Forward, to the Past! – Episode III: Rebel Yell
Or ‘American History X-Wing’
Yes, it’s the third and concluding episode in my trilogy of posts about Star Wars. I’m going to be making all sorts of generalisations about ‘America’ in this post. Please bear in mind, I don’t mean them to apply to all American people. Far from it. I’m talking about mainstream historical narratives, and the culture industries, and ideology, and so on. Also, in keeping with tradition, I’ve included an unnecessary and irritating (but also rather cute, if you’re honest) teddy bear. Oh, and in twenty years time I’ll come back and reissue these posts with crappy extra passages edited in for no good reason.
Three political categories dominate the Star Wars galaxy: Republic, Empire, and Rebellion. This is the arrangement in The Force Awakens just as much as in the original trilogy. Indeed, it is the apparent impossibility of telling a Star Wars story in which the galaxy is arranged any other way which determines the inevitability that The Force Awakens will be, and has to be, a ‘structre’ (as covered in previous episodes).
Galactic politics is in a constant state of fluctuation, but the fluctuation is between these three poles. Republic breeds Empire, Empire attacks Republic, Rebellion destroys Empire and restores Republic. And then the whole thing begins all over again. It unfolds with the inevitability of a Hegelian triad (but that joke isn’t funny anymore, so we’ll leave that there).
The three modes correspond to the way in which America conceives of its history and its future. America sees itself as always in a state of being one or the other, becoming one or the other, splitting away from one or the other, redeeming one or the other, fighting one or the other, falling from being one or the other into being one or the other. Left and Right agree on this, though they inflect it differently (natch).
Tied to this is the perennial idea of America ‘losing its innocence’ whereas, as James Ellroy put it: “We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can’t ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can’t lose what you lacked at conception.” Interestingly, he still seems to think that a ‘fall from grace’ did happen.
Hollywood has been playing with these three categories for some time actually. What are the great Hollywood Biblical epics but negotiations of the political and moral valences of republics that become empires, and rebellions against empires. In Ben Hur, Spartacus, Quo Vadis, The Robe, Cleopatra, etc, there is Rome as the great republic-turned-empire, dominating the world; and there are the Christians and/or slaves bravely defying her. The Ten Commandments does something similar with Egypt and the Hebrews. Star Wars reiterates these old Hollywood testaments in many ways, most especially the prequels with the slaves of Tatooine (slavery exists in pockets alongside the benevolent Republic… notice and store for later use), and in the religiose choral moments in the score of Return of the Jedi. It is not hard to see why America during the golden age of Hollywood, which happened to coincide with America’s golden age of imperialism, and then with the Cold War, would want to negotiate these categories in such a way that America positions itself virtuously alongside the liberty-loving slaves, while also genuflecting before the awesome spectacle of armed and expansionist civilisation. But you only have to watch these films to sense the anxiety in them. It is eerily similar to the anxiety you see in films which treat of any similar subject during or after the Vietnam war. Star Wars is one such movie, and it pulls off quite a trick in its negotiation of these categories. It manages, partly through the strategic use of nostalgia (see Episode I of this series) to summon up the anxiety and make it comforting.
In Star Wars, the three modes – Republic, Empire, and Rebellion – are not equivalent. The Republic is always the Republic, and the Empire is always the Empire, no matter what forms they take, or how their fortunes might ebb and flow. Both the Republic and the Empire have seemed dead and destroyed at one time or another, and yet both existed as ideas or aims during that time, and both came back. Moreover, they repel each other as like poles.
As we noted in previous episodes, the First Order is a bad copy of the Empire, and they know it, but they still do all the things the Empire did. Indeed, their self-conscious awareness of themselves as blurred photocopies is what seems to spur them on to giganticized reiterations of everything the Empire did. Being an obviously inadequate ersatz replica of the Empire clearly doesn’t bar from from also effectively being the Empire. Indeed, as I say, it’s an integral part of how they manage to pull it off. As with the philistine neoclassical elephantiasis of the Nazis, being a slavish-but-bad copy doesn’t mean you can’t get the job done.
