Star Wars as Propaganda

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Imagine that the Star Wars movies aren’t what “really” happened in a galaxy far, far way, but are instead propaganda:

First of all, let’s conduct a thought experiment of removing religion from politics. I mean, let’s remove the Force religion from the lore of the Star Wars universe. Most importantly, remove the religious dogma that the Sith and the Dark Side are automatically Satanic evil and the Jedi are automatically good guys, unless they fall to the Dark Side.


We can assume the movies show the viewpoint of some really credulous guys who think Palpatine can throw lightning bolts for roughly the same reasons some really credulous guys in Ancient Greece believed Zeus can throw lightning bolts.


But notice how it makes it far harder to determine who is good and who is evil! Now we cannot trust the Force making this judgement obvious. We have to make up our own minds. Perhaps the Sith are good and the Jedi are evil now? Or both evil? Or both good? Or there is no such thing as good or evil at all? Now we have to start thinking a bit harder, don’t you find?


So, after all, if the Jedi could be evil, the Jedi Media and Jedi Academia, and the Overall Mainstream Jedi Republican Narrative — the movies — could be lying to us?

So how about a counter-narrative? Let’s say the Republic could not do its one job right: to keep various factions from erupting into civil wars, to keep various planets and star systems from erupting into local wars. In short, they failed at keeping peace and order. Senator Palpatine, seeing how it doesn’t work, and wanting to save the Galaxy from untold suffering, pulled a Julius Caesar move and attempted to restore peace and put an end to the many local pockets of bloodshed through establishing imperial authority and basically undisputed dominance, a Galactic Pax Romana. His motive was noble and one that could be reasonably considered efficient: to have a force of Galactic Peacekeepers, Galactic Police around to keep everybody else from killing each other.

Except that some guys didn’t like it at all. And some of the guys who didn’t like that could be called positively evil. Former Senators who enjoyed the power gained by participating in the murky, inefficient chaos of the politics of the Republic. Planetary bigwigs who wanted to wage war on the next planet. Consider Leia’s dad, who was a Senator and Prince or Viceroy. Maybe the old ruling class didn’t like their power reduced? It could interfere with their schemes like waging a local war or supporting a power-hungry Senate faction, right? The Republic had a huge ruling class of senators, local monarchs, bureaucrats and the suchlike, all kinds of intermediate level of strongmen who didn’t like the new Emperor bossing them around and reducing their power. So they engineered a Rebellion. And another group who engineered that Rebellion were a cabal of top Jedis. They used to have immense informal power in the murky chaos of Republican politics: the power of the advisor. The power and influence of the intellectual, opinion leader, who does not rule directy: he does not have to. He simply tells other people who actually rule what to think, be that the kings of monarchical planets or the voters of democratic planets. His rule is not of the iron fist but the glib tongue, the power of “free speech”, persuasion, manipulation, seductive half-truths wrapped into a lingo of sugary, bleeding-heart idealism — can you say Jedi Mind Tricks? And they too did not like losing their influence much. So these two group of highly influential and highly unethical people engineered the Rebellion.

Of course they did not tell most Rebels what it is really about. Most Rebels are in fact good guys, good guys in the sense of foolish idealists. Pure hearts, if not much in the way of brains. So they lapped up the whole sugary idealistic bullshit about freedom, democracy and ending oppression.


Meanwhile, the Emperor had a tough job. The Rebels were infecting everybody who is nice and stupid — and most people are — with idealistic propaganda, presenting themselves as those who fight for truth, freedom and justice, while the Emperor is an evil tyrant. On the other side, the Emperor had a simple and honest agenda, too simple and too honest for people to actually believe it: to keep the galaxy from erupting into violent chaos by basic simple military-police type repression. His agenda was just the basic civilized one: if you don’t want hooligans at a British football match to start fighting each other, you just send a lot of policemen to the match and make it clear everybody who starts trouble will get into one. Of course the hoodlums consider that oppressive. From the civilized angle, they should. So basically he just had the basic Pax Romana type of motive and plan. At any rate, the Emperor could not recruit the idealistic type of folks as they were almost all duped and fighting for the other side. He had to recruit the kind of folks he could, not necessarily the folks he wanted — and if you have to fight against shiny-eyed, pure-hearted idealists — duped by an evil cabal with silver tongues and Jedi Mind Tricks — the kind of folks you can recruit against them are not going to be particularly wholesome characters.


