University of Exeter: New Book Reveals Star Wars Historical and Political Inspirations | India Education | Latest Education News | World Education News
According to a groundbreaking new book released this week, real-world historical events and political actors played a central role in shaping the Star Wars universe.
From the fall of the Soviet Union to the West’s “War on Terror”, from Vietnam to the Weimar Republic, some of the most defining periods of modern history have been dramatized and realized by the long series of fiction by George Lucas. And its cast of iconic heroes and villains has been made up of politicians and dictators as varied as Hitler, Stalin, George W Bush and Donald Trump.
Published by Routledge, The History and Politics of Star Wars: Death Stars and Democracy is the first scholarly analysis of Disney’s 45-year-old franchise spanning hundreds of movies, books, and video games.
“Star Wars is a cultural weather vane that shows us which way the wind is blowing in America,” says author Dr Chris Kempshall, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. “He constantly explores historical and real events and reimagines them in his fictional universe.”
World War I history scholar Chris began researching the book in 2017, sifting through the countless novels — both written and graphic — that have expanded and diversified the Star Wars canon far beyond the parameters established by the blockbuster movies of the late 70s and early 80s. His work has also encompassed dozens of licensed video games, television series and spin-off animations, and even a tabletop game.
In this huge body of work, says Chris, clear themes turned out to be remarkably consistent.
“The most important element is the Empire – everyone recognizes it as evil, but it’s so adaptable and malleable that it’s come to represent different historical periods at different points in the series, be it the Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, America in Vietnam or later in Iraq,” he says. “But ironically, Darth Vader, arguably the most recognizable character in the entire series, is almost totally out of about. He’s been compared to Adolf Hitler – even by actress Carrie Fisher – but unlike Hitler, Vader has no dominant ideology and little charisma. When you watch the original trilogy, it appears for only 34 minutes and has 146 lines of dialogue. The Emperor, on the other hand, is a much more interesting and nuanced character, and has clear references to Hitler, Louis XIV, Nixon, George W Bush, and even Trump.
The book examines the influences behind the Jedi and finds strong parallels with the United Nations, particularly in its role as a “keeper of world peace”. And like the UN, there are instances in the Star Wars saga where the Jedi have refused to intervene in a situation outside of their rules of engagement. Rather than being beacons of kindness, Chris finds, their moral code is subject to variation.
Of the three cinematic trilogies, the critically maligned prequels are the most political, says Chris, effectively serving as George Lucas’ political thesis “on how democracy crumbles into fascism.”
“That was what interested Lucas the most – but he knew he couldn’t start there, otherwise he would never have taken the audience with him,” he says. “So in the original trilogy, we know the Empire is evil, but there’s little explanation as to why. In the prequels, we see the collapse of democracy into a state of imperial domination.
To mark the publication of the book, an online Q&A session will take place on August 13, with Chris answering questions from Dr. Sam Langsdale, an expert in feminist philosophy and a recognized authority on contemporary culture, including Star Wars.
“Whenever something new comes out that talks about the Star Wars universe in this context, the usual cry of complaint is ‘don’t make it political,'” Chris adds. “But Star Wars has always been political, and everyone involved in its creation knew that. The tonnage of historical and political material incorporated on every level imaginable is remarkable. Star Wars paints a very bleak picture of democracy – and how democracy is never grabbed by fascists and dictators, but given in. It really is a cautionary tale.