Star Wars Is Not Just Fantasy

Darth Vader

“This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause,” Padme Amidala

I fell in love with ‘Star Wars’ way back in 1977, when I was 11.

I came out of the cinema with my Dad and my head was buzzing and filled with a thousand flashing images. As we left the Eagle Centre car park, everything seemed futuristic. (Or should that be ancient since it was ‘a long time ago?’) There used to be neon lights lining the exit and I remember them strobing past the car windows as if we were in the final approach to bombing the Death Star.

For days afterwards, I’d take my little light-sabre (basically an over-priced torch with a translucent wand attached) and stage fights in my garden in the dark. I’d be fighting evil, challenging Vader and his evil empire. Thank god there was no internet or webcams back then – I’m sure a podgy Indian kid running around with a torch would have been manna to a thousand cruel hearts.

I waited eagerly for ‘Empire.’ The day before I was meant to go and see it, a mate walked up to me at school and said, “Darth Vader’s Luke’s Dad, y’know!” AAARGGHHH! That was the worst spoiler I’ve ever suffered but I still loved the film.

Unlike 90% of Star Wars fans, I even liked ‘Phantom Menace.’ Jar Jar was a bit annoying but I liked all the senate machinations, probably because Ian McDiarmid turns in such a great performance as Palpatine.

While others were gnashing their teeth at the alleged juvenility of PM, I understood that episodes 4, 5, and 6 had also had characters for kids. I mean, c’mon, what were the Ewoks but teddy-bears? When I saw ‘Phantom Menace’ at the cinema, at the first sight of Jar Jar, all the kids cooed and cheered. They loved him! I still think a lot of the criticism of episodes 1, 2, and 3 comes from thirtysomethings who have a falsely nostalgic memory of the earlier films. They can’t forgive Lucas for the fact they’re not kids any more.

In preparation for ‘Sith,’ I bought ‘Attack of the Clones’ on DVD and watched it again, with the volume turned up fully. It’s a rollicking adventure, full of great Star Wars set-pieces. The fight between Yoda and Dooku at the end is probably my favourite duel in the whole cycle. When Dooku turns round and you hear the tapping of Yoda’s stick as his shadow precedes him into the hangar, it’s one of the best entrances in any action film.

Today, I saw ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and I can confirm I still love Star Wars. I probably love it more, in fact.

What I saw was an immensely well-crafted film, a microscopically meticulous attempt by Lucas to unite the ’70s thread with the ’00s prequels. It worked. I loved the little touches such as Kenobi picking up Anakin’s light-sabre after the end duel. The same light-sabre he would pass on to Luke Skywalker in ‘New Hope’ saying it was his father’s.

I loved the way Anakin’s journey to evil was paced-out. Everything started with noble intentions but his love of Padme was his undoing in the end. It’s unusual for a fantasy/SF film to have this as a narrative lever, usually we get some saccharine blahh about love being the strongest magic or whatever. Not in Star Wars. In its universe, too great an attachment leads to fear, jealousy (which is the ‘shadow of greed’) and, inevitably, the Dark Side.

And what about Lucas’ prods at Bush and the US government? How about the bit where Anakin paraphrases Bush’s famous “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” speech? To which, Kenobi responds that “only Sith talk in absolutes” and launches into an attack. So, Darth Bush appears to be in residence in the White House. Certainly all those WMDs he held up to frighten the world with turned out to be phantom menaces.

‘Revenge’ is a great action film. But it goes beyond that in that it at least tries to make you engage your brain. In the depiction of Palpatine’s scheming, it’s a very accurate portrayal of how many politicians, not least Bush, manipulate the public with fear and lies. By wielding this fear as a corrosive acid, they eat away at freedom and democracy, justifying each draconian new law by pointing at the enemy phantoms they’ve conjured.

So, Lucas gives us a wonderful fantasy and simultaeously makes us think about the world we live in now, here. What choices do we make every day? How much power do we give to politicians with our unthinking complacency, fear and subservience? How is our world turning to the Dark Side and who are the Sith Lords that are whispering their sweaty lies in our ears while they steal our liberty?

ID card, anyone?