Luke, Obi-Wan, & US Foreign Policy: Thoughts on Star Wars Day

“Obi-Wan, Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher are dead, and the reality TV star in the White House is writing his own script”

On Star Wars Day, written as part of a series for the Social Sciences Birmingham Forum and the Birmingham Perspective:

See also Can We Use Star Wars to Save Democracy?

It was the magical moment — well, if you consider nuclear weapons magical — when Hollywood and US foreign policy embraced.

Ronald Reagan, former star of movies such as “Bedtime for Bonzo”, told the US public in March 1983 of his Administration’s quest for a sharp increase in funding for the military. Since blowing the world up was not the most approach line, he proclaimed “a vision of the future which offers hope”: “What if…we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”

Can We Use Star Wars to Save Democracy?
Despite Reagan’s delivery, the pitch still lacked something, a catch-phrase for public understanding of this new space umbrella. So the Strategic Defense Initiative was converted by the media into “Star Wars”.

There’s no evidence that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas — let alone Luke, Obi-Wan, Leia, and C3PO — anticipated that their valiant stand against the Empire was designed for Reagan’s valiant defense against the Communists five year later. But this was always a film for the American imaginary of Us v. Them.

In 1977, the US was in a funk. Watergate and Vietnam had knocked the stuffing out of our ideals and our confidence, and the economy was in a recession we hadn’t known since 1945. New York City was almost bankrupt, the oil shock had stalled our big cars, and foreign leaders from the Shah to Nicaragua’s Somoza didn’t look so good anymore.

But enter our brave innocence guided by wisdom and a tough Princess and assisted by quirky androids. We could destroy the Death Star and do it not because we were bad but because we were very, very good.

More than 40 years later, it’s a nostalgic combination of film and politics. Obi-Wan, Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher are dead, and the reality TV star in the White House is writing his own script. Rey and the wizened Luke do not have the answers or the reassurance for us.

May the Force Be with Us? It’s gonna take a lot more than Hollywood this time around.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


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