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The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude

by David Brin, Ph.D.

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.

The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude

"But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."
— George Lucas (New York Times interview, March 1999)

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.

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 superbeings 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.


THE END of the preview. To continue reading, please see Through Stranger Eyes, a collection of my book reviews, introductions and essays on popular culture, which was released in the Western Hemisphere by Nimble Books and in the Eastern Hemisphere by Altair (Australia)...

... or pick up the extended exploration of this topic, including insights from a dozen "expert witnesses" testifying for both sides... plus hilarious "cross-examination"... in Star Wars On Trial!


The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude

about this article

Copyright © 1999 by David Brin. All rights reserved.


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?

"The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude" (excerpt published here) was originally published on Salon.com as "'Star Wars' Despots vs. 'Star Trek' Populists" and "What's Wrong (and Right) with 'The Phantom Menace'."


articles, films & books cited here

The debate sparked by the original 1999 Salon article hasn't subsided. It spilled over to this page, then became a Smart Pop book titled Star Wars on Trial.

Hear David Brin's interview for WIRED Magazine. Seems the accompanying article and headline re-ignited the ire of the Star Wars fans!

David Brin, Star Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens EditionStar Wars on Trial (book)

David Brin, Through Stranger Eyes: Reviews, Introductions, Tributes & Iconoclastic EssaysThrough Stranger Eyes (book)

Star Wars The Digital Six film CollectionStar Wars films 1-6 (films 1-6)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Plus Bonus Features)Star Wars The Force Awakens (film 7)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (With Bonus Content)Rogue One (film)


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