Star Wars: Theory Wars (Marxist/ Social Power Perspective)

The Marxist Literary Lens is a useful tool with which to interpret the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, by allowing the reader to uncover a central theme in this otherwise science fiction fantasy: namely, the ongoing struggle between the rich (capitalists) and the poor (workers). Through a Marxist lens, we recognize the failings of a capitalist system, including the influence of this system on social norms and individual morals. The film does this by dramatizing an all-powerful fascist government which has total control over its citizens. Many of these citizens lack or repress their moral conscience because they are more concerned about their own financial-well being and security, than their rights as part of a society, meaning they won’t stand up to a corrupt government. The first reason why the Marxist Lens is a revealing lens for dissecting this film because it shows capitalism to the extreme. It shows an incredible difference between the wealthy and the poor, and this distinction is one of the hidden conflicts in the film. For example, The Empire are able to afford mammoth space stations and finance enormous armies, whereas the poor are barely able to earn a living. Luke’s aunt and uncle are poor farmers and live among the proletariat. Their livelihood controls their every action, and there are little opportunities for them to socially advance. Luke is limited in his choices, because his aunt and uncle need him for manual labor. This disparity in wealth and power has also led to a disproportionate amount of criminal activity in the Outer Rim. Population centers like Mos Eisley are rife with criminals. We saw this with Mos Eisley Cantina, where the person standing next to Luke, Cornelius Evazan, was “wanted in twelve systems” (He was a plastic surgeon who hideously disfigured his patients’ bodies and was known as the ‘Mutilator of Milvayne’). This area was highly controlled, yet dangerous and wanted criminals could walk free. The Empire simply didn’t care about bringing criminals to justice, only maintaining power. Financial reward, in the form of bounty, was a more powerful motivator for capture than criminal dealings. This meant that if one had power and wealth, like Jabba the Hutt, one could easily target individuals that may have wronged them. However, the poor and working class have little options to find justice when wronged. These failings are a direct result of capitalism in this fictional society. This leads to my next point: individuals’ moral compasses have been repressed because their only concern is making enough money to continue surviving. Two individuals who demonstrate this are Han Solo and Uncle Owen. Both exhibit this trait in a very literal way; Han Solo has been targeted by a wealthy and powerful criminal, and Uncle Owen the difference between a good and bad season is literally life or death. Uncle Owen knows what the Empire is doing is wrong, but his sense of caution and want/need for money compel him to actively prevent his nephew, Luke Skywalker, from joining the Resistance. He tells Luke that he “needs him for another harvest”, even though Owen has enough manpower to manage said harvest. Uncle Owen is manipulating Luke out of concern for Luke’s safety, and his own fiscal stability. When Uncle Owen prevents Luke from leaving, it means that he won’t have to hire extra workers for the harvest, meaning that he can achieve more profit, continuing to eek out a meagre existence. Had the Empire used their power to transition from a fascist government to a democratic socialist or communist state, this economic disparity between the rich and the poor could have been eliminated. This would mean that wealthy and corrupt individuals, like Jabba the Hutt, would have lost their chokehold on society. He wouldn’t have a “leg” to stand on and he would have no power over Han Solo. Financial security would drastically reduce the amount of criminal activity on the Outer Rim planets; areas in poverty have a statistically higher crime rate, and an implementation of a socialist economy would eliminate the poverty, getting rid of one of the root causes of crime. Likewise, at the beginning of the film, Han Solo is only looking out for himself. While escaping the Death Star, he quips, “I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money”. Even when presented with an opportunity to fight for a just cause, he chooses to take his financial reward and run. His choices were a direct result of financial pressure he was under. Had Han been living in state where economic disparity had been eliminated, he probably wouldn’t have turned to smuggling, meaning that his life would not be under any form of threat. Although his conscience eventually won out (which was partially due to pressure from Luke), this entire situation could have been prevented. If Han Solo hadn’t been under financial pressure from Jabba the Hutt, he wouldn’t have been embroiled in this mess. This film also notes how certain individuals can game the system for personal gain. One of these such individuals is Jabba the Hutt. He is clearly in position of power, as demonstrated by the plethora of bodyguards that surround him; it is also clear that he has gained this power from running a large criminal empire, as he has no qualms about using violence and smuggling, and as he nonchalantly tells Han Solo, “I’ll put a price on your head so big that you won’t be able to go near a civilized system again.” These threats are certainly believable, and through their credibility it is shown that Jabba has a far reach and plenty of money and power. Yet, he is able to operate in a tightly controlled spaceport. The prevalence of Stormtrooper patrols is indicative of a strong, law-abiding society, yet Mos Eisley is continually described as a “rough” place full of crooks and criminals. The Imperial Empire has the infrastructure in place to reign in the corrupt “nobility”, but they choose not to. This government could have redistributed the wealth and greatly improved the quality of life for its citizens, preventing crime and corruption, but instead chose to maintain a rigged version of the status quo. The status quo only served to keep the proletariat under control, through financial oppression; when one does not have money, it is nearly impossible to support a cause. This shows that the Empire is only concerned with maintaining power, not the health and well being of its citizens. It relies on the rich and powerful to exploit the poor, and to maintain control. The Empire is in complete control of its citizens, yet it turns a blind eye to “wretched hives of scum and villainy”, like the Mos Eisley Spaceport. One of root causes of criminal behaviour is economic disparity, and this problem could be remedied by a redistribution of wealth and resources. Personally, dissecting this film critically through the Marxist Literary Lens helped me realize the subvert messages in this film. For example, I never considered how unjust it was that wanted murders had more freedom than two droids, how restrictive Uncle Owen was and his potential motivations, and how the way money and resources are handled influence the plot and the conflicts. When dissecting this movie through the Marxist Literary Lens, one must analyze the film through the struggle between different classes. This film can be effectively viewed in this way, because it contains many hidden messages and commentary on the disparity in power. For example, in the story, wealth is mostly concentrated in the hands of a few, like Jabba the Hutt, who are portrayed in a negative way, showing the creator’s view on the bourgeoisie. The poor must eek out a meagre existence with practically nothing, closely mimicking the struggle between classes that we face today. This struggle has distracted people from their sense of right and wrong, and this film clearly demonstrates that through a few key characters. An implementation of either an effective communist or socialist economic system would iron out disparities, reactivate people’s moral consciousness and re-establish the basic human/alien rights in the galaxy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *