I just saw "Star
Wars" again. It’s big fun. But don’t take
the kids just yet.
You know by now that George
Lucas’s stock for this stew was Joseph Campbell
puree, which photon torpedoed into our collective
unconscious by drawing on cultural archetypes and
recycling every old story we’ve ever loved.
However, Lucas also played (accidentally, let’s
presume) on some reactionary prejudices which
surely resonate at least as intensely.
Apparently, in a universe
where arms, legs, and antennae sprout
interchangeably, human skin doesn’t even tan–not
even on a desert planet with two blazing suns.
This flick is whiter than a Martha Stewart dinner
party at Texaco headquarters. Sure, there’s a
token malt liquor ad black, played by (who else?)
Billy Dee Williams, but not until the last reel
of the sequel.
Chewbacca, however, is a
perfect sidekick. There’s a long tradition of
white heroes flanked by non-white little helpers
like the Lone Ranger’s Tonto or the Green
Hornet’s Cato. Even Tin Cup had Cheech
Marin carrying Kevin Costner’s bags around.
Ignore the hair, and Chewie fills the role of a
black–frighteningly large and strong, prone to
violence, and not too bright; but loyal,
subordinate, and happy to do the heavy lifting.
blue-eyed Luke gets the idea to rescue Leia by
pretending to escort a prisoner, it’s only
natural that the cuffs belong on the big guy.
Notably, none of the
various latex-headed mutants display any
redeeming qualities, usually jabbering strangely
and toiling in unimportant poverty. Great. Lucas
even stereotypes the Third World.
*What’s the deal with
C3PO’s sexuality? OK, laugh. But think about it.
Even though it is a genderless robot,
"he’s" treated by everyone as male,
albeit sexless. Why does that resonate? Simple.
We’ve seen this character before.
What’s the stereotype of
gay men? Let’s see: effete, low in self-esteem,
afraid of a physical fight, duplicitous out of
self-interest, obsessive over their companions,
and conscious of appearances. C3PO exactly.
Try not to laugh when the
droids fool the Storm Troopers by hiding in a
It’s a man’s world. Other
than Luke’s aunt–who cooks for the manfolk
[twice] before getting incinerated–we’ve got
exactly one female here. Per stereotype, Leia
(cute pun, guys) contributes nil beyond (a)
pleading for help (via the droids) and (b)
throwing a hissy fit and leading everybody into a
garbage bin. Feisty dialogue aside, she’s really
just a bouncy-nippled prize for the boys.
In the climactic Death Star
assault ‘ when the Rebellion needs every pilot
they can find, the only job for a girl is to sit
home and hope one of the studs will save them
all. C3PO stays behind, too–but then, we already
know why [he] can’t be a pilot.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan and
Darth literally "cockfight" over who’s
the master, slapping long hard cylinders they
swing with both hands. Puh-leeze.
What the hell does Han Solo
smuggle? Since mobsters like Jabba would gladly
kill over his stash, it sure ain’t tamales.
Drugs? Guns? Naked Ewok pictures? Notably, no one
cares–as long as Han serves the Rebellion.
Excuse me, but that’s
[precisely] the rationale the CIA has used with
drug smugglers in Nicaragua, Laos, Afghanistan,
and everywhere else. Nice ethics to teach your
criminal–kills Greedo unnecessarily, although
the 2.0 version has been altered so that the
bounty hunter fires first. And Han chickens out
of the final dogfight, showing up only to
sucker-punch one peon bad guy after everyone with
any real cajones has already exploded in a fiery
ball of Industrial Light and Magic. If Han shows
up a few minutes earlier, Luke’s old friend with
the mustache–his only link to the past, now that
his adoptive parents are dead–doesn’t have to
This is a hero?
And ultimately, what kind
of "democracy" is the Rebellion
fighting for? Cursory mentions of a republic are
made, but we’ve also got Princesses,
Lords, and Jedi Knights. OK, so a constitutional
monarchy? Not if we can trust our own eyes: the
Princess considers herself entitled to command
Luke and Han, simply by birthright; Obi-Wan’s
occult powers allow him to gleefully command
"weak minds" against their own will–a
manifestly fascist goal; the rebel alliance
salutes Luke and Han with a faceless,
boot-clicking military phalanx every bit as
robotic as the Empire; etc.
Lucas’s vision is
unrelentingly royalist. Carrie Fisher even tries
a dinner-theater British accent in quieter
scenes, dropping it when the action picks up. (At
least now we know where Kevin Costner learned his
accent for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.)
More tellingly, Luke’s
destiny is to become a Jedi, just like his
father. So greatness is genetic. That’s a truly
dangerous idea. I seem to recall a few million
people dying the last time people seriously
bought that one.
Bottom line? Star Wars
is so entertaining that almost nobody notices,
its constant sexual and race stereotypes,
political amorality, and authoritarian faith in
the divine right of kings.
Just because a movie is
brilliant doesn’t mean it’s good.
Bob Harris is a political
humorist who has spoken at over 275 colleges