May 26, 2005


The Force is with the conservatives (Yoel Sano, 5/27/05, Asia Times)

Yet, despite Lucas' apparent pro-liberal fears about current trends in US foreign and domestic policies, which many Americans will find exaggerated, his Star Wars saga nonetheless contains very conservative messages that will resonate with people on the desert planet of Texas and in Middle America - and indeed many other parts of the world.

For one thing, there is Lucas' idealized form of government. According to Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars film, "For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire." Francis Fukuyama would have been surprised that there is indeed an alternative to his end-of-history notion of Western-style liberal democracy as the ultimate form of government.

While the Jedi did not rule the republic, they nonetheless formed the backbone of it. With the Jedi more akin to a religion or a moral force, rather than a political order, Lucas seems to envisage a heavy role of the church in some form or another, albeit without ruling the state. Some commentators have compared the Jedi to the samurai of medieval Japan, and indeed their swordsmanship, esoteric dress codes, and Darth Vader's mask design do invoke the samurai styles. But the latter were more manifestly militaristic than religious. A better analogy would be the Knights-Templar, a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade with the mandate of protecting Christian pilgrims en route to the Holy Land.

If the Jedi are a religion, then their "God" is "the Force", a mystical energy field generated by all living things, which binds the galaxy together and gives the Jedi their strength. Essentially, the message of the original Star Wars trilogy is one of faith: if you believe in something enough, you can accomplish it. Hence, Luke Skywalker, the hero of the trilogy, was able to guide a missile into the Death Star's reactor vents through belief rather than using a sophisticated targeting computer. The message of faith is reassuring in this secular age.

Unfortunately, George Lucas inexplicably ditched this faith-based belief system in the prequel trilogy for a far less comforting, and indeed, slightly sinister explanation of the Force. Instead of being able to use the Force out of belief, the first prequel revealed that only those who have a high concentration of "mitochlorions" in their cells can use these powers.

[Ed: the term "mitochlorian" appears to be a pseudo-scientific invention based on real entities known to cell biologists here on Earth, namely "mitochondria" and "chloroplast". "Mitochondria" are tiny sausage-shaped organelles, found in all living cells save bacteria, whose function is to convert sugar efficiently into usable energy. "Chloroplasts", found only in plants, are the sites of photosynthesis. Interestingly, there is a widely accepted theory that both are descended from ancient bacteria - as shown by their size, shape and bacteria-like DNA - that became internalized in, and ultimately dependent upon, the primitive "eukaryotic" cells that eventually gave rise to plants and animals. At some point, Lucas appears to have heard of this theory (originally proposed by Lynn Margulis at Harvard) and decided that a similar entity, the "mitochlorion", would exist in his fictional universe and provide a convenient explanation for why some individuals have more Force powers than others.]

Ironically, however, the "mitochlorion" concept transformed the ability to use "the Force" from an article of faith into one based on blood. Rather than being true believers, the Jedi are in fact a master race or elite caste.

Talk of race brings us to another unfortunate aspect of the prequel trilogy, namely the portrayal of alien characters through ethnic stereotyping. This is most apparent in the character of Jar Jar Binks, a goofy, amphibious, bipedal alien, who hangs out with the heroes in The Phantom Menace to provide what passes as comic relief. Unfortunately, Jar Jar's pidgin-English way of speaking seems to have been designed to invoke African-American slaves of the 19th century United States, or the "noble savages" of a past imperial era.

Then there are the aliens of the evil Trade Federation, a powerful commercial-military-industrial concern fighting the republic. All of them speak with heavy mock Chinese or Japanese accents, perhaps reflecting America's Japanophobia of the 1980s, or fear of China's rising economic power today. There is also the hooked-nose, slave-owing alien Watto, who speaks with a heavy Jewish-Israeli accent and thinks of nothing but money.

Paganism, geneticism, anti-trade, anti-semitism--all the things that spring to mind when you think of George W. Bush, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2005 8:31 AM

They had Star Wars II on T.V. the other night and I thought I would give it a try, having not seen it. What a boring piece of garbage. I lasted 18 minutes and flipped over to the Chronicles of Riddick to watch it again -- a better movie by far.

Posted by: Randall Voth at May 26, 2005 9:54 AM

Mmmmmm ... tiny sausage-shaped organelles

So who did Lucas rip off the original star wars from anyway? Spielberg?

Posted by: Shelton at May 26, 2005 11:49 AM

For another take on "the Force", see Orson Scott Card, another SF writer.

The best part of the Episode 2 the other night was the way it just ended. All that was missing was the season cliffhanger tiltlecard, "To Be Continued..." To me, that showed just how useless it all was.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 26, 2005 12:30 PM

Tyler Cowen says:

The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:

1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. ...

5. The bad guys have sex and do all the procreating ...

6. ... The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 26, 2005 12:56 PM

Shelton: "So who did Lucas rip off the original star wars from anyway? Spielberg?"

This website is filled with educated guesses as to what might have influenced George Lucas when he created the original Star Wars trilogy.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 26, 2005 1:03 PM

From Raoul's link a nice quote that does a lot to explain the thematic turnabouts Lucas had to make in the prequels:

"Itís a terrible thing, I suppose, for a writer to invent a religion and then discover that he and all his friends are on the wrong side of it."
-Orson Scott Card

Posted by: Shelton at May 26, 2005 1:14 PM


Posted by: oj at May 26, 2005 1:15 PM

and frank herbert, mostly

jhedi == fremen

Posted by: cjm at May 26, 2005 2:11 PM

A pseudo-religious order that picks the Chosen One and runs everything behind the scenes? Jedi = Bene Gesserit.

The closest thing to the Fremen are the Wookies.

Posted by: Gideon at May 26, 2005 2:19 PM

Well I've only read the first Dune but the Bene Gesserit are kinda presented as bad guys right?

Posted by: Shelton at May 26, 2005 2:34 PM

In Dune everyone's a bad guy. It's just that some are badder than others.

Truely one of the ugliest and least deserving books that ever acheived cult status.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 26, 2005 3:02 PM

You gotta admit, though, that when his sister turned into a giant worm, that was pretty wild.

Full disclosure - I didn't read that one, just the first.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 26, 2005 3:24 PM

Raoul - that's how I read it too - except that I liked it and you didn't apparently.

In which book does a woman turn into a worm? That sounds hot!

Posted by: Shelton at May 26, 2005 3:48 PM