The Politics of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The Politics of a Galaxy Far, Far Away


[ Music ]>>John Haskell:
Welcome everybody to the Library of Congress. I’m John Haskell the
Director of the Kluge Center and we’re a sponsor
of this event. In case you don’t know, many
of you don’t know anything about the Kluge Center,
just a sentence on it, I set in this charter
the purpose of the Kluge Center
is the bridge the gap between scholarship on
the one hand, congress, other policymakers and the
interested public on the other. And the aim is to
contribute to the conversation about the challenges facing
democracies in the 21st-century. Tonight’s event, as
suggested by its title, is meant to enlighten
us about the political and cultural significance
of Star Wars. I must emphasize though, that
I’m in no position to comment as to whether it will
achieve that end, not only because the panel
hasn’t really actually happened yet, but also because
I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars
movies [brief laughter]. With that, they’re making a
documentary on me actually. With that, let’s turn
to the panelists. First I want to introduce our
moderator, Colleen Shogan. Colleen will begin a new
position at the library as the Assistant
Deputy Librarian for Collections and Services. On Monday, she’s searching
for an acronym, let her know if you have one for her. She’s a political scientist. She specializes in
American institutions and she writes both
fiction and nonfiction. Her readers can decide whether
the distinction is clear. Colleen has been a Star
Wars fan since the age of 7. A longtime ago though
in a galaxy far, far away she taught
a course on Star Wars at Phillips Andover Academy.>>Colleen Shogan: Right.>>John Haskell:
Recently she’s blogged on the politics of Han Solo. Her favorite Star
Wars character, however, is Darth Vader. I have to take it on faith that she shares traits
with that gentleman. Bill Davies is right here. He is an Associate Professor in
the Department of Justice Law and Criminology at
American University. He teaches a number of
classes on legal history and jurist prudence where
he gets to draw analogies between the fall of the
Roman and galactic republics, Plato’s guardians,
and Yoda’s Jedi. Am I pronouncing that right? And how the colonial
rebels successfully, the colonial rebels sorry
about that, successfully beat down the British Empire. He grew up in England
just a stone’s throw away from Pinewood Studios where
the Star Wars movies were in large part filmed. Henry Jenkins over here,
Henry is currently Kluge Chair of modern culture
here at the library and he’s the Provost Professor
of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Art and
Education at the University of Southern California. He was the cofounder
and co-director of the MIT Comparative
Media Studies Program. His podcast, “How do
you like it so far?”, examines the intersection
between pop culture and a changing society and he recently did a series
focused on the Last Jedi. As a college journalist,
he once turned down a pre-released
interview with Carry Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill because he thought Star Wars was
a really dumb name of a movie. [ Laughter ] That’s why we have the light
shining on him right now. Seth Masket and another
person dressed in black here is the
Professor of Political Science and Director of the
Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. Seth during the summer of 18 was
a Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance, an internationally recognized
scholar on the party system. He also written and lectured
extensively on the politics of Star Wars including
even the politics of the 1978 Holiday Special. Seth was not born at that,
however, he’s been a fan of the series since he was 8. Sadly, the most exciting
moment of his adult life was when Mark Hamill retweeted him. Swara Salih right here, is
a data analyst at the Center for Government Excellence
at Johns Hopkins which works to help city governments
improve their data and performance management
practices. He’s also a cohost of
Beltway Banthas, the Star Wars and Politics pod, I’m sure
I’m mispronouncing that, podcast with his
conservative counterpart, a gentleman named Stephen Kent. They discuss and analyze all
intersections of the film series and U.S. politics, having
esteemed guests like John Lovett and Seth Masket,
yeah, Seth Masket. Swara is also one of the
creators and organizers of #SWRepMatters an
online celebration and advocacy campaign for
diversity and inclusion in a galaxy far, far away. Take it away Colleen.>>Colleen Shogan:
Alright, cool. Great. I’ve been like
waiting for this all week, probably like all month. So, thanks for coming. Just a few announcements; we do have the film outside
today just, I know you all know, but at 7:30 we will go
