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Star Wars and Our Wars

Tags Big GovernmentMedia and CultureWar and Foreign PolicyPolitical Theory

04/30/2002Mark Thornton

As we await the release of George Lucas's second Star Wars prequel, The Attack of the Clones, speculation builds on whether Lucas can return to the glory of the original Star Wars trilogy.

While critics attacked Lucas for his leading-boy character, his young-girl queen, and his politically incorrect characters (Jar Jar Binks and the admiral with the Japanese accent), others such as myself celebrated Lucas's brilliant use of modern history (the experience of the British and American empires) to create an age-old saga in such an unfamiliar setting with characters and events that are familiar to us.

Those who understand that it is not just fiction, but a real human story, easily forgive Lucas for his young, undeveloped characters--they had to be young for the story to make sense. Those who don't understand the message believe that Hollywood should make everything up as it goes along to ensure that all traditional expectations about movies are met. That's why Lucas has had to shun Hollywood and make Star Wars with his own money.

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.

Thus can we see that Lucas is taking bits and pieces of our own historical experience to retell a battle between good and evil that also touches on themes in political economy, particularly the choice between self-determination (essential to freedom) and imperialism (linked to war and state expansion).

Attack of the Clones, due to hit theaters May 16, the Republic officially becomes the evil empire and sends an army of clones to destroy a group of separatists (secessionists) that want no part of this evil democratic empire. The main substantive point is that the Republic has willingly become an evil empire; it was not destroyed or conquered but simply gave in to evil despite its tradition and system of government.

What are the real-life analogies? Most directly, it presents the transition of world dominance from Britain to America and the transition in America from the glorious Republic to a democratic empire. Both of these transitions actually began during the American Civil War. The separatists/secessionists represent the Confederate South that wanted to maintain original Republican ideals (not slavery!).

The evil democracy is based on the Lincoln administration that sent an army of immigrants to crush the attempted separation. Lucas has Palpetine dub his invasion force the "Grand Army of the Republic," just as Lincoln did. What could be clearer? I suspect the clones will exhibit the habits of Lincoln's lawless generals, like Sherman, who killed and destroyed everything in their paths.

If my interpretation is correct, the neoconservatives, the establishment Republicans, and the gang at National Review are not going to like this movie. (Another option is to attempt a tortuous spin on the movie’s otherwise clear message.)

The original Star Wars trilogy planted within all of us the seed-notion that the "good" will always--eventually--triumph over evil. It’s not just a notion for philosophers and idealists; it’s something that everyone can believe because it is part of our nature.

To be sure, matters will get worse in the third prequel. Perhaps we will be treated to some fascism, nationalism, New Dealism, Nazism, and communism. Lucas might even focus on Galactic War I, Galactic War II, and the Cold Galactic War. We might get some genocide, McCarthyism, and segregation, but things undoubtedly will get worse as the evil empire moves from democratic empire to outright dictatorship.

People will no doubt eventually recognize that Lucas is writing a reflection of Western civilization, a reflection of our own experience. America is called the "world's superpower" by the media and many Americans, but in most other languages we are often referred to as an evil empire that imposes our will and policies by force of arms, propping up dictators, undermining harmless regimes for the benefit of big business, and stationing troops in lands against the will of the people who live there. The transition from a humble bastion of freedom to a global crusader state occurred, not through conquest or revolution, but within the form of constitutional government.

Neoconservatives such as Dinesh DiSouza and William Bennett will openly admit that America has indeed become an empire in every sense of the word, but they will say that it is perfectly fine, because we are moral and always try to do the right thing and help other people. Such is the claim made by every empire in history, without exception.

Someday we will recognize that there is no such thing as a good empire, because empires necessarily crush the right of self-determination, which Mises defines as follows:

whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

Lucas might add that this is also the means of preventing galactic war. It is a message that needs to be heard, and persistently applied, in our time.

May the force--not consolidated government--be with you.



Contact Mark Thornton

Mark Thornton is the Peterson-Luddy Chair in Austrian Economics and a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute. He is the book review editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, and has authored seven books and is a frequent guest on national radio shows.

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