Friday, 10 April 2015

STAR WARS - You Know, (Not) For Kids...

It seems inescapable. Just when you think it's all in the past, it rears its ugly head like the pain from an old injury. That's right folks, Star Wars is back.

Another reboot or a preboot of a film that gets that little bit more tired and vacuous with every retouch, off-shoot, fleshing-out of this authoritarian, xenophobic, quasi-spiritual and massively derivative franchise. 

I don't know what I find stranger: the way the films never seem to go away, or the fact that they remain so popular with supposedly liberal people.

My main issue with Star Wars is that most of its themes were lifted wholesale from Frank Herbert's much more inventive, far less politically dodgy Dune novels.

Star Wars carries the paternalistic messages of almost all generic adventure fiction (may the Force never arrive on your doorstep at three o'clock in the morning) and has all the right characters. It raises 'instinct' above reason (a fundamental to Nazi doctrine) and promotes a kind of sentimental romanticism attractive to the young and idealistic while protective of existing institutions. It is the essence of a genre that it continues to promote certain implicit ideas even if the author is unconscious of them. In this case the audience also seems frequently unconscious of them. - Michael Moorcock, Starship Stormtroopers

But while Herbert's Dune warned that all political parties, religious organizations, superstition and faith are dangerous and doom all involved to failure, Lucas romanticizes them.

Where Dune boasts a cast of genuinely weird and wonderful characters - including a host of strong and striking female characters; an on-going dialogue about the perils of dogma and rulers and a culture of spiritual (without being enslaved to religious rule); nomadic, perfectly respectful and in-tune with their environment, non-materialistic outlaws (Fremen) pitted against power hungry oligarchs; Lucas's rebels are lead by a Princess, a Prince, and a gang of one dimensional snooty assassin-monks who are doing it all for the good of Queen and Country!

In Star Wars, even the Good Guys are on the Wrong Side!

Where Herbert's Fremen use spirituality (and narcotics) to unify their community, seek comfort from the cruelty of one dictatorial overlord after another, and potentially route out a brighter future for themselves, Lucas's Jedi are elitist and privately educated; a kind of posturing Knight's Templar going around spouting dodgy fundamentalist musings whilst casually hacking off people's limbs in pubs.

Where the Fremen are anarchistic rebels doing their best to avoid / survive political rule, The Jedi jet off around the galaxies in sleekly expensive space craft acting as security guards for Royal families.

The Fremen keep to themselves, and they like a good party. By comparison, The Jedi come across like a bunch of snooty bigots. Is it really surprising that they have a racist, right-wing fan-base?

The Jedi are all about acting on instinct - and this is where it gets really dodgy: 'trust your feelings' they advise, rather than what you are actually seeing with your own eyes... So the Jedi are swanning around acting like Nazi SS Officers (shoot first, decide why you did it later), working off animalistic instincts. If that sounds a bit more like Paganism than organized religion, keep it in mind that the Nazis loved a bit of Paganism.

And of course, like so many Sci-Fi movies, Star Wars is heavy on the negative romanticism: the dark military uniforms, the goose-stepping troops and the creak of black leather.

See, I get knocked for slagging off politics in science fiction, along the lines of 'it's just escapism, it's not supposed to be Humanitarian, Feminist or Punk'. But the fact is sci-fi has always been massively political. From Heinlan's misogynistic sci-fascism to Moorcock's Psychedelic Feminist Anarcho amorality-plays - it's always been about gender, tribe, power and class.

In his defense Lucas has claimed that it was his intention to tell the Star Wars story from the perspective of the slaves (the robots). But the films simply do not pan out that way. You've got the big existential struggle of the blonde blue-eyed Prince, coming to terms with the fact that his father turned evil (or rather: turned into a black, pro-Industrial cyborg) and murdered a load of innocent people. The big old fashioned romantic rescue mission to save the Princess. Right wingers are romantic for Royalist, pre-industrial culture because it was a time when the peasants were powerless.

Movies like Star Wars get praised for owing so much to fairy tales and folk lore. But there's so much that is conservative and superstitious about sci-fi and fantasy, it ain't the kinda thing you want to raise your kids on: trust your feelings, not your perceptions or knowledge? 'Ugly people are evil, beautiful people are good.'

From Tolkien to George Lucas, mainstream fantasy and sci-fi have always been about a conservative, Christian desire for a return to a pre-Industrial existence where the good, kindly, Conservative middle classes don't have to have dealings with the ugly, industrious working class goblins...

"Tolkein and that group of middle-class Christian fantasists who constantly sing the praises of bourgeois virtues and whose villains are thinly disguised working class agitators -- fear of the Mob permeates their rural romances. To all these and more the working class is a mindless beast which must be controlled or it will savage the world (i.e. bourgeois security) -- the answer is always leadership, 'decency', paternalism (Heinlein in particularly strong on this), Christian values..." Michael Moorcock, Starship Stormtroopers 

Which reminds me of the way so many, many Hollywood megablockbusters always seem to have the same central premise: a central character motivated by good old fashioned family values. How many times have you seen the likes of Arnie stick it to a bunch of thugs as revenge for the death / kidnapping of wife / child?

There is a great interview with Peter Chung (creator of Aeon Flux, another great anarchist character recuperated by the establishment) where he points out that this kind of motivation tells us almost nothing about the personality and essence of the protagonist:

"Aeon has no family, or ties to anyone. Any dramatic points a screenwriter can score by holding family members hostage (or killing!) reveal nothing about her as a unique individual. Too easy. It's shorthand. We assume anyone is going to feel an emotional attachment to their sibling. That tells me nothing about her." Peter Chung

I just think that in the 21st Century, failing to be aware of the potential to empower ALL PEOPLE with good storytelling is just not fucking acceptable.

OK so the Princess gets a gun, but she has to be rescued by the mens; the sneering Space Cowboy and the moody boy Prince... Lucas just loves his stereotypes. All his villains are true to form too. 

You can always spot the bad guys in these kinds of movies because they are all either hideous monsters with working class accents or the perfectly modulated un-American English of the stony-faced, grey-clad board members of the big-business Empire; or they'll have a Disability and /or a European Accent. All of these things apparently signify EVIL in the hearts and minds of good, decent middle class American Sci-Fi fans.

If you're going to be subconsciously championing Far Right Politics, at least try and do it with a bit of imagination?

If however you do fancy getting your paws on some genuinely subversive, anarcho-romantic science fiction, check out The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester (a novel massively ripped-off and re-tooled to the macho vein in the Riddick movies):

Any of the Cornelius books by Michael Moorcock offer a seriously experimental, politically charged Gothic Psychedelic trip (where a cast of genuinely unique characters regularly swap time, space, gender and political motivations):

The original animated series of Aeon Flux presents the central character as a far more subversive (and humorous) anarchist trouble-maker and has a distinctly Moorcock / Cornelius vibe to it: