by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The first Star Wars movie came out in 1977. The Cold War was at its apogee, and the United States was weak. South Vietnam had fallen to Ho Chi Minh’s communists two years earlier, an ignominy after 20 years of war in Vietnam. America, meanwhile, was in the midst of a domestic energy crisis that had led to fuel rationing. Jimmy Carter’s nascent progressive administration exuded incompetence in addressing these challenges, foreign and domestic, extending a political doldrum that began after the chaos of Watergate. It was a rough time for the country.
Against this backdrop, Star Wars offered a “new hope” for American viewers tired of dejecting loss. The movie took us on a fantastical journey of righteous victory, showing a Rebel Alliance of planets, led by Luke and Leia, fighting for freedom and democracy against the Galactic Empire of Vader and Palpatine. It showed how even through adversity, democracies could survive against an autocratic order. And it expressed why democracy was worth fighting for and how it might be sustained, even if those defending it were raucous, disorganized, and disoriented. Those who grew up with the original trilogy imagined themselves in this universe — full of action, adventure, courage, adversity, and victory — and experienced both thrill and catharsis, with an overriding theme of freedom.
It’s all quite conservative. Each of these central themes — armed revolution, civil struggle, democracy, liberty — also features in the story of America. A long time ago, in a land not so far away, 13 different and divided colonies scraped together a hasty rebel alliance to take on the British Empire, then the world’s greatest power, of which they were once part. They fought for liberty and justice despite being hopelessly outgunned and outmanned, and won.