In the early goings of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” we get to see the humble origins of Luke Skywalker at his moisture farm on Tatooine alongside his uncle Owen and aunt Beru.
We see that Luke is troubled by his mundane life out on this desert planet, that he yearns for something greater for himself in this Galaxy Far, Far Away. We also see, after his run-in with Ben aka Obi-Wan Kenobi, that he understands that he lives in an oppressive society under the thumb of the Imperial Empire. When Obi-Wan receives his message from Leia asking for his help he turns to Luke and asks him to join him in this fight, just as his father Anakin did long ago when they were master and apprentice. Luke remarks that he knows the Empire is bad but he can’t just get up and leave his life behind here.
Obi-Wan reluctantly lets him be for the moment but later when they discover the Jawa caravan that had captured R2-D2 and C3PO has been ransacked by stormtroopers looking for them, Luke quickly realizes that his aunt and uncle are in danger and races home only to discover this…
It’s a dark moment in this series but a turning point for Luke in the story. Seeing the charred remains of his aunt and uncle from the aftermath of this raid by the stormtroopers radicalizes Luke and from this point forward he dedicates himself to the fight against the Empire. He joins Obi-Wan, flies off in a starship with Han Solo and Chewbacca, saves Princess Leia from the clutches of Darth Vader, joins the rebellion, and destroys The Death Star and all the Imperial troops aboard it.
What Luke notably did not do though in the aftermath of this scene is go to a ballot box and cast a vote against his oppressors.
Over the course of the last few years, America has been politically more volatile than usual, to say the least. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016 many, including myself, were awoken to the fact that a huge percentage of the country is not nearly as tolerant of others as they may let on. That America is NOT in fact a post-racial society, that we actually haven’t grown all that much. We realized in November of 2016 that it is actually very easy for this country to elect a far-right despot bent on further dehumanizing marginalizing groups in this country and that we are all very much in danger of suddenly being face to face with a government that may look to actually destroy us.
But the reaction to this from liberals who recognized this growing concern wasn’t to rise up in defense of the most marginalized people in our country but to “do it the right way” which was to organize voting blocks to elect more Democrats. The answer to suddenly facing a wannabe tyrant wasn’t to try to overthrow him but to simply wait our turn come 2018 and 2020 to vote him out. Despite the increasing rise of far-right militias, fascists, and the Alt-Right, liberals reacted to this largely by “tisk-tisking” these hate groups, while telling members of the Antifa who were actually trying to push these creeps back out of our communities to “don’t complain, #vote.” Liberals became reply guys on Twitter under Trump’s deranged Tweets, thinking this was “doing an activism” while his government hauled off protestors in unmarked vans during the cop riots of 2020.
But it’s not all that surprising that this was the reaction from the liberal voting masses. The problems of this country go far beyond Trump. The Donald was merely a symptom of a larger problem in American politics. No liberal looked inwardly after 2016 and asked themselves what they may have done to make this possible. The previous 8 years may have felt like a utopia to brunch libs but in reality, Obama’s America had plenty of warts and actual abuses of human rights that deserved just as much anger and #resistance as anything Trump ever did. Obama re-upped the Patriot Act while in office, bailed out Wallstreet ghouls multiple times, famously did NOT close our black site prison in Guantanamo Bay, continued to bomb the hell out of men, women, and children in the Middle East, built the very cages that liberals would later hold against Trump during his presidency, and need I remind you all, Black Lives Matter began while he was in office.
So why am I bringing up Star Wars in this talk again you may ask? Because people often turn to their favorite stories for inspiration in their lives. Some of those movies in fact tell radical tales of fighting the man, Empires, and ruthless villains all the same. They use it as a springboard to team up together, join local voting chapters, and get Democrats, like Obama, elected. A famous title these people gave themselves online in the months and weeks leading up to each election cycle during the Trump presidency was in fact #TheResistance in reference to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which came out a year before Trump was elected.
It became a thing to get people out to vote. They even used actual pictures of Princess Leia to galvanize their supporters into action.