Is this alternative narrative entirely implausible? If not… try to unlock the metaphors for the real world.


  1. Dude, he blew up Alderaan.

  2. Isegoria says:

    “The defense system on Alderaan, despite the Senator’s protestations to the contrary, were as strong as any in the Empire.”
    — Grand Moff Tarkin

  3. Vader says:

    His Majesty is pleased that someone finally gets it.

    Meanwhile, we have the opportunity to benefit from His Majesty’s inspiring leadership in our own country.

  4. Steve Johnson says:

    The Empire was evil — 100% undoubtedly evil. It’s ruled by a despotic sorcerer who has a puffy monster face.

    Star Wars is also evil — because it’s deceptive. Every real world lesson it teaches is wrong.

    The rebels are good because the Empire is tyrannical — no, even a pretty tyrannical empire is usually a net positive because it keeps order. Qadhafi got sodomized with a knife on Star Wars logic, how has that worked out? The French Revolution was Star Wars logic.

    Rebellions are possible and genuine — in reality if something like the Rebel Alliance can’t exist. They’re a fully equipped army with a space fleet. How the hell did they build a space fleet in the middle of a tyrannical empire? Either some outside enemy of the Empire was helping them and they’re a cat’s paw for some outside force or there a few systems in the Empire who support them and think they would be better rules of the whole Empire. If the former, then the important question is who are the secret backers who are actually warring on the Empire. If the latter then the question is what reason does anyone have to believe that the ruling cabal in the rebelling systems would make better galactic leaders than the Emperor.

    Once the Emperor is dead and the power of the Imperial military is broken, that’s it — the good guys win! In reality, that’s step one. The next likely step is massive bloodshed (very similar to point 1).

    Star Wars takes a straightforward good vs evil tale (Empire good, Rebels evil) and uses every tool it has to make the evil side good and the good side evil so that if someone tries to point out how the rebel side is evil and the Empire is good people associate the Empire with puffy monster face sorcerer and blowing up planets and the rebels with cuddly teddy bears and the pure hearted hero and the charming rogue and the beautiful princess. In reality the beautiful princess is murdered by an evil cabal of the leaders of the rebellion.

  5. A Boy and His Dog says:

    I always thought the series would be richer if Episode I started with a young idealistic Vader witnessing evil acts perpetrated by a corrupt and inefficient aristocracy, and vowing change. Then by Episode III he and his colleagues overthrow the aristocracy and celebrate the creation of their Empire of Peace. The Empire you see at the beginning of Episode IV is a while later after the new Empire has also become corrupted and entered its Stalinism phase. Basically use the Soviet Revolution as the model for the narrative. And what if Leia was actually stolen as a baby to be a hostage against the Empire? There are so many ways to improve this narrative.

  6. Wow Just Wow says:

    “He had to recruit the kind of folks he could, not necessarily the folks he wanted — and if you have to fight against shiny-eyed, pure-hearted idealists — duped by an evil cabal with silver tongues and Jedi Mind Tricks — the kind of folks you can recruit against them are not going to be particularly wholesome characters.”

    Who’s unwholesome, besides Vader? Palpatine manufactured a loyal army of clone infantry, which was a good move. But while he was able to sweep away the entire Foggy Bottom bureaucracy, he still had to rely on Arlington’s leadership class which was left over from a weak, decadent era when they cooked up such stupid stunts as forcing soldiers of the Republic to walk in high heels to show solidarity with victims of sexual assault. The officers constantly bungle major combat operations and occasionally Vader will force-choke them to try to hold them accountable, but it seems Palpatine could find no viable replacements for that weak leadership class as a whole. Admittedly, the best of them were probably lost in the first Death Star, which is why Vader has to force-choke so damn many officers in Empire Strikes Back.

  7. T M says:

    It is very difficult to criticize the Star Wars movies as a series, because Lucas turned in very inconsistent work and relied heavily on the input of other creators with divergent ideas.

