Posted by: David Stewart | July 4, 2013

What Star Wars teaches about the American Revolution

On July 4 in the US, we celebrate our independence from England in 1776. My British friends and co-workers joke that was just some insurgents who succeeded in their separatist effort.

The American Revolution is remarkable in that the colonists were able to defeat a vastly more powerful, richer and technologically superior nation. Those scrappy rebels were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Less than a century later, idealism was still hot for soldiers who fought in the US Civil War. In a private letter written on July 14, 1861 by Sullivan Ballou, an officer from Rhode Island, told of his debt to the past: “I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.”

Fast forward another century and those original American rebels find themselves as powerful, rich and technologically superior. The government is still charged in part with preserving that power and growing it if possible. This often puts us in the awkward position of supporting folks who don’t necessarily share our ideals but who are friendly towards us.

Which brings me to Star Wars. This Spring I visited Disney World during Star Wars Weekend. I acquired bits of memorabilia, like a full-sized Boba Fett helmet, and also decided to re-watch the movies in Machete Order, which I highly recommend.

Here again is the story of scrappy rebels who fight with a quasi-religious zeal against impossible odds to defeat the evil Galactic Empire. “May the Force be With You” and the crypto-Buddhist Jedi help win the day.

That kind of story today seems to be more like what we find in places like Afghanistan where the Taliban are fighting against what they perceive as an evil empire, the United States. They burn hot with religious zeal and lofty ideals.

Is the US government an evil empire? It is in the eyes of some in the world. It’s hard for me to imagine either George W Bush or Barak Obama in the role of the Emperor. (Although I must say that Dick Cheney would make a rocking Darth Vader). I don’t feel like I have ever been treated with hatred just because I’m an American, but neither am I loved for it.

But before should think to fall in love with the Taliban, remember that women are treated a lot better in the US than they were when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. If they take over the country again, I suspect girls won’t be allowed to attend school and women will be required to wear the burka. The US is not perfect in the way we treat minorities or women, but at least we are proceeding in a way to become “more perfect” as a union. This is indeed a reflection of our lofty values and makes us better than the Empire in Star Wars.


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