The Republic, meanwhile, is as unseen in the non-prequels as it has always been… and no longer because it has fallen and now lies dormant and latent. It has returned, been reconstructed, and yet we still don’t see it. Yet it is still there, as a principle – albeit a necessarily nebulous and vague one. It’s only in the prequels that it shows itself to be a large, relatively-liberal structure held together by bourgeois politics, defence spending, industry, commerce, and free trade. A federal government of apparently capitalist united states, in other words. No need to belabour this point. It’s even got a ‘Senate’. As noted in previous episodes, in the prequels Lucas represents what liberals at the time perceived as the unusually sinister actions of the second Bush administration after 9/11… and turns the fall of the Old Republic to the new Galactic Empire as an analogue for Dubya, War on Terror, and PATRIOT Act. Interestingly, he is as free with his use of classical overtones (the falls of the republics of ancient Greece and Rome) as the founding fathers themselves were when they planned their modern republic. The metaphor won’t go away. Once again, these categories – Empire and Republic – are embedded in the way America thinks of itself, and of what happens to it, and what it does.
The Rebellion is renamed the Resistance in The Force Awakens. As near as I can make out (because the film takes no trouble to be clear on this point) it seems to be some kind of organisation within, or springing from, or affiliated with the Republic, devoted to fighting the First Order. Even so, it’s clearly the same thing we saw in the original trilogy. It looks the same, talks the same. It’s not itself a structre (though it exists within the structre that is the film) because it is still led by Princess Leia (interesting that a republican organisation can be led by a princess), and because nobody in it seems remotely troubled by any sense of being a second-rate copy. It’s as if, while the Empire and Republic both went away for a bit in changed form, the Rebellion stayed put and waited.
One of most curious things about The Force Awakens is that, though a painstaking ‘structre’ (a spectre of a structre), is it also in some ways a revision or even an inversion of the originals. One of the ways in which Force Awakens inverts the original it resurrects, is by making the villainous organisation against which the heroes fight into a challenging rather than a reigning power. In Star Wars, the Empire is the ruling galactic power. It has entirely replaced the Republic (the very last act of this replacement actually happens during the story, and is announced by Tarkin). The Rebellion, meanwhile, is a sect, a resistance movement. Things remain essentially this way throughout the trilogy, almost to the end. In Force Awakens, however, the Republic seems to be the galactic hegemon, whereas it is the First Order (the substitute-Empire) that seems like a splinter group, a sect, a rogue nation, or possibly some form of counter-revolutionary movement against the reconstituted Republic. Despite having enormous manpower, military power, and also presumably economic power, at its disposal, it still seems like a challenger to an existing Republic.
It is, of course, tempting to leap for the most obvious interpretations. Whereas the Republic seemed defeatable – by good or evil – in 1977, by 2015 it seems an eternal fact of life. Crisis ridden, but clinging on. Meanwhile, the First Order are the recession. Or ISIS (or IS, or ISIL, or Daesh, or whatever we’re calling them this week). A regressive and fanatical tyranny, committing atrocities in the face of a seemingly helpless ‘international community’… and perhaps only stoppable via a bit more conscientious humanitarian military action. Or, the First Order is China, militarily and economically challenging the hegemony of a declining America. Or perhaps the First Order is Russia, flexing its muscles, led by an authoritarian… Etc. Yeah, maybe. But I think there are more interesting fish to fry here.
In the prequels, decadent liberal democracy falls to firebreathing radical conservatism and imperialism, which conquers it politically from within. Empire comes out to play once given a chance by a liberal democratic regime too weak and hypocritical to properly protect itself. The nascent Empire is actually secretly linked to the hostile ‘other’ that it claims to be opposing. And the glue is the fundamentalist religion of the ‘Dark Side’, of the Sith… who are themselves only the unhealthy flipside of the Jedi, the non-fundamentalist religion which is loyal to the established liberal system. The prequels thus express a form of liberal anxiety from the years in which those films were made: American democracy is under threat from an internal authoritarian and imperialistic impulse which threatens to take over in time of weakness. Even as the rise of authoritarianism and imperialism is critiqued, the very democracy being supplanted is blamed for the situation. The implied seedbed of the authoritarianism and imperialism is the weakness and complacence of a society too peaceful, too comfortable, too free. The slightest test and such a society gives in to fear, and reaches for a strong leader with a big stick. As Padme ruefully says when watching Palpatine win over the Senate “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause”. This ambivalence about democracy makes the anxiety no less liberal. Indeed, anxiety about the stability and strength of democracy is quintessentially liberal. There is no sense in the films that the Republic might itself be imperialistic, rather that Empire is a dark potentiality inside it, a cancer which destroys it from within.
