Star Wars

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(HOST) The new Star Wars film as political commentary? Commen- tator Allen Gilbert takes a look at the buzz around Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

(GILBERT) George Lucas’s new Star Wars film is drawing movie- goers by the millions. It’s also attracting the interest of pundits who think it’s a case of art imitating life.

In the movie, a manipulative chancellor instigates a phony war to divert citizens’ attention so that he can carry out his secret political plans. Once the war is underway, the chancellor persuades the Republic’s Senate to restrict individual rights. He is given extraordinary wartime powers as the Republic is remade into an empire.

Go to Google on the Web, type in “Star Wars” and “anti-Bush”, and you’ll get thousands of hits on articles, blogs and discussion boards. Many people see parallels between the movie and contem- porary politics. They point to the parallel with the war in Iraq, which was built on evidence that didn’t exist. There’s also the parallel with restric- tions imposed on civil liberties through the Patriot Act. And there are the parallels with President Bush’s assumption of extraordinary powers, such as declaring certain individuals “enemy combatants” and subjecting them to military tribunals.

The film’s director George Lucas downplays similarities between the Bush administration and the “Dark Side”. Speaking at the film’s open- ing at Cannes in France, Lucas pointed out that the film’s plot was crafted years ago – long before the U. S. went to war against Iraq. In fact, he noted, the U. S. was aiding Saddam Hussein at the time that the scripts for the prequel trilogy were developed.

Instead, Lucas said, he patterned his story after broad historical themes: the passage of a society from freedom to fascism. Any parallels with specific events of present times are unintended. But, Lucas said, “As you go through history, I didn’t think it was going to get quite this close. So it’s just one of those recurring things.”

He added, “I hope this doesn’t come true in our country. Maybe the film will waken people to the situation.” He was said to be joking. And joking, maybe. But NBC’s Today Show picked up the story. An anti- Hollywood film site called for a boycott of the film.

What Lucas may or may not have intended could be less important than what people think he intended. Real financial damage could result if enough movie-goers boycott the film. The coming summer months are crucial to any film’s box-office success. So far, Episode III is doing very well. In its first weekend, it topped records for biggest box-office hit.

In years to come, film buffs – and perhaps even serious historians – may indeed see Episode III as a commentary on what a democracy should not do when it’s under siege. It could even become like the film The Battle of Algiers, a 1965 movie about the end of French colonial rule in Algeria. Battle of Algiers is known as a classic on how not to deal with an insurgent enemy force. National Security officers are said to watch it as part of their training.

Imagine Star Wars playing in the private screening room of the Pentagon.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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