As fans and moviegoers all across the world find themselves eagerly waiting for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (expected Dec. 16, 2016), that spectacular galaxy is not too far, far away from everyone’s mind.
Because of this, there has never been a more important time to address how the Star Wars movies are a reflection of our society over the last forty years.
Perhaps the most transparent case can be seen with the Original Trilogy (1977-83). We follow a group of adventurous freedom fighters rebelling against an overbearing and oppressive Empire that promotes structure and organization over individuality and freedom of choice.
One need not look far to see the intentional similarities between the Cold War Era and these movies. The plots of these movies clearly resemble the political climate of “us against them.”
Darth Vader was never thought to be anything more than an agent of tyranny, and Luke Skywalker, and the Rebel’s cause in general, never needed to be questioned.
Additionally, The Death Star, a gigantic super-weapon capable of mass destruction, highlights the gravitas of nuclear warfare.
Fast forward to the end of the twentieth century and the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). The Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005) illustrated a complex geopolitical setting that was no longer as sharply contrasted as the Original Trilogy. The events that lead to the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire were set in the waning years of the Galactic Republic, under threat from increased corruption and separatist aggression.
The Jedi find themselves as generals in the war effort, the Sith operate from the shadows through subterfuge and intrigue, and the chief antagonist, Chancellor Palpatine, is discovered to be pulling the strings on both sides. In comparison, the early twenty-first century saw the development of new kinds of extremist ideologies, intent on committing acts of violence for the sole purpose of inflicting fear and undermine democracy. There was no longer a single overarching enemy, but rather several different cells of phantom menaces that hid amongst the innocent population in an attempt to exploit our higher moral code against us. This is the dilemma the Jedi Order has to face as they battle against Count Dooku’s separatist alliance, and a plot element for Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. In essence, the Prequel Trilogy illustrates a morally ambiguous environment created by characters with opaque motives.
The Force Awakens, Disney’s first installment of the Star Wars Universe, debuted in yet another societal paradigm shift. A brand new cast of millennials take center stage on the galactic scene. Our society’s push for greater equality is exhibited in The Force Awakens, particularly Daisy Ridley’s character Rey, who is the first female Jedi lead in any Star Wars movie. Our generation can find many attributes of the main cast to relate to, and our children someday can look up to. The vicious First Order, the Imperial Remnant led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), has digressed into a more ruthless faction based on extremist ideology, hellbent on revenge against Luke Skywalker. Their newest Super Weapon, Starkiller Base, puts the Death Star to shame in terms of total annihilation, elucidating the implications of total World War. It is implied in the film that they are to some degree allied with the New Republic, operating under their umbrella despite the obvious difference of opinion. The First Order is thus analogous to extremist groups that exist today across the globe.
Whilst the Star Wars movies may not be explicitly intended to elucidate the global setting at the time of their release, many elements demonstrate similarity through themes, motifs and imagery. Ultimately the transition of Star Wars showcases evolutionary trends in society, likely the inspiration for the creators and writers at the time. Understanding this adds new depth to the story of the Skywalkers, and could potentially promote introspection on what kind of World you want to see in that galaxy, far, far away, years from now. May the Force be with you!
Image by Bryce Deshazer