Monday, May 23, 2005

Which Side is the Dark Side?

The killjoy wing of the Republican Party is back at it, this time with the shocking revelation that (gasp!) there just might be a liberal bias in Hollywood. They have singled out the uber-blockbuster Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith for their censure, due to its purported anti-Bush message.

The fanatics over at Free Republic are calling for a boycott of the film, as is a group called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood—that's PABAAH for short, which sounds like something your grandfather might say after inadvertently stumbling onto a Ludacris video on MTV.

Craig Winneker, editor of Tech Central Station Europe, who wrote an article that more or less sums up the anti-Sith argument, laments what is "disturbingly—and rather awkwardly—evident: a recurring anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war message."

First, it must be noted that almost every line of dialogue in this film is awkward, not just the allegedly offending passages. That said, the paranoiacs on the right are inferring an anti-Iraq war bias from the following message: using war, or the threat of war, as an excuse to overthrow a democratic government and replace it with a totalitarian dictatorship is really, really mean. Especially when you kill Wookiees in the process.

The fact that this is identified by the boycott-happy whiners as a left-wing, anti-American idea says a lot. That the right-wingers identify their own position with that of the merciless Sith overlords of the Empire (an Empire which eventually strikes back, by the way) says a whole lot more. Apart from a passing resemblance between the post-electrification Darth Sidious and Dick Cheney, there's not a whole lot going for the Iraq war parallel.

A rational person might be more likely to compare the film's events to the rise of the Third Reich or of Stalin's USSR (the Empire's foot soldiers are even called "Stormtroopers," fer chrissakes). An even more rational person might recognize that they're watching a science fiction movie that has little if any bearing on the real world.

This is what Winneker has to say about the film's greatest sin:
The ultimate [anti-Bush] reference comes in the climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet of Mustafar, which seems to have long ago failed in its struggle against global warming. "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," Anakin shouts to Obi-Wan, who responds: "Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes." Yes, and so, it would seem, do neo-cons.
What a load of piffle! The whole Star Wars franchise deals in absolutes. There are Rebels and there is the Empire. Luke wears white and uses the Force; Darth Vader wears black and uses the Dark Side of the Force. Star Wars is the ultimate cinematic embodiment of the Manichean worldview. As such, when Obi-Wan tries to woo Vader away from the Dark Side, we as an audience know that he is destined to fail, and this failure is what sets up the ultimate confrontation between good and evil that comprises the original trilogy.

The idea that one can choose between the Force and the Dark Side—between good and evil—is a central theme of Star Wars. The notion that this line was tagged on as a petty dig at President Bush requires quite an assumption. And remember, when you assume, you make an ass out of me and you—mostly you.
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