America always wants to see itself as the Republic, but always worries about becoming the Empire. Indeed, the worry about the Empire is part of how the Republic is championed. The Republic is absolved by the Empire’s putative antagonism towards it. This is found even in the scathing words of Gore Vidal. Far from starry-eyed about the founding fathers or the true nature of the United States (he said it was specifically designed to be an undemocratic plutocracy) he nevertheless uses a schema whereby the republic is replaced by an empire. The idea that the republic might always have been an empire is, if not absent, downplayed and evaded. Vidal is among the most interesting thinkers and writers to practice this, but he is hardly alone. It is endemic in critical liberal accounts of the United States, and is the essential worldview from which the Star Wars movies inherit their galactic political framework. It is an anxious view, but also a slyly comforting one.
The same comforting anxiety is ostensibly encoded into the first Star Wars movie, with George Lucas claiming that his story about a technologically powerful empire being fought by a rag-tag gang of rebels is a metaphor for the US vs. the so-called ‘Viet Cong’. As noted in a previous episode, the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star seems to distantly recall the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US atom bombs at the end of WWII, which is also the historical ‘moment’ when the US emerges as the great world power of the latter half of the twentieth century. Whatever else their purpose may have been, or may have been perceived to be, the bombs were a shocking demonstration of America’s technological and military supremacy. The destruction of Alderaan is explicitly done pour encourager les autres, just as much as Hiroshima was laid waste to make it clear to the Japanese that they were at America’s mercy. The other thing it reminded me of, and which might have been more likely to be lurking somewhere in Lucas’ mind as he wrote, was Nixon’s ‘madman strategy’ (i.e. make opponents think he was mad enough to drop nukes).
And yet, for all that this – and especially Vietnam – must have gotten in there, it’s hard to see past the various ways in which the Galactic Empire is coded as ‘foreign’, and the Rebellion as American. Almost the only non-American accent in the Rebellion is Threepio’s. The Empire, meanwhile, is a strange mixture – heavily inflected with foreign influences, especially those reminiscent of World War II. The Imperial soldiers are called ‘Stormtroopers’, the officers’ uniforms make them look like a cross between the Wermacht and Imperial Japan of WWII. No matter how much the Empire may have started out as a reflection of American military might in Vietnam, what ends up on screen is constructed of evocations of the fascism of the 30s and 40s. And the Empire’s officers are overwhelmingly played by British actors. Peter Cushing, Leslie Schofield, Don Henderson, Michael Sheard, Kenneth Colley, Michael Culver, Julian Glover, Michael Pennington, and Ian McDiarmid all appear in the original trilogy as high-ranking Imperial personnel. It’s no mystery why. America is founded on a rebellion against British imperial rule. (Also, the received-pronunciation ‘English accent’ is perceived as what we might call ‘neutral/foreign’ owing to the global hegemony of the English language and its upper-class speakers, something which itself stems from the global hegemony of the British Empire.)
The anxiety about Republics becoming Empires is still lurking, no matter how comfortingly it may compartmentalise American history, and how craftily the Empire in question becomes parlayed into something ‘foreign’. But if Vietnam was in the minds of the writers, it seems to have produced an effect whereby Vietnam is evaded rather than addressed, in line with the wider project of comfortingly evading the anxiety built into the idea of Republic and Empire. Not new. As noted, the anxiety lurked even within the drafting of the Constitution. It’s always there.