But no one turns to movies and stories about elections to find inspiration for fighting “The Man.” Outside of maybe “Parks & Recreation” (which has aged terribly imo) you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who uses the image of say Robert Redford in “The Candidate” to get people out to vote. Besides the fact that a lot of these stories are not as famous or as enjoyable as freaking Star Wars, there’s a clear reason the electorate finds inspiration in these characters over characters who try to create change in a story that resembles more our reality.
It’s because in these films about space knights battling evil space empires the catharsis comes from the fact that their efforts do radically change the world/galaxy they live in. That they topple an oppressive system by actively fighting back. Things actually change in a real way.
The problem with the way people see these films though (Besides caping for fascist Democrats) is that they missed the far more important/obvious point of these stories. These movies aren’t about upending the system by playing by its rules. It’s not about casting a vote to destroy literal tyrants.
Rebellion IS the way to create truly radical change and it’s NOT a metaphor.
When George Lucas got to creating Star Wars back in the early 1970s it was toward the end of the Vietnam War. The conflict, that began in 1964 but really in 1955 with the Indochina War between the French Colonial Government and the Viet Minh (more pejoratively known as the Vietcong) led by Ho Chi Minh, was still raging while George was writing. It ended up being where he took his primary inspiration for the central conflict of his epic space opera.
The Rebellion in Star Wars is depicted as a collection of allied human and alien races coming together to fight a far better technologically equipped Empire, through a shared sense of solidarity and desire to be free of their Imperialist opressors occupying their homeworlds.
George Lucas modeled the Rebels after these revolutionaries in Vietnam and you can guess from there who the Imperials are supposed to be…
The Viet Minh were formed in 1941 to overthrow their colonialist French rulers who had occupied their country for nearly a century. Before their revolution began France’s rule over Vietnam was brutal and torturous of its people. The Vietnamese were largely the poorest of the poor in their own country (with only wealthy collaborators seeing any piece of the colonial pie), treated like dogs by the French, and dehumanized to point that their existence was almost purely for the labor of France where landlords kept them destitute and in line.
The Viet Minh would briefly put their revolution on hold however when Japan colonized their country during WWII and rather ironically the US gave Ho Chi Minh himself support to fight back against this Empire during this period. After the war, however, the US would rescind their support to help the French retake control of Vietnam leading to the Indochina War and the fight for Vietnamese independence starting with the French Naval bombing of Haiphong in November of 1946.
Despite having the full support of the Western Imperial Core behind the French however the Vietnamese revolutionaries, along with the help of China’s new communist government, were able to defeat them through sheer attrition and guerilla warfare. A treaty was formed in Geneva between April and July of 1954 but the West again intervened to force a division between the North and the South splitting the country and pledging elections to unify it down the line. When it became clear that Ho Chi Minh would win election to unite the two halves, the former Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, who was sympathetic to the French, forced the CIA to intervene and kept the country split, declaring Ngô Đình Diệm the new president of the Republic of Vietnam in the South.
This would lead to further conflicts between the two regions and eventually in the aftermath of the Gulf of Tonkin incident the US found its way to get involved and try to stop the revolutionaries for good so that their preferred liberal “democracy” could take hold instead.
For roughly 11 years, the US occupied Vietnam, dropping 7,078,032 tons of bombs on the country. For comparison, the total amount of bombs the US dropped in WWII was 2,057,244 or roughly 3.5x less than what they dropped in just Vietnam. The US even bombed much of its neighbor in the country of Laos for just being next to the conflict. They would also drop Agent Orange to kill guerilla forces wherever they thought they might be (later causing birth defects and mutations still felt in Vietnam today). The US created “free fire” zones where they gave their troops permission to “kill anything that moved” killing not just soldiers but innocent men, women, and children alike.
To this day both Vietnam and Laos are the most bombed regions on the planet and an estimated three million people were killed.
