The Last Jedi and the critique of imperialism, militarism, and neoliberalism


(Writing note: I often go back and forth between the context of the Star Wars universe and our current political climate deliberately, especially in the second half of the post)

It has long been known that Star Wars was originally an allegory for US imperialism specifically around the Vietnam War; whereas the US is the evil empire, and the Vietcong were the righteous rebels. These allegories can be continued throughout the films, through the prequels and into the most recent sequels. However, if we take a look at the larger picture a more interesting understanding  and allegory begins to take place.


           So if the original saga (Episodes IV, V, VI) are a critique on a authoritarian militaristic empire, meant to be the United States, what do the prequels (Episodes I, II, III) represent? I would say that these films are a critique on neoliberalism and the politics of the left. The prequels examine a time when there is an ineffectual government in place that is overtly corporatized and militarized. While the Jedi are purportedly the peacekeepers of the galaxy, they take orders from the Senate, which in turn places commerce over its citizenry; this can be seen in the opening of the movie as Jedi are dispatched to settle a labor dispute, thus exercising the hard power of the nexus between the neoliberal government and the militarist Jedi order, which is not supposed to take sides. Time and time again throughout the sequels we see the breakdown of governance and deregulation in favor of more and more militaristic "free" markets, until its collapse. It is then the strongman authoritarianism of the Empire that takes hold.

            It is here we should pause and take a long view. Like the disjointed order of these films and the critique, they seem to fit into the politics of today. If the prequels are a critique of neoliberalism, then we can see it's parallel in the 80's, 90's, and 00's as the slow buildup of deregulation, dynasty politics, corporatization, and militarization of the US. Interestingly enough, George Lucas even made a point to draw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, and some claim that Emperor Palpatine and his call for emergency powers in Revenge of the Sith strikes an eerily similar cord to President Bush in his push for the Global War on Terror. So if taken this way, we see the rise of neoliberalism leading to authoritarian rule.

            We would be remiss to then not look at our current situation with President Trump being in office. While the temporal alignment in the films reads one way the production alignment of the films reads another, but either way it plays out the same (Empire creates neoliberalism, neoliberalism creates Empire, vice versa/and so on). So if we look at the films in production order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII, VIII) we see a critique on Vietnam and US imperialism, then a critique on neoliberalism, and with the latest releases we see a critique on both eras as well as a critique on fascism.

           While the empire has died in the newest films, the First Order has risen, which sounds eerily similar to the "New Order," another term for Nazism. Aesthetically, there is no doubt that the troops look similar to the Empire from the original saga, thus still representing the US, but there is a slight shift to make them resemble Nazi troops, from their flags to the formation of their rally (seen below). The rise of rightwing extremism in the US , from the rise of the Tea Party to Donald Trump becoming President, can be seen in this First Order. The rebels are easily identified by rightwing commentaries that critique the films as peddlers of diversity and social justice warriors. The Force Awakens was hailed by racists as being too diverse, cause you can't have a Black Stormtrooper, and now The Last Jedi has too many strong women. These critiques parallel the alt-right fascist politics of Supreme Leader Trump. 


          But one of the most critiqued aspects of The Last Jedi, no matter where you stand ideologically is the quest with Finn and Rose to find the 'master hacker,' which I see as one of the most important. I think that this was largely disliked because it critiqued both the left and the right as we see the excess of militarism and capitalism, we see that the rich have remained rich by perpetuating wars, selling arms to the Empire and the Rebellion… Syrians, ISIS, Israelis, Iraqis, ect... In many ways this is the stopgap between neoliberalism and militarism which was the Obama era of politics. Everything looked shiny and beautiful, luxurious, and diverse, but when you looked behind the curtains, drone warfare becomes more prevalent and arms are sold to all sides, business as usual. So again we are not only critiquing the fascism of Trump, but also the (not so) hidden militarism of Obama (visible depending upon where you are). 


So, where is the hope? Where is the escape hatch? Luke Skywalker is the perfect symbol of the hopelessness many of us feel, the nihilistic want to say fuck it all, as he sees the way neoliberalism and the Jedi Order in the prequels screwed everything up just as bad as imperial authoritarianism did of the original saga, and that while we had the illusion of hope & change in-between, we are eventually led to crap again as America was never great to begin with and you can't just keep doing the same thing over and over. So why try, right? But there is "Much to learn, you still have" as Yoda proclaims to a young petulant nation… Forward means not looking at things in black and white, light side and dark side, recognizing that it is really many shades of gray, killing the past. That if we want to escape these authoritarian tendencies with the back and forth between neoliberalism and authoritarianism, we must escape and destroy the greedy, racist, destructive tendencies of our past and forge a new future, one that is diverse and equitable. Perhaps that is where our new hope lies.


So I feel that while many may not like The Last Jedi, I think it is perfect and fits with the critique on US politics… but maybe I'm projecting…