outside and we’re going to play Empire tonight
on the north lawn and then tomorrow night at 7:30, we’re going to play
Return of the Jedi. They’re going to be
great nights both nights. I ask you to come back
and enjoy the Library of Congress Star
Wars Under the Stars, and tomorrow also our
display of Star Wars items from our collection
are going to be in the Jefferson
Building from 1 PM to 6. So if you come a little
bit early for the movie, come and check out this
terrific display of materials that we have from the Library
of Congress collection here in the Jefferson Building
that will be on display from 1 PM to 6 tomorrow. So, let’s get started. So, what we’re going
to do is start off with a quick round robin just
for fun and then we’ll get into some political questions. So, first easy question;
favorite Star Wars film, Swara?>>Swara Salih: Ah, is this on? The Last Jedi.>>Seth Masket: Of all
the questions you said, you said this was
the one I stressed about the most [brief laughter]. So, I will just say I’ve been
saying Empire Strikes Back for years and now I’m
leaning Rogue One.>>Colleen Shogan: Oh, ooh. A convert, okay.>>Bill Davies: For me it
was Empire Strikes Back that hooked me, otherwise, it’s
got to be Revenge of the Sith.>>Colleen Shogan: Oh, ooh. I like the prequel, okay.>>Henry Jenkins: So, I
started, I wanted to sort of say the People versus
George Lucas, but because I’m in that one, but, but
I ended up with Empire, but I’m The Force Awakens
has really gaining on them as I watched them all back through again getting
ready for this.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay,
another quick question; favorite Star Wars character?>>Swara Salih: Rey.>>Seth Masket: Lando.>>Bill Davies: This is
the one I stressed about. Okay, spur of the
moment Obi-Wan Kenobi.>>Henry Jenkins: Chewbacca. Us furballs have to stick
together [brief laughter].>>Colleen Shogan: Alright, and
a couple more quick up or down and maybe just a
sentence for why; up or down Solo a
Star Wars’ story.>>Swara Salih: Down.>>Seth Masket: Extremely down.>>Bill Davies: Up.>>Henry Jenkins: Yeah
I’m definitely up. I think the critics
didn’t understand the role of the backstory at all when
they responded to that film.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay, great. And even more controversial,
The Last Jedi.>>Swara Salih:
Stratospherically, up.>>Seth Masket: I definitely
liked it, some parts more than others, but
definitely a positive.>>Bill Davies: It
was a catastrophic down at the beginning
then it became an up and now its teetering again.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay.>>Henry Jenkins: No,
I’m definitely up. It’s flawed like been
incoherent like the rest of the Star Wars films,
but I think it’s much, much better than
its critics concede.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay. So now pin it to the
theme of our panel today which is politics and Star Wars. The first question very general, are these really
Star Wars films; are these really
political films number one? And number two, in recent years,
how much has Star Wars served as a proxy for what’s going on in American politics
today recently?>>Swara Salih: Yeah,
politics has been embedded in Star Wars from the start. In episode four, A New Hope you
have this small imperial counsel talking about what’s going
on with the galactic senate about the emperor dissolving it. They’re talking about
the politics and the optics of
their operations. They talk about the
old republic; it’s all baked in there. George Lucas actually
intended the original trilogy to be a sort of allegory
for how the U.S., us, was conducting itself abroad
specifically in Vietnam. When you look at in Return
of the Jedi at the Ewoks of all things, he actually
intended that to be a sort of allegory for the Vietcong and
Vietnam rebels where we were, you know, doing a lot
of interference and, yeah he especially in the
prequel trilogy doubled down on this making
clear obvious parallels to what’s going on
in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East generally. What is interesting about that,
he started writing the story for that before 9/11, before
the events of the war on terror that unfolded later, so he was
actually writing concurrently with that. This is a sort of running
theme for George Lucas, the thread of a larger power
overtaking smaller powers or smaller countries
or entities and, yeah, it’s been embedded
from the beginning. I think we just haven’t
thought of it as much in the original trilogy
until now with the prequels and the sequel trilogy, because
it was so much more subtle in the original trilogy. Now it’s a lot more obvious,
you want to take that?>>Seth Masket: Yeah. I mean, I, I agree. The, you know, in the original
trilogy it’s a political setting, but it is, it’s a
vague enough political message that you can read almost