Similarly, in Star Wars, the Rebellion is always there. The Rebellion, or ‘Resistance’ if you prefer the Force Awakens version, is a way of mediating this anxiety, of rendering it even more comforting. It does the job of balancing Republic and Empire, of keeping them in check within a revolving unity, most especially of pushing the Empire back down into or under the Republic whenever it escapes control. Rebellion is the concept which balances the other two, and which salvages America’s anxious idea of itself. The United States is, after all, proudly based on a rebellion. The idea that republics always fall and become empires is accepted. For all that it represents an optimum within the Star Wars universe, the Republic is clearly also perpetually unstable and prone to falling apart – at least partly owing to decadent weaknesses which seem built-into peace and democracy. The idea that the republic (i.e. the United States) was pure before it became corrupted is also accepted. The idea that Republic and Empire are opposites is championed. Yet the idea that the Empire always comes, and always represents a ‘fall’ is implicit. As with Ellroy (but in reverse – because Ellroy’s politics are deranged), the fall both happens and never happened. Thus is the Republic absolved of its imperialism, even as imperialism lives inside it. Empire becomes something alien that nestles inside and grows because the Republic foolishly allows it to. The Empire becomes the enemy of the Republic rather than a property of it. (Which is how, for instance, to some the Bushes can be villains for waging war while Clinton or Obama are liberal heroes for doing much the same.) The Rebellion is the perpetual imperative within the Republic to defend itself from the Empire. Not to defend others from it, you’ll notice… because in this set-up the Republic is the only victim of the Empire. Rather than being an imperialistic republic that victimises others, the Empire is extrinsic to the Republic, anathema to it, and the Republic is its only victim. The moral issue is not what the Republic does with its imperialism. This is effaced. Instead the moral issue is what the alien carcinoma that is the Empire does to the poor, noble, weak, tottering, well-meaning Republic. This is what the Rebellion exists to address. The Rebellion is the agent that restores liberty to the Republic. The idea that the Republic was itself a machine for empire is unthinkable and unthought.
Viewed according to the generally accepted narrative of the American Revolutionary War, the category of Rebellion connotes concepts such as ‘liberty’ and ‘independence’. The Empire from which these things are being claimed is, of course, the British Empire, which – as hinted – could partially explain the preponderance of British actors among the highest ranks of the Galactic Empire. The Rebellion is fought for ‘freedom’. And, of course, in a very real sense this was true. To the extent that the American Revolution was a grassroots movement against economic and political domination by Britain, it was fought for freedom. A massive popular movement pushed the revolution from below, and often tried to radicalise it from the wishes of the wealthy gentlemen who found themselves at the head of the movement. A great deal of social change was effected before the tide was stemmed with the compromises of 1788, and the plutocratic oligarchy designed in the Constitution. The end result was to further the rise of the bourgeois system. And this was built on imperialism and unrequited labour. The liberty being fought for by the men at the top was the liberty of trade, expansion, and slavery.
The Republic, in the classical sense, was a preoccupation of those who set up this new political system for the new nation. The classical Republic was a model, but one about which they felt deeply ambivalent. They were not fond of the Greek model because, certainly in Athens, it was far too democratic for their tastes – even with the slaves, foreigners, and women disenfranchised. Their ambivalence, however, was largely focused on whether or not such a system was workable or capable of enduring. After all, wasn’t the defining feature of all classical Republics that they had fallen and been replaced by Empires? They were trying to set up a system based on the retention and safety of hierarchy and property, and with a class compromise which bought off and/or contained resistance… very much like the Roman Republic actually. And yet did that not fall to civil war, and to a dictator? (Of course, Caesar was actually a popular reformer; he was murdered by rich and powerful men who thought he was a Muslim Marxist giving too much to the common people; and the dictatorship of the emperors was acceded to by the supposedly liberty-loving senators because it reinforced their own wealth and power. But that’s another story… or is it?) And of course, the founding fathers never questioned the imperialism inherent in being a settler colonial state, any more than Caesar ever thought it incongruous to be both a social reformer and an enslaving conqueror. Just as generations of historians have ignored the rampages of the Roman republic and declared that liberty died when Caesar wore a crown, so the men who worried about their new American republic never really saw the strangeness of declaring liberty and independence for themselves while driving black slaves. The most radical democrat amongst them, Jefferson, who had been sympathetic to the French Revolution, and whose ideal was small government and a nation of yeoman farmers, was also the man who expanded the size of the country immensely in the Presidental dictat called ‘the Louisiana Purchase’, and who never freed his slaves.
