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By Bob Harris
I JUST SAW Star Wars again. It's big fun. But don't take the kids just yet. You know by now that George Lucas' stock for this stew was Joseph Campbell purée, which laser-blasted into the collective unconscious by drawing on cultural archetypes and recycling every old story we've ever loved.
However, Lucas also played (accidentally, let's presume) on some old prejudices that surely resonate at least as intensely.
For starters, the Rebellion is whiter than the Texaco letterhead. Sure, there's a token malt-liquor-ad black, played by (who else?) Billy Dee Williams, but not until the sequel. Apparently, in a universe where arms, legs, and antennae sprout interchangeably, human skin doesn't even tan--not even on a desert planet with two blazing suns.
Chewbacca, however, is a perfect sidekick. Ignore the hair and here's a stereotypical "good" black--frighteningly large and strong, prone to violence, and not too bright; but loyal, subordinate, and happy to do the heavy lifting.
When blond-haired, blue-eyed Luke gets the idea to rescue Leia by pretending to escort a prisoner, it's only natural that the cuffs belong on the big guy.
Notably, none of the various latex-headed mutants display any redeeming qualities, jabbering strangely and toiling in unimportant poverty. Great--Lucas even stereotypes the Third World.
And what's the deal with C3PO's sexuality? OK, laugh. But think about it. Even though it--it--is a genderless robot, "he's" treated by everyone as male, albeit sexless. Why does that resonate? Simple. We've seen this character before.
What's the stereotype of gay men? Let's see: effete, low in self-esteem, afraid of a physical fight, duplicitous out of self-interest, obsessive over their companions, and conscious of appearances. C3PO exactly. Try not to laugh when the droids fool the Storm Troopers by hiding in a closet.
It's a man's world. Other than Luke's aunt--who cooks for the menfolk twice before getting incinerated--we've got exactly one female here. Per stereotype, Leia (cute pun, guys) contributes nil beyond pleading for help (via the droids) and throwing a hissy fit and leading everybody into a garbage bin.
She's really just a prize for the Phallic Ones.
In the climactic Death Star assault, when the Rebellion needs every pilot they can find, the only job for a girl is to sit home and hope one of the P.O.s will save them all. C3PO stays behind, too; we already know why he can't be a pilot.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan and Darth literally cockfight over who's the master, slapping long hard cylinders held with both hands. Puh-leeze.
What the hell does Han Solo smuggle? Since mobsters like Jabba would gladly kill over his stash, it sure ain't tamales. Drugs? Guns? Naked Ewok pictures? No one cares--as long as Han serves the Rebellion.
Excuse me, but that's precisely the rationale the CIA has used with drug smugglers in Nicaragua, Laos, Afghanistan, and everywhere else. Nice ethics to teach your kids.
Han--a career criminal--kills Greedo unnecessarily, although the 2.0 version has been altered so that the bounty hunter fires first. And Han chickens out of the final dogfight, showing up only to sucker-punch one peon bad guy after everyone with any real cajones has already exploded in a fiery ball of Industrial Light and Magic. This is a hero?
Ultimately, what kind of "democracy" is the Rebellion fighting for? Cursory mentions of a republic are made, but we've also got Princesses, Lords, and Jedi Knights. OK, so a constitutional monarchy? Not if we can trust our own eyes: The Princess considers herself entitled to command Luke and Han, simply by birthright; Obi-Wan's occult powers allow him to gleefully command "weak minds" against their own will--a manifestly fascist goal; the rebel alliance salutes Luke and Han with a faceless, boot-clicking military phalanx every bit as robotic as the Empire; etc.
Lucas' vision is unrelentingly royalist. Carrie Fisher even tries a dinner-theater British accent in quieter scenes, dropping it when the action picks up.
More tellingly, Luke's destiny is to become a Jedi, just like his father. So greatness is genetic--a truly dangerous idea. I seem to recall a few million people dying the last time folks bought that one.
Bottom line? Aside from constant sexual and race stereotypes, political amorality, and authoritarian faith in the divine right of kings, Star Wars is just terrific.
The Scoop is archived at www.goodthink.com
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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent
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