ANAKIN Skywalker lowers his face, raises one eye, adopts his characteristic scowl and coldly informs Obi-wan Kenobi: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.”
And suddenly, you’re watching a scathing, and none-too-subtle, critique of the current Bush Administration.
How did that happen?
Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith is, to be sure a Star Wars film. Just 30 minutes earlier, the audience found itself chuckling at Padme Amidala’s request for Anakin to hold her “like he did by the lake in Naboo”.
But by the end of the film, the woman had transformed into Michael Moore, spouting leftist lines like: “This is how liberty dies – with thunderous applause.”
Revenge of the Sith had evolved into Fahrenheit 9/11 – with thunderous applause from the critics.
That’s entertainment. That’s science fiction.
The early prophecies
George Lucas has retrospectively claimed that the idea to write Star Wars came in 1971, as a reaction to the expanded executive under then President Richard Nixon and the escalation of the Vietnam War. The rise of American militarism and the subsequent Watergate scandal of 1974 convinced Lucas to write a space opera about an empire controlled by a leader with a penchant for bombing foreign territories.
But Lucas had no intention of depicting the Nixon administration through a film such as All the President’s Men (1976). Instead he gave Nixon a black helmet, called him Darth Vader and shielded his political commentary behind the black cloak of science fiction.
This is nothing new, of course. The first instance in full-length feature film-making was Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis, telling a history lesson before the history had been written.
Lang created a futuristic dystopian nightmare. As industrialised factories with Henry Ford’s revolutionary production lines materialised across the western world, Lang recognised the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
The Metropolis of Lang’s film featured endless skyscrapers and hellish, crowded subterranean dwellings. His simple message was prophetic: Dictators will learn to control science and dominate industry to rule over the masses.
Blade Runner (1982), Star Wars: Episode II – The Attack of the Clones (2002) and the upcoming The Island (2005) are just three films that have expanded on Metropolis’ basic theme of manipulating technology to incorporate the perils of human cloning.
(On a smaller-scale on television, but with equal if not greater impact, was Gene Roddenberry’s cult TV series Star Trek, which used alien worlds to more palatably discuss social issues of the day. Star Trek is also notable for featuring the first ever inter-racial on-screen kiss.)
Invasion of the unseen enemy
Interestingly, the Star Wars franchise and War of the Worlds, which was released worldwide on Wednesday, also highlights modern society’s inability to learn from its 20th century mistakes.
Lucas was fascinated by man’s willingness to forgo personal freedoms in his quest for greater homeland security to conquer perceived threats to society.
Examples include the Roman Empire after Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler after the humiliating Treaty of Versailles and, of course, Nixon after the perceived lawlessness (race riots, student protests, anti-war demonstrators of the late 1960s), which triggered the first in George Lucas’ saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).
In 2005, little has changed. The parallels between Nixon/Bush and A New Hope/Revenge of the Sith are obvious.
America is once again manipulating a nation’s fears to fight an unpopular war against a foreign, weaker enemy, suppressing personal freedoms in the process.
But the evolution of War of the Worlds is quite remarkable. Written by the fervent socialist HG Wells in 1898, the novel tapped into Britain’s genuine concerns of an invasion.
Germany’s expansionism at the turn of a century was a very real threat to Britain’s empire and naval interests (the two countries would be at war by 1914).
The martians who invade our planet represent the ultimate imperialists, and highlight the folly of man’s dependence on technology.
(In line with Darwinism, the martians are eventually destroyed not by weapons of destruction, but by the Earth’s “alien” environment. Global warming, anyone?)
When Orson Welles’ radio play of War of the Worlds terrified the New Jersey populace in 1938 (they thought it was a genuine news bulletin), Hitler’s quest for Lebensraum (living space) would plunge the world into darkness a second time just a year later.
It just keeps going on
In 1953, War of the Worlds hit the silver screen for the first time. The Cold War was just warming and Joseph McCarthy had Americans looking for “Reds under the bed”.
But there is only one thing more terrifying than being attacked by a fellow superpower with an opposed political doctrine: Being attacked by an invisible enemy.
War of the Worlds has never been more relevant today. To Wells’ martians, the loss of human life is an irrelevance; a necessary but insignificant detail on their way to pursuing a greater goal (they want the planet for themselves).
It all sounds depressingly familiar and Steven Spielberg, who helmed the latest version starring Tom Cruise, has drawn parallels between the movie’s basic premise and the world’s fears of a faceless invader since 9/11.
The apprehension of German militarism has given way to concern over nuclear and biological weapons, but little else has changed.
From Nixon to Bush, Bismarck to Bin Laden, science fiction movies continue to present cryptic history lessons disguised as escapist fantasy.
Unfortunately, the storyline keeps repeating itself. –
Channel News Asia