Okay, I admit it. I'm a huge fan of the original Star Wars movies and am counting down the days until "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens on December 18th. I don't dress up in costumes or attend conventions or anything like that, but I do watch the films often and I'm eager to see how the epic saga continues. I'm also hoping to erase all the bad feelings that remain from the disappointment I suffered from each and every one of the three Star Wars prequels.
But while I have been a Star Wars lover since I was six, I never really thought much about any deeper philosophical or political messages that may be connected to the original three movies. I mean, I didn't think there was much more to think about other than it's wrong to blow up entire planets and using the Force to kill innocent people is also bad. But over Thanksgiving weekend, I set aside time for my two daughters to see the three original films so they could be caught up on the story in time for the new movie's release, (we're definitely seeing "The Force Awakens" on the opening weekend). And then we saw some of the bonus material and deleted scenes included on my set of Star Wars DVDs. That's when I saw it: a deleted scene from "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," that blew my mind.
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It came from a scene where Luke Skywalker is talking with his best friend Biggs Darklighter. Biggs is trying to explain to Luke why it's no use to stay on his home planet working on his uncle's farm, and during that short conversation Biggs says this:
"What good is all your uncle's work if its taken over by the Empire?…
You know they're starting to nationalize commerce in the central systems…
it won't be long before your uncle is merely a tenant, slaving for the greater glory of the Empire."
Somebody pinch me but even though this was a deleted scene, did I see and hear a Star Wars character tell Luke Skywalker that the really bad thing about the Empire is that it was taking over free trade and private commerce? Was Milton Friedman moonlighting as a script polisher for Star Wars creator George Lucas, circa 1976?
As out of place as a discussion of economic policy and statism may seem to be in the plot of a sci-fi flick, it all makes a lot more sense when you think about more of the characters and story lines from all three of the movies. Han Solo is a smuggler, just the kind of black market entrepreneur that always emerges under a government-controlled, socialist, and war-time economy. Lando Calrissian is running a mining colony in Cloud City that happily avoids Imperial interference because it's, "small enough not to be noticed," (until it is). There's lots of talk about freedom in a general sense in the original Star Wars movies, but the only freedom we really see being lost is economic freedom. And that makes sense since, as Margaret Thatcher said right around the time the Star Wars films were being made in the 1970s, "there can be no freedom without economic freedom."
Now, do I think the younger George Lucas was some kind of Maggie Thatcher fan or a secret free market crusader? Of course not. But I do think that by the mid-1970's, younger adults in America had moved on from their anti-war leftism just a bit and were becoming more aware of the evils of an entity that often resembled the Galactic Empire; the USSR. And after the Helsinki Accords in 1975, America's focus sharpened on the Soviet Union's human rights abuses to go along with its economic suppression. Consciously or subconsciously, it would have been hard for Lucas or any other American screenwriter to completely ignore the political climate of that era. If you were writing about an expanding and evil empire in the 1970s, you were probably getting inspiration from the USSR even if your setting was "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." And it was that growing loathing of the Soviets among a new generation of Americans that absolutely played a big role in Ronald Reagan's election to the White House during the height of the original Star Wars movies' first run in 1980.
From what I understand about the still very quiet Lucas, he's generally a supporter of liberal and Democratic Party causes. He made some appearances with Rep. Nancy Pelosi about ten years ago and donated generously to President Obama's 2008 campaign. So I doubt he'd publicly or even privately make disparaging statements about the U.S. government's growing intrusion into private industry or how the European Union has been trying to rein in political and economic freedom for years. But it's really not about Lucas or his Lucasfilm empire he sold to Disney for $4 billion, (now THAT'S economic freedom!). This is about the early films he created and how they pushed back at overreaching control by the fictional, but frighteningly realistic state.
We'll have to wait until December 18th before we can see where new Star Wars director J.J. Abrams takes this narrative. My guess is that whatever galaxy-wide conflicts that explode in "The Force Awakens" will be blamed at least in part on the inevitable chaos that ensued after the all-controlling Empire fell at the end of "Return of the Jedi" and massive and messy new freedoms immediately emerged. And the bad guys will likely promise more order and efficiency in the midst of that continuing chaos. But again, that's just my guess. Either way, I'm certainly not hoping for any overt politics in the new Star Wars movie. But I am curious about what messages, if any, Abrams will convey about freedom and government in the new installments.
Mostly I'm just hoping these new films are so absorbing and fun that no one feels the need to look for any deeper political messages. But I do admit that the discovery of that deleted scene from the first film and the positive message it sent about the importance of economic freedom has made me love the Star Wars series even more.