I want to talk about Star Wars in the context of left-wing politics for a second. It’s actually really good, maybe even better than we realize. It might actually be the best massively popular mass media franchise of the modern era - not because it is undeniably really good entertainment, but because it actually attempts to say something meaningful and positive about rebellion and change.
Many left-wing writers and critical theorists have written about a general problem that plagues mass media. In many stories, the only real movers or changers to the status quo are the villains. In other words, the task of the hero is to merely uphold the status quo against some deviant force that wants to change it. You can see this in works like Harry Potter, where the ultimate goal is really just the defeat of Voldemort and the preservation of the way things are. People that want to change things drastically are either laughed at (like Hermione with the house-elves) or are themselves villainous. This same dynamic is also true in many comic books and comic book movies - The Avengers aren’t looking to fundamentally change the structure of society. That’s what the villains want. The Avengers are supposed to defend the earth from change, not instigate change themselves.
This dynamic points to a sort of end-of-history view of things, where liberal democracy is the best anybody can hope for, and anybody attempting to change it is either worthy of derision or villainous. It propagandizes the audience to be more happy with the way things are, because every possible alternative is worse.
The other side to this particular narrative is the straight dystopia, where liberal democracy has somehow been lost, and the hope of the hero is to restore it. Even though this narrative takes a different approach, it still points to the same thing. This narrative acts as a warning to a similar end - “imagine how bad things could be, you really ought to be happy with the way things are.”
But then there is Star Wars - a story that takes place in a galaxy far far away, but is perhaps more relevant to us on earth than any other mass media franchise. In Star Wars, the heroes are the Rebellion, a rag-tag group of people fighting against an evil Empire. Right from the beginning, the changers are the heroes, not the villains. It’s the heroes that shake things up, or in many cases blow things up, and the goal of the villains is the preservation of the status quo. That’s a huge flip to the problematic narrative right out of the gate.
An argument could be made that Star Wars falls into the dystopia trap, and that the end goal of the Rebellion is merely the restoration of liberal democracy - but two huge things challenge that narrative. In the first place, Star Wars is not presented as a dystopia. In most dystopias, the dystopian environment itself is the central narrative. We are told in great detail just how bad the government is, and how bad they have made the world. Star Wars doesn’t do that. In fact, the amount of time spent on the Empire and its inner workings is minimal. The central narrative to Star Wars is instead the rebels themselves - particularly the three central heroes - and their personal journey and interactions. Their personal acts of rebellion are explained in far greater detail than any Imperial actions. Star Wars could be seen to celebrate rebellion itself, in this way. We aren’t bogged down with an explanation for why opposing the Empire is the right course of action. We are simply made to believe that resisting power itself, in any capacity, is good and should be done.
In the second place, the prequel trilogy actually did a really good job of deconstructing the trappings of liberal democracy. In the prequel trilogy, it’s the Republic that grants emergency powers to the Supreme Chancellor, essentially creating the Empire. It’s the Republic that willingly sacrificed thousands of clone troopers to the scourges of war. It’s the Republic that financed both sides of the civil war. It’s the Republic that let liberty die with thunderous applause. After the prequel trilogy, if the end goal of the Rebellion is just the restoration of that same type of Republic, the audience would not be satisfied. We believe that the Rebellion is fighting for something greater. We have to.
For this reason, the current sequel trilogy actually plays a pretty central role in the interpretation of the series. Depending on what the Resistance ultimately ends up creating, the series could come to a fantastic and satisfying conclusion, or it could stumble into the same trappings of other mass media franchises. I’m not sure if I have total faith - but I honestly have more than I normally would, just because Star Wars has been so comparatively fantastic so far. And Rogue One kept with the tradition, portraying a firmly left-wing insurgency, willing to use whatever means necessary.
That’s the tradition of Star Wars - the heroes are the rebels, the changers, the movers. We’re actually here to create something radically better. Come join us in the galaxy far far away of our wildest dreams.