    However, my rough analysis is that the creative team initially wanted to deliver a black-and-white, good-versus-evil story. Jedi are “good” by California standards – i.e., they do not torture people, but they are willing to tell little white lies, supplemented by “jedi mind tricks.”

    The later movies introduced clumsy moral ambiguities, not because of some artistic vision of alternate ethics, but mostly due to incoherent writing teams. The plot points of the later movies were simply due to confused writers who wanted to keep the fans happy in the short run. In the long run, fans discovered inconsistencies in their previous belief in Jedi goodness. The publicists spun these inconsistencies as evidence that the writers were aiming for morally ambiguous Jedi, but in fact the writers were just short-term thinkers.

  8. Grasspunk says:

    Palpatine created an army of New Zealanders. I’m guessing he was more interested in farming the universe than anything else. Maybe that’s why the stormtroopers can’t shoot — they are more used to shotguns.

  9. Bruce says:

    Lucas told a story about a civil war, and he’s American so he automatically referenced America’s Civil War. The (Dark + North sound) (in)Vader who looks like a Richmond Examiner cartoon of Beast Butler or Ape Lincoln. The opening sequence of whitejackets (sailors untrained in pistolcraft) attacking the Trent. The spunky Virginia Princess (egg-faced girls were hot from about 1830 until the Gilded Age kicked in). The minstrel show R2D2 and C-3P0- ‘We don’t serve your kind in here’. The deified notion of Force by the slave power. The Millenium Falcon crossing the bar to the high sea- uh, jumping to hyperspace. (I think there were three different famous smuggling ships named The Falcon in the Civil War). I think the Death Star came from a Broadway play around 1970, but every other major bit of business reeks of pulpy notions of 1861-1865.

    I suspect Lucas or his wife just plain stole the Star Wars plot and dialog from some old pulp Civil War story. A long time ago, in an antebellum Southland far, far away. . .

  10. Isegoria says:

    Yeah, hitting a womp rat is much easier with a shotgun from a stable platform.

  11. Graham says:

    Oh, I don’t know. In this world I tend to favour national sovereignty and am attached to my national and cultural identity, and I don’t want the UN having an independent emperor with a huge bureaucracy [it isn't that huge compared to what would be needed to rule the world] and his own military [vaster than all others put together] to impose order.

    The Republic is the UN- you want it to exist and to work, but not too well, and not meddle too much. Sometimes the price is war. If you don’t want war in your own neighbourhood, manage your own nation’s affairs and its foreign relations effectively and your chances are good. If not, that’s the price you pay.

    Alternatively, the Republic is the UN as Coruscant is to the US, if the US chose to seize control of the UN, merge with it, and rule through it. I can’t say I’d like that either.

    And it’s worth noting that the chief power hungry elites of our own time are on the side of the empire- globalization, international order, merging of peoples and cultures, standardization of law, erosion of sovereignty – “for a safe and secure society”. The Trade Federation and the Banking Clan are NOT Separatists in our world.

    I can envision times when the universal state [the classic meaning of 'empire'] is beneficial as the culmination of an international system, as a police measure [if you can find John Reilly's Proclamation of the Ecumenical Empire online, this is what he was getting at]or for defence against actors from outside that particular system. The Roman, multiple Chinese and multiple Indian empires served both ends. Not always well. But they also introduce new tensions as powers compete for the mastery of the empire. Longer periods of general peace may result in various-length periods of general war for control of the whole system, larger and less geographically concentrated than the local wars of before. The aforementioned empires also introduced this phenomenon repeatedly.

    And there’s always the all-important ‘who,whom?’ question. Just whose culture and political system set up and, at least initially, run the empire from which we are all to benefit?

  12. Kudzu Bob says:

    Maybe it’s not popular to say this, but people at least had high-paying jobs building Death Stars when Palpatine ran things. And don’t get me started about how cops these days just look the other way whenever there’s trouble to keep from getting labelled as Imperialist sympathizers — my mother’s so scared of Wookiees she won’t even take the pedwalk any more.

  13. Isegoria says:

    Let the Wookiee win.

  14. Grasspunk says:


Leave a Reply