the rise of Donald Trump.”
Excuse me while my eyes roll out of my skull. You’ve really
got to read the whole article for the parts I don’t share here.
“And throughout all three films — but particularly in The Phantom Menace — Lucas carefully establishes a universe brimming with economic inequality and political instability. Those in power have more than enough, and they feel secure in their affluent status because everybody else has just enough, right? But “just enough” gets harder and harder to come by, and the top of the economic ladder gets shakier and shakier.
Then, slowly but surely, Lucas starts telling a story where fear of the unknown leads to the build-up of a massive army: those clones of the second film. They end up answering to Palpatine, who is, of course, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious in secret. As Yoda says in The Phantom Menace, fear eventually leads to the Dark Side. And the Jedi, so preoccupied with their own affairs, failed to keep an eye on the fear burbling in the populace they lived among.”
I probably don’t have to connect too many dots between what’s happened in the US in the wake of 9/11, the economic collapse of 2008, and the presidential election of 2016 before you can see that, yeah, the Star Wars prequels eerily illustrate how tyranny can rise when good men do nothing, because “do nothing” too often means “ignore the people suffering right under your nose, because it implicates you in some way.” I’d stop short of calling the films some sort of communist or socialist manifesto, but Lucas, an old lefty, surely wouldn’t mind a Marxist reading of them.”
I would first like to point out that George Lucas goes from
being a racist to an old lefty in just a few paragraphs. But beyond that minor internal inconsistency,
this article twists and shoehorns contemporary politics into a space opera,
which may I remind you, takes place in space.
Next up on Vox: How Revelation 13 explains the rise of Donald Trump.
Falling short of ascribing some prophetic title to George Lucas, this article doesn’t even do a very good job of connecting The Phantom Menace to any concept or current event. For starters, the initial premise offered by the author is that oppressed peoples are prone to fascism. I was under the impression that the oppressed where modern day saints, incapable of hate, evil, and abuse of power. The second premise is that aloof righteousness (cough cough GOP, see I made that connection for you) will facilitate the rise of fascism and will ignore the plight of the oppressed (when the oppressed aren’t turning into psychopathic genocidal maniacs with bad pick-up-lines). This premise also doesn’t work out well since it’s the same self-righteous snobs who end up saving the galaxy in the original trilogy.
The writer makes some connection between the fear of the unknown and militarization. As an adherent of the Expanded Universe, this is an extremely shallow reading of the events in Attack of the Clones. Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas was a friend of Dooku’s. Sifo-Dyas was skilled at peering into the future. He knew about the rise of Sidious and created an army to stop him. Dooku killed him and took over the project. Sidious is not reacting to events in the galaxy on a whim out of some personal quest for power. It is a calculated plan that has existed since Darth Bane went into hiding after the destruction of the Sith Empire. Palpatine’s goal is not his personal power, but to restore Sith rule. It’s a thousand year old grudge against the Republic and the Jedi.
I draw a distinction between reacting to events and actively planning them for this simple reason: The author seems to think that tyranny in the US started to rise post-9/11, post-2008, and post-2016. If it were to be analogous to Palpatine’s thirteen years of proto-fascism, Bush would have to have been responsible for those events. So unless Vox wants to take the “Bush did 9/11” stance, there is really no basis for any of this. Palpatine actively plotted those stupid trade disputes in The Phantom Menace. He arranged the Stark Hyperspace War that contributed to Dooku’s fall. He was obviously behind the Clone Wars. Inequality, instability, and oppression have absolutely nothing to do with Palpatine’s M.O.
While the author won’t come out and call the movies a leftist manifesto, it is clear that the author is more than willing to read current political strife into the movies. Lucas undoubtedly made some political points with his movies, the two main points being opposition to the Vietnam and the Iraq War.
Yet commentary from Lucas and from others involved with the films always reveals the same theme: Star Wars is a grand story about good and evil.
You might as well try to view Star Wars as a commentary on the international implications of Russian Arctic Off-Shore Drilling.
Star Wars has nothing to do with Trump.
I think Vox has read one too many Billy Mumphrey stories.