Imagine this: a poorly educated kid from an isolated rural area is enticed by a message from a woman he doesn’t know to seek out a secretive, religious zealot. He journeys into the desert to find this man, who radicalises him into an insurgent religious sect of sword-wielding fanatics. This sect is involved with smugglers, and is obsessed with hit and run terrorist attacks. Along the way, the kid becomes one of the sect’s celebrated fighters.
It sounds like a jihadist recruiting video, right? No, it is the plot of the original Star Wars movie. However with the latest Star Wars movie opening this week, it does beg the question, do the Jedi look a lot like Islamic State?
Coming as it did just after the bicentenary of the American Revolution, George Lucas tapped deeply into America’s foundation myths for key elements of his Star Wars storyline. These were principally about righteous rebels struggling against the cruel British Empire.
However, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. In fact, an objective analysis of the conduct of the war against Britain gives more than enough reason to doubt the inherited, and unquestioned, American narrative.
For example, it is telling that the Iroquois nation chose not to side with the revolutionaries, but instead loyally supported the British. It is equally telling that George Washington authorised a ruthless campaign of destroying Iroquois crops and settlements, as well as systemic rape that today would be considered a war crime. Emancipated slaves fared no better.
Loyalist officials faced the prospect of tarring and feathering – being stripped naked, and having hot tar poured over them before being covered in feathers. Loyalists also found themselves on the receiving end of the “Test Acts” which compelled individuals to swear allegiance to the revolution. Those who did not faced the confiscation of their property, or even banishment. It all looks a lot like the Middle East.
All of this raises moral questions pertinent to today. The last forty years of American state practice would have us believe that maybe George Lucas should have been lionising the Empire and not the rebels. America has certainly brooked little opportunity for independence movements in many of its client states, and the blind eye turned to the moral degeneracy of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte beggars belief.
None of this in any way justifies the inhuman behaviour of Islamic State, nor its precursors, such as al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. However, only by bringing about some semblance of post-war decency to the West’s forays into the Middle East and Africa can we hope to terminate the seemingly endless cycle of violence and retaliation.
Forty years on from the original Star Wars movie, Hollywood is making very different blockbusters. Americans have found a new love for their soldiers, starting with films such as Rambo, and Born on the Fourth of July, and continuing with more recent releases like American Sniper. Producers have also turned to less morally ambiguous comic book superheroes to slake the popular thirst for morality plays.
Besides these offerings, the Star Wars franchise is looking a little tired. Its heroes have become less believable as its storylines have become more predictable. Nor will it be lost on people that each of the first six Star Wars films came out in May. The next three are all scheduled for Christmas releases, which betrays a certain cynicism. In a way, it is a metaphor for the American state.
Here in Australia, we will no doubt continue to flock to the cinemas to see the latest Star Wars release, but something of our own wide-eyed naivety has probably gone. We are less willing to see the world through American eyes. We have grown up, and a good thing too.
Illustration: 20th Century Fox.
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