Unlock the Galaxy!
Author: James Graham
Published on Nov 02, 2012
With the news that Lucasfilm and its biggest creative property Star Wars has been bought by Disney for $4 billion dollars, now might be a good time to ponder what the Star Wars films have to say about democracy.
The Star Wars “prequels” (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) are not regarded as great films, but I think they have some interesting things to say about the nature of politics. The first film is centred on the fact that the Galactic Senate is incapable of responding to an illegal trade embargo due to it being riddled with corruption and manipulated by vested interests. The plot of the second film hinges around the fact that a numpty senator, presumably only elected due to his celebrity status as an accidental war hero (Jar Jar Binks), manages to persuade an equally venal senate to grant the Chancellor “emergency” dictatorial powers - which of course is never rescinded. One of the central characters of all three films is Padme Amidala, someone who is not so much a career politician but almost literally a cradle-to-grave politician (she is first elected head of state at the age of 13 and becomes a senator at 21).
Indeed, throughout the films, the senate rarely seems to view the people as anything other than its subjects. You never hear a senator talking about what their voters think - it is made clear that the only politics that actually matters to them is the intrigue which goes on within the senate building itself - which is literally in the shape of a bubble.
Whatever criticisms you might have about George Lucas, it is clear that there is a fairly deep satirical vein running throughout the prequels about the nature of politics and democracy; while it is clearly a Bad Thing that Palpatine manages to inveigle himself as Galactic Emperor, it is probably no bad thing that the Old Republic is destroyed.
In a recent article, Ryan Britt has an intriguing theory that most citizens in the Star Wars universe are functionally illiterate, and that this is key to the heart of the Old Republic’s corruption and eventual downfall:
If you simply stick to the Star Wars films, there is no news media of any kind. Despite the fact that we see cameras circling around Queen/Senator Amidala in the Senate, they don’t seem to be actually feeding this information anywhere. Are they security cameras, like the ones that recorded Anakin killing little tiny Jedi kiddies? This theory achieves a little more weight when you consider that the conversation in The Phantom Menace Senate scene is all about how Queen Amidala can’t verify the existence of a coming invasion. She’s got no pictures, and stranger still, no reputable news source has even written about the blockade of Naboo. Even if we put forth that cameras in Star Wars are only for security and not for news, that still leaves the question of why there are no journalists. A possible answer: it’s because most people don’t read, which means that over time most people in this universe don’t ever learn to read.
It’s an interesting article and worth reading in full, explaining as it does how it comes to be that by the time of episodes 4-6 the Jedi, who had been effectively running the galaxy as recently as 20 years before, had slipped so quickly into the status of myth and legend.
An informed and engaged electorate is crucial to a functioning democracy. Without it we are vulnerable to every demagogue that comes along. The Star Wars films can be read as a warning that even advanced civilisations can be brought down if they allow apathy to take too firm a hold.
Perhaps the new Disney Star Wars films ought to be concerned less with awesome special effects and epic space battles, and rather more with Luke, Leia and Han’s efforts to give the citizens of the new republic a political education?