Why is George Lucas peddling an elitist, anti-democratic agenda under the guise of escapist fun?
Well, I boycotted “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” — for an entire week.
Why? What’s to boycott? Isn’t “Star Wars” good old fashioned sci-fi? Harmless fun? Some people call it “eye candy” — a chance to drop back into childhood and punt your adult cares away for two hours, dwelling in a lavish universe where good and evil are vividly drawn, without all the inconvenient counterpoint distinctions that clutter daily life.
Got a problem? Cleave it with a light saber! Wouldn’t you love — just once in your life — to dive a fast little ship into your worst enemy’s stronghold and set off a chain reaction, blowing up the whole megillah from within its rotten core while you streak away to safety at the speed of light? (It’s such a nifty notion that it happens in three out of four “Star Wars” flicks.)
Anyway, I make a good living writing science-fiction novels and movies. So “Star Wars” ought to be a great busman’s holiday, right?
One of the problems with so-called light entertainment today is that somehow, amid all the gaudy special effects, people tend to lose track of simple things, like story and meaning. They stop noticing the moral lessons the director is trying to push. Yet these things matter.
By now it’s grown clear that George Lucas has an agenda, one that he takes very seriously. After four “Star Wars” films, alarm bells should have gone off, even among those who don’t look for morals in movies. When the chief feature distinguishing “good” from “evil” is how pretty the characters are, it’s a clue that maybe the whole saga deserves a second look.
Just what bill of goods are we being sold, between the frames?
Elites have an inherent right to arbitrary rule; common citizens needn’t be consulted. They may only choose which elite to follow.
“Good” elites should act on their subjective whims, without evidence, argument or accountability.
Any amount of sin can be forgiven if you are important enough.
True leaders are born. It’s genetic. The right to rule is inherited.
Justified human emotions can turn a good person evil.
That is just the beginning of a long list of “moral” lessons relentlessly pushed by “Star Wars.” Lessons that starkly differentiate this saga from others that seem superficially similar, like “Star Trek.” (We’ll take a much closer look at some stark divergences between these two sci-fi universes below.)
Above all, I never cared for the whole Nietzschian \bermensch thing: the notion — pervading a great many myths and legends — that a good yarn has to be about demigods who are bigger, badder and better than normal folk by several orders of magnitude. It’s an ancient storytelling tradition based on abiding contempt for the masses — one that I find odious in the works of A.E. Van Vogt, E.E. Smith, L. Ron Hubbard and wherever you witness slanlike super-beings deciding the fate of billions without ever pausing to consider their wishes.
Wow, you say. If I feel that strongly about this, why just a week-long boycott? Why see the latest “Star Wars” film at all?
Because I am forced to admit that demigod tales resonate deeply in the human heart.
Before moving on to the fun stuff, will you bear with me while we get serious for a little while?
In “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell showed how a particular, rhythmic storytelling technique was used in almost every ancient and pre-modern culture, depicting protagonists and antagonists with certain consistent motives and character traits, a pattern that transcended boundaries of language and culture. In these classic tales, the hero begins reluctant, yet signs and portents foretell his pre-ordained greatness. He receives dire warnings and sage wisdom from a mentor, acquires quirky-but-faithful companions, faces a series of steepening crises, explores the pit of his own fears and emerges triumphant to bring some boon/talisman/victory home to his admiring tribe/people/nation.
By offering valuable insights into this revered storytelling tradition, Joseph Campbell did indeed shed light on common spiritual traits that seem shared by all human beings. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s a superb formula — one that I’ve used at times in my own stories and novels.
Alas, Campbell only highlighted positive traits, completely ignoring a much darker side — such as how easily this standard fable-template was co-opted by kings, priests and tyrants, extolling the all-importance of elites who tower over common women and men. Or the implication that we must always adhere to variations on a single story, a single theme, repeating the same prescribed plot outline over and over again. Those who praise Joseph Campbell seem to perceive this uniformity as cause for rejoicing — but it isn’t. Playing a large part in the tragic miring of our spirit, demigod myths helped reinforce sameness and changelessness for millennia, transfixing people in nearly every culture, from Gilgamesh all the way to comic book super heroes.
It is essential to understand the radical departure taken by genuine science fiction, which comes from a diametrically opposite literary tradition — a new kind of storytelling that often rebels against those very same archetypes Campbell venerated. An upstart belief in progress, egalitarianism, positive-sum games — and the slim but real possibility of decent human institutions.
And a compulsive questioning of rules! Authors like Greg Bear, John Brunner, Alice Sheldon, Frederik Pohl and Philip K. Dick always looked on any prescriptive storytelling formula as a direct challenge — a dare. This explains why science fiction has never been much welcomed at either extreme of the literary spectrum — comic books and “high literature.”
Comics treat their superheroes with reverent awe, as demigods were depicted in the Iliad. But a true science fiction author who wrote about Superman would have earthling scientists ask the handsome Man of Steel for blood samples (even if it means scraping with a super fingernail) in order to study his puissant powers, and maybe bottle them for everyone.