Star Wars vs. culture wars: Not even a contest

The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted last night during Monday Night Football, and yes, I watched it – twice, in fact, thanks to the magic of DVR. It was awesome.

I doubt I’d be a science-fiction/fantasy writer if it weren’t for Star Wars. I didn’t keep up with all the books and TV shows and such, but I remain an unapologetic fanboy. And yes, I have tickets to the first showing on Dec. 17, thank you very much. I can’t wait to see this movie. In fact, here’s the trailer, because it’s awesome and you need to see it again.

Some folks, though, have some issues. There’s been a call to boycott the new movie because of…well, apparently it has something to do with the fact that the protagonists are a woman and a black man? Something about encroaching social justice or Hollywood liberal agendas or squeezing out white people or…take your pick. Apparently, somebody ruined Star Wars for them by how it’s been cast.

Really? Really? You gotta be kidding me. 

Sadly, it’s no joke. (Though some have suggested that it is indeed an elaborate prank by folks with very little better to do in life.) On the one hand, it’s mind-boggling to believe that, in the year 2015, we have folks going on about this. On the other hand, I firmly believe this is a very, very fringe effort involving a bare handful of individuals that managed to gain traction on social media because it was a slow day or something.

Regardless, I have three points here I believe are worth making:

First, it’s not like Star Wars hasn’t had women or black people before. Princess Leia is one of the forerunners of cinema’s depiction of women as something other than love interests – though to be fair, she’s that too. But she’s the freakin’ leader of the Rebel Alliance. She’s in charge. And she takes guff from no one. As for black people, Lando Calrissian fired the shot that destroyed the second Death Star, while Mace Windu in the prequels was second only to Yoda in terms of the Force – and need I remind you, a white guy Yoda was not. The voice of Vader was provided by James Earl Jones, for Pete’s sake. The fact that you’re seeing more women, more people of color in Star Wars should not come as some existential shock.

Secondly, I think the whole notion of “culture wars” has gotten overblown. Culture evolves, after all. The United States was founded by rebels – people who wanted better representation in their own political affairs, and a say in how they wanted to live their lives. Just look at Hamilton on Broadway, which takes the notion of the rebel sons of America to a logical and artistically excellent end. America was designed to evolve, to include.

To claim white people have been marginalized is ludicrous. No one has ever stepped in front of a white male and said, “No, you can’t speak out because of who you are.” The difference is that the things a handful of white folks are saying is being challenged – and challenging speech does not, in fact, deny the freedom of said speech. It’s simply a consequence of it. Meanwhile, it’s only in the past generation or two where we’ve heard from women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks who want to be included in our shared culture, to have their representation felt and voice heard — just as our founding fathers desired for themselves more than two centuries ago. There is nothing more American than the ideals of inclusion and equality.

Culture, meanwhile, does not simply stop in place just because some folks think it should. It grows and evolves and changes, and I firmly believe we are stronger for having more voices, more ideas in the mix. It goes to the very essence of what it means to be American.

Finally, do we really need a reminder of what Star Wars is about? Star Wars is the story of a rebellion against an Empire that enslaves entire species and planets and forbids freedom of expression, led by an Emperor who embraces fear and anger as his greatest weapon. It’s the story of the Force, which “is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Note that it’s created by all living things. Not just white guys. Black people and women and aliens. Everything. The Empire used the Force to enslave, and the Jedi used it to empower and liberate. The Dark Side…and the Light. Star Wars is very much an American invention, which is why it’s been embraced the way it has.

Look, I’m really not worried about a Star Wars boycott. As fellow beardo Chuck Wendig pointed out, you might as well boycott the sun. Star Wars will be enjoyed by millions of people around the world – and millions will see more of themselves in the film this time around because of the way it’s been cast. This is a good thing.

And as for the “culture wars,” the vast majority of Americans believe, as our founding fathers did, that all men are created equal (and yes, nowadays that goes for women too, dammit). We have an African-American president and potentially a woman as the next president. The majority of Americans are in favor of LGBTQ+ marriage. There are most definitely battles still to be fought, but there always have been, always will be. The times have changed, are changing and will continue to change. Some folks don’t like change. They have a right to not like it, actually, and a right to speak their minds about it. That, too, is quintessentially American. Your beliefs may be challenged, but your right to have them never will.

It’s healthy to debate our culture and where it’s going, though I would say that the current “culture wars” do not really rise to the level of healthy debate. But as the latest kerfuffle yammers on, the larger culture will continue to change and evolve — and if you look at the trajectory of America, it’s pretty clear we’re getting more inclusive, not less.

What won’t change is the very definition of what it means to be American – to be at the forefront of progress, to hold the ideals of democracy, freedom and equality in highest regard, and to be a nation that welcomes new ideas and new identities that help spur our progress and ideals with each successive generation. To be an American is to continually challenge the status quo, just as our rebellious forebears did. We are the Rebellion against the Empire. We’re the Light Side of the Force, of and for all living beings.

May the Force be with us all.

Note: Comments are open but moderated, and they will be civil, polite and principled or will be discarded. That does not, in fact, hamper your freedom of speech, because you can go out and say whatever you like in your own virtual space. And if you feel the need to be uncivil, impolite and unprincipled…well, perhaps some time for self-reflection is in order.

2 Comments

Filed under Geek

2 responses to “Star Wars vs. culture wars: Not even a contest

  1. Are stormtroopers still clones?

    Because if they are, then yes, having an actor that isn’t a near look-alike to Temuera Morrison/Jango Fett defies canon.

    If they’re not clones, then yeah, who cares lol.

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