Is Star Wars a right-wing parable – or a call to solidarity?

At first glance, the politics of Star Wars are highly regressive. But the importance of building a coalition of all classes and occupations is clearly shown. 

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At first glance, the politics of Star Wars are, for people of a left-wing persuasion, extremely troubling. Our hero – Luke Skywalker – is basically a counter-revolutionary, who, over the course of the three films, re-entrenches the inherited privileges of his family – the ability to use the Force – at gunpoint.

The prequel trilogy only confirms that the Jedi are Tories: it reveals that Jedi have the ability to use the force due to their “midichlorians”, sentient microscopic beings that are present in all life but exist in greater numbers in Jedi. As the greater Force abilities of Jedi dynasties – that of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia – show, the Jedi are the science fiction of a family that puts its assets in a trust.

The Galactic Empire, in contrast, seems to be a meritocracy, albeit one with a fairly violent set of penalties for failure. Skywalker himself dreams of signing up to train in the Empire’s navy: compare and contrast with the forces of the Rebel Alliance, who give Skywalker a ship thanks to a favourable report from a family friend, Biggs Darklighter.

However, when you look again, Star Wars is not a call for the establishment of inherited privilege – but a confirmation of the left-wing values of solidarity and collective action. Skywalker is born a farmer of limited means and establishes a cross-class coalition to defeat the Empire, comprising Han Solo and his Wookie friend Chewbacca – a pair of sole traders, equivalent to white van men – as well as the aristocratic Princess Leia.

In the final defeat of the Empire, they are assisted by a grassroots uprising in the shape of the Ewoks, and even – in the manner of New Labour – succeed in winning over big business, with even Lando Calrissian, a dispossessed energy magnate, participating in the assault upon the Death Star.

The success of Skywalker’s broad coalition is in direct contrast to the failure of the narrow, elite-based grouping that Obi Wan Kenobi assembles in his doomed attempt to prevent the rise of the Sith in the prequel trilogy. Kenobi, far from building a broad church, recruits a narrow band of Jedi, Galactic Senators, and constitutional monarchs in order to stop Darth Sidious from destroying the Galactic Republic. Predictably, a movement drawn only from the metropolitan elite meets a failure even greater than that of the Yes side in the 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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