But the Viet Minh would not go quietly and proved a far tougher adversary than the US had envisioned. Despite being technologically overmatched, despite having the entire weight of Imperial Core fighting against them again, despite having no true standing army to fight their enemy the Viet Minh, while suffering massive casualties in comparison to the Americans won the war and united the country through sheer force of will and shared sense of just revolutionary action, outlasting their enemy through guerilla warfare.
The popular notion in our history books here is that the conflict ended due to pressure from anti-war peace activists demonstrating in the streets against the conflict. A #resistance before there were even hashtags. But the reality is the war was lost because the Viet Minh beat us. They fought valiantly against Imperial US troops as our own soldiers began questioning the point of the conflict themselves (many even defecting to the north) and sent them home packing.
Note that not a single Viet Minh cast a vote to stop the US from taking their country; they took it back themselves through blood and tears.
This is the real inspiration for Star Wars. Not activists protesting in the streets holding signs like “Give Peace a Chance” or in the more modern sense saying “A Woman’s Place is in The Resistance.” Voting very rarely creates radical change. Hell, to use our own history here, how did the colonialists usurp British rule in 1776? How did the slaves finally get emancipated in the mid-1800s? Even in the more modern sense, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was a direct response to the violent uprising by African Americans following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Violence might not be THE answer but it is quite clearly, historically a REAL answer to fighting oppression.
Movies and stories about revolution and rebellion are certainly nice ways of coping with reality and certainly, there is plenty of inspiration in watching a film like Star Wars and seeing how we can all learn to look evil in the eye and tell it “No, you move.”
But electoral politics is just one way to create change and if the last like ever has shown anything it is at best gradual change and at worst completely ineffective. There have been two Democratic and three Republican presidents in my lifetime and what has actually changed between each presidency? Our wages have only gotten lower when adjusted for inflation. The wealthy have gotten exponentially richer each year, especially during the pandemic. We are even more surveyed on by the state than we ever have before. Our military and law enforcement industrial complex has only gotten far larger and more robust all while brutalizing black, brown, and indigenous people both here and abroad alike. And if the last two years have shown us anything our healthcare system is still BEYOND broken.
A corrupt government is actually very okay with you peacefully demonstrating believe it or not. They prefer you hold a protest sign instead of a brick. So, I ask again how effective is voting really when these are consistently the results no matter who is in office? Why do we continue to play this VERY rigged game? Why is our takeaway from stories about heroes who violently topple oppressive regimes is to #vote?
Quite clearly Hollywood and the Pentagon prefer it this way, co-opting the language and themes of revolutionaries in these stories to fit a preferred non-violent agenda to those who seek to push them out, if not just being overtly propagandistic.
You might think I’m exaggerating about how many people take these stories seriously but think about the number of times you’ve seen Trump compared to Voldemort or Emperor Palpatine or Republicans to the bad guys of the countless Marvel films there are out there, where these villains are all violently defeated and still come away with “Oh we need to vote.”
Some of these including Star Wars presents perhaps a sanitized/agreeable depiction of this violence but quite clearly the answer is right there! How do people still miss the point despite it being so obvious what truly needs to be done?
One of my favorite series of the past decade is a show about pirates called “Black Sails” which premiered in early 2014. On its surface, this show is supposed to be a prequel to “Treasure Island” with a lot more graphic violence and a heaping helping of T&A. But in reality, the story is actually about identity, particularly the way society demonizes identity to control its populace. It’s a story about how good men become radicalized from this and turn to violence as an answer to their oppression.
Its main character is Captain Flint, a former navy lieutenant in the British Royal Navy who’s homosexual romance with a wealthy proprietor looking to peacefully reestablish colonial rule in the Caribbean islands of Nassau leads to both their banishments from society. Exiled to Nassau Flint becomes a pirate lord, stealing from merchant ships in the Caribbean but not to simply line his pockets but to buy freedom for Nassau from the British Empire.
