THE DARK SIDE: STAR WARS, MYTHOLOGY AND INGRATITUDE
By David Brin, Ph.D.
"But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."
George Lucas (New York Times interview, March 1999)
[image from Get the Big Picture blog]
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.
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 read the original article and sidebar review of Episode 1 (The Phantom Menace) in the Salon archives.