George Lucas Wrote 'Star Wars' as a Liberal Warning. Then Conservatives Struck Back

From TIME - October 10, 2017

When George Lucas sat down in early 1973 to draft an operatic science fiction movie about a ragtag group of rebels fighting a corrupt central government, the trial of the Watergate burglars had just begun.

He wrote Star Wars reflecting the fraught politics of that moment, hoping to serve a tidy political lesson along with the popcorn.

"It was really about the Vietnam War, and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships?" he told the Chicago Tribune years later. Because the democracies are not overthrown; they are given away."

But like all art, movies have a way of escaping their creators intentions.

As Star Wars and its sequels broke box office records, it became so popular that its characters, plot devices and lingo became a kind of cultural shorthand. Politicians and activists used it to make their argumentssometimes for ideas that Lucas disagreed with. And in the final blow, the movies bad guys were embraced by the very types of people he was warning against.

In a way, Star Wars was the first political meme of the modern era, an analog example of the cultural churn the internet now produces daily, turning an innocent frog cartoon into the mascot of white nationalists or repurposing an awkward political moment into a thousand Photoshop jokes.

The political history of Star Wars began hopefully enough with Jimmy Carterlike Luke Skywalker a farmboy who went on to bigger thingswatching Episode IV: A New Hope at Camp David in 1978 with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as they held a secret strategy session for the historic Camp David Accords.

But the real breakthrough came in 1983, the same year as Return of the Jedi. President Reagan had been lobbing rhetorical attacks at the Soviet Union throughout his first term, but hed faced pushback from the more Establishment foreign policy types in the White House. One speech at the British House of Commons in particular had been watered down.

The White Houses conservatives struck back, taking some of the harsher lines from that speech and adding new jabs to one set to be delivered before the National Association of Evangelicals, an address that the foreign policy gurus would overlook. One section of the speech ended up defining Reagans combative approach to the USSR:

I urge you to beware the temptation of pridethe temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of anevil empire , to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil, he said.

Speechwriter Anthony R. Dolan, who wrote that paragraph, later denied that the term Evil Empire was inspired by the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, but the image stuck in large part because of that resonance. The Soviets decried the Evil Empire speech, as it came to be known, and Reagan himself walked the phrase back in a 1988 meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing it came from another time, another era.


Continue reading at TIME »