Well, a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, back when Mostly Harmless was almost as naive and annoying as a young Luke Skywalker, I made a little confession. Then I followed it up with a big bleg that I really must ask you to go now and read, because it resulted in the talk that I gave a progress report on here and and supplied a link to the .pdf version of here--and which this post is a p.s. to. So that's four posts and my first paid public lecture devoted to Star Wars--not a lot in my book, but who am I to argue with the WAAGNFNP's MOJ?
OK, I admit I'm not counting my other Star Wars posts at Mostly Harmless: a few links here, a brief comparison to the amazing anime series Legend of the Galactic Heroes there, a hidden allusion in our Blogocalypse Carnival over there, and a plug for Rob MacDougall's blog-a-thon entry right here. They just don't relate that closely to the main point of this post, which is to raise a few questions about the relation between these two Return of the Jedi posters (the first actual, the second seriously parodic).
Here's one thing I love about the second poster. By casting President Bush as Lando Calrissian, its designer strongly implies that the role of Darth Vader is being played by Vice President Cheney. As I said in my talk,
It's Cheney, after all, who cultivates a Vader-esque image, who relies on technological implants for his survival, and who famously told Tim Russert five days after 9/11 on Meet the Press that "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will." Whereas Bush was downright Lando Calrissian-like in his campaign, pledging to be a "uniter, not a divider" and to work as closely with Democrats as President of the United States as he did as Governor of Texas. (Plus he has a real past that many would suggest is as wild as Calrissian's fictional one.) When we take into account, too, that Calrissian was intimidated by Vader into betraying Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back and then helped save him and destroy the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, [the] casting decision may even allude to the hope some still hold onto that if only Bush would distance himself from his Vice President and his closest political advisor, Karl Rove, he could yet salvage his Presidency. (The 2006 satirical movie American Dreamz is another example of this fantasy).
What I didn't go on to say then--besides the impossibility of imagining the young Dick Cheney as a young Anakin Skywalker--is how smart it was to leave today's analogue to Emperor Palpatine a mystery. I think it was Claude Lefort who said that in a democracy, unlike a monarchy, the seat of power is empty; rather than fill it (with, say, Rove), it's better to ponder, with Lefort and following Tocqueville, the nature of the despotism particular to a democracy in light of the relation between the Star Wars series and prequel:
The first trilogy tells the tragic story of a republic's descent into empire and a hero's fall into villainy, while the second tells the epic story of that empire's defeat by a rebellion's resistance and that villain's redemption through his children's heroics.
What better illustration of Samuel Delany's point that science fiction is a significant distortion of the present than Star Wars? It's not that I think the Democratic presidential candidates will actually act like Luke, Leia, and Han--the sarcastic casting of Al Gore as Jabba the Hutt says more about the real odds that the Democratic Party will lead a rebellion against Imperial America than anything else in the poster (note: the poster's designer says he made some casting decisions based on design principles alone; that's his story and he's as free to stick with it as I am to run with it). In my talk, I pointed out many problems with the Sith-Republicans/Jedi-Democrats analogy, emphasizing that Democrats have been/can be tempted as easily by the "power of the dark side" as Republicans. And I argued that it's unclear whether the U.S. today has become or will remain an empire:
In response to claims that the Bush administration's policies, doctrines, and strategies are entirely unprecedented, then, I have argued that they ought to be seen as "in the American grain." My point in doing so is not to condemn the United States as always already imperialist, but to suggest that the imperialist tradition in American history and culture, although it has deep roots, is not the only one and does not have to remain the dominant one. 9/11 has sharpened the deep and ongoing contestation among the various American traditions and raised its stakes. The appeal of American-style imperialism has only grown since 2001. But so have critiques of it, from several political traditions within and outside the U.S. What the result of these debates and maneuverings will be is anyone's guess.
Three months and a day after my talk, I still have more questions than answers. The ones I'm most interested in hearing your answers to are:
- What are your criteria for deciding when American democracy has become despotic and imperialist?
- Are we there yet? And if so, when did we start?
- Most important, at what point do you decide to rebel? And what forms does that rebellion take?