The Rebellion is thus a way to recuperate the idea of the Republic, not just from unease about its tottering vulnerability to those impulses supposedly less scrupulous, but also from it’s own effaced blemishes. Not only does the Republic seem insecure because of its own democratic vulnerabilities, its peacetime laxities, its openness, the fickleness and stupidity and envy of the masses, and all sorts of other hallucinated weaknesses, all of which can be traced back to the common people getting a semblance of a say in things…. not only that, but there is also this horrible and, to the properly disciplined mind, inexplicable tendency for the Empire to arise, seemingly out of nowhere. And yet the Rebellion can always be called into service. It works for Left and Right. The Left can invoke Tom Paine; the Right can make the Tea Party their fetish. There’s a very real sense in which this psychodrama is the fuel powering the entirety of the Star Wars mythos. Even moreso now that the structre The Force Awakens makes it clear that the galaxy is stuck in an endlessly repeating cycle of Republic, Empire, Rebellion, etc. The tragic liberal view of history shows in this myth, as does the cynical conservative view of democracy.
And yet… there is Finn. Finn is the first Stormtrooper to ever rebel and desert – at least that we know of from the films. It’s made clear in The Force Awakens that Stormtroopers are indoctrinated from birth, strictly controlled and watched, and that absconding is punishable by death. Which makes Finn a very interesting character. He is, by this reading, a runaway slave. (I don’t want to belabour this point, but even his name conjures up Huckleberry Finn, who befriends Jim, a runaway slave.) Now, we don’t need to assume that all Stormtroopers are black under their helmets to see the echoes here. A black man deserts and runs from indenture in an empire, which is itself at war with a hegemonic, apparently more liberal – but also militarily powerful – political structure. Moreover, as noted, the First Order seems to be a sectarian splinter of a wider society, seceding from union with it and attacking it… and for avowedly reactionary reasons, which are nonetheless passionately expressed in terms of seeking liberty from domination. It’s hugely tempting to see this as referring to the American Civil War, which was fought between the seceding Confederacy in the South and the Union in the North, between 1861 and 1865, and which was ultimately a conflict between two economic systems: slavery and free labour.
In the two foundational wars of the United States, the categories of Empire and Rebellion are understood and felt to be both key and intensely contradictory. In the generally accepted narrative of the first, Empire is bad and Rebellion good. In the generally accepted narrative of the second, Empire is good and Rebellion bad. The seceding Confederate states of the second were called ‘the rebels’, hence ‘the rebel yell’ for the high-pitched banshee screech they made when attacking. In the first foundational American war, Empire loses and Rebellion wins. In the second, Empire wins and Rebellion loses. And yet both are considered to have had the ‘right’ outcome. In both, slavery is practiced; by the good in the first war and by the bad in the second. In both, those fighting to protect their right to run a slave economy are doing so in the name of ‘liberty’.
According to the Confederate Southern states, they were defending their ‘right’ to autonomy from the North and the Union. This was, of course, the ideology of the war that even the majority of non-slave-owners could get behind. The actual motivation of the Southern oligarchs was to defend their ‘right’ to own slaves from what they perceived as an Abolitionist ascendancy in the North. They were wrong to think of Lincoln as an Abolitionist, but his election was enough to trigger their panic because of the general rise of Abolitionism as a popular movement nationally, John Brown, etc. They feared their own slaves’ reaction to developments… rightly, as it turned out, when slaves began defecting to, and fighting for, the Union in droves. Lincoln, crucially, wanted to limit the spread of slavery, and as Marx correctly pointed out, slavery as an economic system was dependent upon expansion into new territories. The war was the culmination of a long struggle between two expanding economic systems: agricultural slave labour and industrial free labour.
Marx’s analysis of the Civil War as a clash between two economic systems is substantially correct. However, it can be argued that he under-emphasizes the imperial nature of the project for the North. He does this for understandable reasons to do with the politics of the time, namely that he thought virtually nothing going on in the world just then was more important than the destruction of slavery. Nevertheless, the North was unquestionably motivated, at least in part, by the imperialistic imperative to retain territory and wealth, to expand its own economic system into those territories controlled and inhabited by their opponents, and to preserve and enhance its own economic hegemony. They wanted to expand their system, based on industry and wage labour, as much as the South needed to expand slavery in order to keep it economically viable.
This makes the North not unlike the British Empire during the Revolutionary War, beyond the formal similarity that they are trying to stop a little rebellious gang of states declaring their independence. Many in the Confederate states considered secession from the Union as the reiteration or fulfilment of 1776, even to the point of using metaphors about Tea Parties (*ahem*).
So why did this one Rebellion, the rebellion of the Confederacy, go down as ‘the bad one’, beyond truisms about history being written by the victors?
