Tuesday, May 17, 2005

An open letter to George Lucas 

Dear Mr Lucas

This might be a good opportunity to thank you for many hours of entertainment that your two "Star Wars" trilogies have provided for me with. I'm not one of the "Star Wars" fanatics, but I've watched the five films so far several times over the years. I most fondly remember watching the first trilogy in the late 1970s and the early 80s at the movies, when I was a boy living in the then communist Poland. Your space saga of Luke Skywalker and his fight against Darth Vader, the Empire and the Dark Side has proved as big a hit on the other side of the Iron Curtin as it did in the West.

You might be aware that all of us who saw the "Star Wars" trilogy throughout the communist world saw it as an entertaining, yet still nonetheless powerful commentary on the current world events. We simply couldn't escape the conclusion that the militaristic and freedom-crushing Empire with its legions of stormtroopers is a futuristic version of the Soviet Empire, which had conquered and enslaved hundreds of millions of people like myself. For us, of course, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and all the others fighting to restore the Republic were brave oppositionists and freedom fighters in the truest sense of the word. Like the Western movie goers, we too cheered when the Death Star was destroyed (twice), but whereas for our counterparts in the Free World this was just a great cinematic climax, for us it embodied the hope ("A New Hope", if you pardon the pun) that one day the specter of totalitarianism will vanish and we will be free again.

Apparently, however, we were wrong - we didn't read your movies correctly.

I noted with interest your recent remarks in Cannes:
"Star Wars" director George Lucas says that although he wrote the original film during the Vietnam War, his six-part saga could apply to the war in Iraq.

"In terms of evil, one of the original concepts was how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship," Lucas told a news conference at Cannes, where his final episode had its world premiere.

"The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.

"On the personal level it was how does a good person turn into a bad person, and part of the observation of that is that most bad people think they are good people, they are doing it for the right reasons."
Yes, we were very wrong indeed - to you, the Empire was the United States of America, and if that's the case, then the brave rebels could only be all those people around the world fighting the American Empire - the Castros, Che Guevaras, Ho Chi Minhs, Pol Pots, and by extension, the Brezhnevs and the Mao Tse Tungs of this world. You, of course, live in the Free World, and as such you have the right to believe that your country is the most powerful force for evil operating in the world. But just for the sake of completeness and historical accuracy, can I just mention that whatever the sins of the United States - and I certainly understand well enough that no country is perfect - your rebels, both when fighting for power and when finally in power, ended up being responsible for the death of tens of millions and enslavement of hundreds of millions; the Luke Skywalkers and Han Solos of the last century gave us gulags and re-education camps, terror famines and political prisons; they institutionalized cults of personality, stifled every human freedom and impoverished whole nations.

May I also add that whatever your thoughts about the United States and its supposed descent from a democracy into empire, had the Rebels won, you would have never had a chance to film a critical allegory on your own government. At best, your artistic output would have consisted of short features about the 150% increase in the wheat harvest, and at worst - if you had stayed true to your conscience - you would be dreaming your "Star Wars" trilogy from behind bars.

Over the course of the last three years, the United States and her allies have managed to depose two truly despicable regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and today are trying to bring the gift of freedom and democracy - things that you enjoy every day probably without giving them much thought - to tens of millions of people who have never known them before. You might well think that Anakin Skywalker's painful transformation into Darth Vader is somehow a perfect analogy for the political journey of George W Bush, but I have a sneaking suspicion that movie fans in Baghdad will have already recognized Darth Vader as one of their own - with a moustache rather than a black helmet. He, too, had two children, although they didn't turn up quite as cute as Luke and Leia. They names were Uday and Qusay.

I will still go and see "The Revenge of the Sith" when it opens in Australia in a few days' time, and I will not stop enjoying the other five films just because I read their message differently to what you intended.

But if in your mind, it's the United States that has slowly transformed itself into an evil Empire, and therefore, logically all those who stand up to it are our story's true heroes, than I have to say that the Dark Side is very strong indeed, and I have crossed over a long time ago. If America is the Empire, then please prepare a black helmet and uniform for me too.


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