George Lucas

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Arthur Lubow

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If you want a loyal friend or a lethal weapon, try a machine. But when the revolution is sliding down the incinerator chute and there's only five seconds left to save it, you had better rely on the Life Force.

That's the unexpected message of Star Wars, a movie which manages to slap technology's face while celebrating the glories of gadgetry. This double-jointed maneuver gives the film its springy bounce. An anti-modern message in an ultra-modern wrapper: what could be more stylish? What could be more fun?

Much of Star Wars' success is simply the overflow from its excesses. Loaded with enough special features to equip a dozen lesser vehicles, hurtling along at a velocity close to light speed, George Lucas's movie breaks down all barriers of resistance. Like a radio serial, it begins at the middle, quickly summarizing previous events and starting right in with some sizzling action. The race is on, and there are no pit stops. No reflective pauses or digressing subplots are permitted to slow the progression of adventures. Any hints of romance are condensed into an offhand mumble of affection or a second's kiss before a daring leap. This is a boy's movie. (p. 20)

The technical achievements of Star Wars are so exciting that it's easy to overestimate their importance. The film's screenplay, for instance, can be dismissed as secondary…. Or so you think at first. But there's a sharp mind behind this mindlessness. Lucas knows exactly what he's doing.

Among the countless quotations from hack movies and comic books, one scene stands out as different. Several critics have remarked that the closing sequence of Star Wars, in which Luke, Han Solo, and the Wookie Chewbacca walk down a grand aisle to receive their medals, is a restaging of the march of Hitler, Himmler, and Lutze to the Nuremberg memorial monument in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. The quote is appreciated as a high-spirited joke by a former film student. If it means anything, it's merely a skeptical footnote to the heroism celebrated throughout the movie…. [The] reference to Triumph of the Will is a whispered self-criticism, a bite without teeth, a flaw smoothed away with a witticism.

Star Wars would seem to be light-years away from a celebration of Nazi power. Yet its subject is indeed the triumph of the will, and a reviewer from the Volkische Beobachter would find much to praise. "History is a sequence of many virile decisions," Josef Goebbels wrote in his novel, Michael. "Armies are not victorious, but men within armies." George Lucas has similar ideas about individual heroism. (pp. 20-1)

What we are watching is but another battle in the epic struggle between Mammon and idealism, matter and spirit. The one city depicted in Star Wars could be Hitler's vision of Weimar Berlin. Naturally, Luke is a farm boy of pure yeoman stock. He is justifiably sickened by the jabbering Jawas, bright-eyed itinerant merchants whom the Führer would have found familiar. No better are the Sand people, barbaric gypsies who lack culture and humanity. Against this sordid world of ugliness and corruption stand the power and the glory of the Force.

Obi-Wan defines the Force as the "energy field created by all living things … it binds the galaxy together." The Force is a version of Bergson's élan vital and Jung's collective unconscious. More to the point, it is an expression of a basic Nazi tenet: the fundamental unity of nature, the "ultimate interconnections" of all living things. To acquire enormous powers, you need only tap the Force….

What are we to...

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make of this mumbo-jumbo? Is it significant that beneath this film's futuristic skin there beats an unregenerate reactionary heart? The movie that duplicates the achievement of automation—replacing human protagonists with machines—is stridently anti-technological.Star Wars is a paean to mysticism and an attack on modern science. That message has a powerful appeal. It was the essence of the Nazi myth, and that's worth pointing out—not because the analogy makes Star Wars a "fascist movie" (its good humor and lack of rancor insure that it's not), but because it explains some of the buzz of excitement from the audiences leaving the movie theater. The Nazi mixture of heroism, self-sacrifice, and mysticism is heady stuff. When the old Liebfraumilch is poured into new bottles, it packs a powerful wallop. (p. 21)

Arthur Lubow, "A Space 'Iliad'—The 'Star Wars' War: I," in Film Comment (copyright © 1977 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center; all rights reserved), Vol. 13, No. 4, July-August, 1977, pp. 20-1.

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