The answer is twofold. Firstly, the effect of the defeat of the Confederacy was to clear the way for the further expansion and ascendancy of industrial capitalism in America. Secondly, the Southern rebellion was dwarfed by the other rebellion that was provoked by it, the far more profound rebellion, the rebellion from below: the slave revolt, joined by a rising tide of feeling in the North and in the Union armies in favour of Abolition. It was a social revolution, albeit a mediated one, and the ultimate victory of the Union is as much due to it as to the North’s superior capacity. The South called its own secession ‘the second American Revolution’. Actually it was more like a counter-revolution, with the real revolution being on the other side. And generations of people knew it. Sadly, the post-Civil War process known as Reconstruction was betrayed and curtailed, setting back the cause of African American civil rights by long decades, and thus also the unity of the American working class as a whole. More than any other single factor, this may be why there has never been any American socialist movement comparable to movements elsewhere – as great as some American socialism has been. All the same, if the people making this revolution on the ground failed to reap the benefits (beyond legal freedom – not to be sniffed at, but hardly enough) then American capitalism as a whole did very well out of the defeat of the old Southern economy and power structure. For the system, defeat in one part was the success of the whole.
(There are ongoing debates within Marxism about the whole concept of ‘bourgeois revolution’, the transformation of feudalism into capitalism, the best way to economically classify modern slavery and, relatedly, the nature of the American Revolutionary and Civil wars, and it’s costing me a lot to stop myself from geeking out about all that stuff here and now… but those probably aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Anyone who is interested can take a look at this review of the ‘Political Marxist’ Charles Post’s book The American Road to Capitalism. The review covers some of this, and from a position I’d largely agree with.)
It seems to me that, with Finn’s defection and change of sides, Force Awakens tells us that the First Order is to be seen as akin to the Confederacy. I’m not saying it’s a direct metaphor… but the convergences seem too perfect to be mere accident. As noted in a previous episode, the First Order is curiously in the same position in Force Awakens as the Rebel Alliance was in Star Wars. In other words, a Rebellion. I’ve already adumbrated ways in which they remind me of the Confederacy. But, like the Confederacy, they’re a false Rebellion. A Rebellion from above not below, led by oligarchs and resentful counter-revolutionaries. A Rebellion that yearns for past glories and tries to recreate them. A trumpian morass of ressentimental clockstoppers and military hardware-fetishists, seething at liberal capitalism for not still being a kind of feudalism of privilege for the formerly-unchallenged. Extreme reactionaries who think neoliberalism is slavery because it doesn’t put them at the top. Libertarians whose idea of liberty is their own right to enslave other people.
All this self-evidently relates to what I was talking about in the last episode, namely the interesting way Force Awakens seems to try to season its reiteration of the first movie with what we might call ‘progressive developments’ in the way Star Wars stories work. The same logic that has caused the main villain to use a mask like a fedora, and put a positive Mary Sue in the lead role, has also led the story to negotiate the innate categories of Republic, Empire, and Rebellion in a very particular way. It chooses to invoke the Civil War, and positions the First Order as concoction of revolutionary conservatism, most especially through likening them to the savage dead-end of the Confederacy and their ersatz rebellion.
And yet, remember what I was saying about the Confederate Rebellion being discounted first and foremost because its defeat was crucial to the further ascendancy of American capitalism? Surely this means that the ultimate defeat of the First Order will, in line with the established Star Wars historical cycle, simply rebirth the Republic in its old form, stronger than ever. This is the same Republic that provided a breeding ground for the Empire in the first place, in its own weakness and peacefulness and decadence. Moreover, this is the same Republic that failed to make the universe much better after its restoration at the end of Return of the Jedi. Thirty years after Luke, Han, and Leia restore peace and justice to the galaxy, Rey is living from hand to mouth in the ruins of Star Destroyers and Imperial Walkers. And sentient droids are still property. Like the independent America that promised ‘liberty’ and that ‘all men are created equal’ but failed to live up to those promises, like the Union that mothballed Reconstruction, and like the victorious liberal capitalism that failed to deliver the promised peaceful and prosperous ‘end of history’, the Republic never delivers on the vows and results the Rebellion fights for. Even as the Rebellion exists to address and comfort the anxiety about these eternally deferred promises (’40 acres and a mule’ etc) so it also reminds us of the disappointment.