Eventually chance arrives for a more peaceful reconciliation, however. Flint is given a chance to confess his crimes to the colonial government in the Americas in exchange for possibly bringing Nassau peacefully back into the Empire. However, prejudice toward him and his kind leads to a violent exchange that kills his partner and lands him on the precipice of the gallows. As Flint sits in front of this kangaroo court he begins to realize the painfully obvious; that peace was never going to happen for Nassau, that doing it “the right way” was never actually an option.
Flint manages to escape death of course, from the help of another Pirate Captain in Charles Vane. When he arrives back on his ship he tells his first officer Billy “Bones” to ready the guns. Billy looks at him incredulously in this moment, in Flint’s escape they had already caused plenty of chaos and destruction, so he asks “What’s the target, Captain?”
Flint simply says “Whatever’s left…”
“Black Sails” was the first time I finally realized the truth about depictions of rebellion in storytelling. The scene is a dark moment in this series. It’s not played in a triumphant way like Luke destroying the Death Star in “Star Wars” or depicts its violence as clean and unproblematic like “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” It’s ugly but it does depict it as the ultimate results of what happens when a group of people are finally pushed too far. It shows that violence is definitely shocking and even revolting, but it is also necessary in combating tyrants.
Revolutionary violence is not a metaphor for voting. It is not a metaphor for naively demonstrating peacefully in front of our apathetic rulers by appealing to their morality. It’s not a stand-in for the peaceful transference of power between the oppressor and the marginalized.
It is a call to action.
I’ve tip-toed around saying this in other write-ups so I’m going to make it crystal clear right here, right now; If we really want to radically change this country, if we really want to see America become a more benevolent, more fair society, revolution is really the ONLY answer.
The at best incremental changes of the last few decades compared to our massive losses should be an indicator that doing it the “right way” has been completely exhausted and outdated. People are quite literally dying as liberals wait for the midterms and general elections to enact the change they believe in, which in this case means electing Democrats who do much of the same bull shit that Republican politicians do.
There’s a reason the riots and protests of the summer of 2020 got politicians actually spooked into some action back then, it’s because the threat of violence is far more powerful than walking peacefully in the streets to demand change. I’ll say this, just as I did in a blog post I wrote about “Black Sails” back then; a system and government that treats you unjustly does NOT deserve peace.
I’m sure some of you, especially friends reading this, might be appalled by what I’m saying here, and just to be crystal clear, I’m not planning to do anything foolish and I do not believe I’ll ever see a revolution in my lifetime anyway. But these are the conclusions I’ve come to in recent years. Our government isn’t going to change, that was made clear to me beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2020. As it stands it is only getting worse. While liberals pat themselves on the back for electing Biden, the dude is still revving up the engines of our military-industrial complex, walking back even his most modest campaign promises, and still twiddling his thumbs if not outright capitulating to the Republicans.
But even if we got Bernie Fucking Sanders in the White House do any of you actually believe the system in place would allow him to succeed? Does anyone actually believe he would’ve ushered in a brave new era of American “Socialism” for this country with much of our congress the way they are?
If you truly believe that America is inherently good deep down and only needs modest, incremental change then sure, more power to you. Go vote. I think you’re naive but go fill those dots and vote for your preferred “progressive” candidate if that’s how you feel. I’m just a guy who writes about nerd shit, so what do I know?
But if radical change is what you desire, if you recognize that our government is actually beyond corrupt, beyond evil, and will never look out for your best interest then at the VERY least revolution should NOT be off the table.
Recognize that the stories you draw your liberal fantasies from are not really about getting in a voting booth to vote for your blue capitalist against the other sides’ red capitalist.
Luke did not stop the Empire by casting his ballot at Toshi station or whatever. He stopped it by flying a fighter spacecraft into a military space station and blowing it up killing probably millions of Imperial soldiers.
The heroes in these stories didn’t experience catharsis by playing by the rules of their oppressors. They experienced it by violently overthrowing them. Star Wars was inspired by real-life radical revolutionaries who took up arms against their Imperialist foes and fought like hell to reclaim their country from an actual Empire.
Perhaps it’s time a story like Star Wars inspired history in a real way…