The old liberal anxiety cycle will be relaunched after the latest Empire is defeated by the latest Rebellion and the latest Republic is restored. And further comforting renegotiations of these categories will have to be created… unless some historical force awakens, or re-awakens, out here in our world, to halt the lulling cycle of anxieties and comforts in its tracks. After all, Rebellion might exist within the Star Wars universe, but Revolution doesn’t.
February 4, 2016 @ 11:45 am
This essay is everything I hoped for and more. Great job.
Oh, but don’t say this is a conclusion just yet. I imagine you’ll have something to say about Rogue One by the end of the year. From the bits and pieces trickling through, it’s seems like it’s going to be a Sci-Fi/WWII/Espionage mashup, with the Rebellion standing in for “Plucky British Spies” this time. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say on that.
February 4, 2016 @ 12:17 pm
“Almost the only non-American accent in the Rebellion is Threepio’s… And the Empire’s officers are overwhelmingly played by British actors. Peter Cushing, Leslie Schofield, Don Henderson, Michael Sheard, Kenneth Colley, Michael Culver, Julian Glover, Michael Pennington, and Ian McDiarmid all appear in the original trilogy as high-ranking Imperial personnel. It’s no mystery why. America is founded on a rebellion against British imperial rule.”
This doesn’t contradict your point, but I think the predominantly American-cast Rebellion vs. the almost-totally British-cast Empire is linked to Hollywood Biblical epics usually casting Americans as the Jews and Brits as the Romans. (A tradition Martin Scorsese deliberately evoked by casting David Bowie as Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ.”)
February 5, 2016 @ 9:13 am
The first version of this began with the rhetorical question “Why was David Bowie cast as Pilate?” but it stopped fitting anywhere and had to be cut. Wait for the special edition in 2036 when it gets jarringly spliced back in for no good reason.
February 4, 2016 @ 6:26 pm
The other glaring exception to the good = American Accent is of course Obi Wan Kenobi.
February 4, 2016 @ 9:35 pm
And James Earl Jones, surely? Yes it’s heavily distorted, but he’s from Mississippi…
February 5, 2016 @ 9:11 am
Sure, it’s a trend not an iron rule.
February 5, 2016 @ 10:19 pm
Also, briefly, Leia, who uses a British accent in about half her scenes in A New Hope.
And, obviously, characters like Chewbacca and Nien Nunb.
February 4, 2016 @ 9:38 pm
Although I suspect that you’re absolutely right in assuming that this trilogy will conclude with the restoration of the republic (in some more moral form), I can’t help but hope (although this is basically a pipe dream) that the resolution actually comes in a revolution of the storm-troopers, who are prompted into a rising by Finn; their actual narrative, of a people deprived of their families, lives, and identities (in the Force Awakens) is almost that of a subjugated populace. As you say, though, I highly doubt that would fit into the essentially cyclical structure of star wars films.
February 5, 2016 @ 6:32 am
Is there anything textual in the Star Wars series that supports the idea that droids are sentient enslaved beings as opposed to computerized machines with really good interfaces? Relatedly, I’m thinking of buying an iPhone. How much should I offer Siri in hourly wages and vacation time?
February 5, 2016 @ 12:46 pm
I think the way that C3PO and R2D2 communicate with each other like people chatting when no-one is watching is an indication.
February 5, 2016 @ 1:47 pm
I feel we should all take a moment to consider just how great that alternative title’s pun is. I am basking in its magnificence.
February 7, 2016 @ 12:50 am
Isn’t the reason for the rise of the First Order the $4bn Disney paid for Lucasfilms. Whilst my knowledge of the Star Wars Expanded Universe is very, very limited (a couple of the Darkhorse comics, the Thrawn trilogy and a smattering of video games) there were occasional remnants of the Empire but that wasn’t the be all and end all. I seem to recall there been a big storyline / background involving an alien invading force. Also Luke set up a Jedi Academy to start a new Jedi order to protect the New Republic, as well as a clone called Luuke turning up.
These rather prosaic, essentially soap opera-esque ideas function fine to generate a respectable turn-over when you’re a largely prose/comics & licencing outfit but nothing generates profit at the level they needed to see after the 2012 purchase like a good old fashioned war.