anything you want into it. It’s basically it’s
a liberation story, it’s not really making
too many enemies in that. It’s when we get into the
prequels, which you know, I’m happy to diss just name
it, but those are and that’s where Lucas had given
pretty much free reign to write what he wants and
those are just very overtly political films. You actually have scenes
in several of the films that take place in legislatures. You see voting in the
galactic legislature. How many films, how
many actions films, sci-fi films do you see
voting in a legislative body? It is very rare. Several of the main
characters are senators. The chancellor is
a main character. You have a lot of people,
you know, Jedi leaders who play also some
political role. Those are very, those are
overtly political films. I think Revenge of the Sith
was very clearly in a number of ways designed as a pushback
against George W. Bush, obviously the earlier films
were had other messages built into them, but yeah,
I’d say he wants us to be paying attention
to politics. He thinks what’s going
on there is important.>>Bill Davies: Yeah, I
would definitely agree with that categorization. I think the original trilogies
are less about politics and more about you know classic
science fiction themes like the human condition and the
power of love and forgiveness and sacrifice and everything that science fiction is really
designed to do is enable us to explore what it
means to be human. The prequel trilogies are, as
has been said, overtly political and I enjoy them for
that reason actually. The one thing that is missing from the prequel
politics is the judiciary. We don’t get any mention
of the courts and so.>>Seth Masket: We got one
mention in episode one.>>Bill Davies: Yeah. And you get a clue of what was.>>Seth Masket: Why
would that be relevant?>>Bill Davies: Maybe
they’ll cover this gap in the next episode, but a yeah
that’s what’s missing for me as a legal scholar at least.>>Henry Jenkins: As a
media scholar, I come at it from slightly different angle
because while I’m interested in the politics in the film,
I’m also very interested in the politics around the film. So, my in my recent book “By Any
Media Necessary” we interviewed about 200 young activists
and heard consistently that the language of the
American politics was broken, but because it was exclusive,
it was inside the beltway, it was hard to understand
for first-time voters and it was repulsive in so
far as the partisanship cloud in any discussion of the issues. What we found though was pop
culture provides that generation with the language
they use to talk about social change whether
it’s a three finger salute from Hunger Games or Princess
Leia at the Women’s March. We’re seeing a variety
of signs from that. This is what we call
the civic imagination, so the civic imagination how
do we imagine a better world? How do we think of
ourselves as a civic agent? And that’s baked into this
mythological structure of Star Wars to such a degree that it has been a
particularly evocative text. Whether we’re going to
talk about Ronald Reagan’s, whether he did or didn’t mean
evil empire as an illusion to Star Wars or whether the
Star Wars critique of Kennedy that he later embraced
of his strategic missiles or we could talk about the
use of the Hoth sequence by protestors in Madison, Wisconsin who use the
icy landscape to pick, to go after Scott Walker
and calling let’s go after, let’s fight the imperial
Walkers. People even dressed up like
at that particular protest. So, we’re seeing Star Wars
iconography crop up all over the place in
contemporary American politics and it is the way
we think today. It’s not a new thing that we
use imagination for politics. I’d like to point to you the, what I call the cosplay George
Washington in the Smithsonian. There’s a statue of George
Washington wearing the toga. Unless he went to toga
parties at William and Mary, I don’t think he actually
wore a toga, but it tells us that there was a fantasy of
restoring classical democracy that shaped the founding
fathers who wrote in pen names, [inaudible] we call them
today of Roman orators and Greek heroes to
fight for democracy. So, students today who are using
Star Wars characters to think about social change,
are part of a continuum where the imagination
always plays an active role in how we think about
political change.>>Swara Salih: Yeah,
what is Star Wars but our modern mythology?>>Henry Jenkins: And if that’s
case we’re going to draw on it for political discourse.>>Swara Salih: Absolutely.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay, so let’s talk a little
bit about the prequels. I actually re-watched the
prequels and I kind of like them if you’re looking at them from
a political science perspective, but one thing that bothers
me is what we touched on a little bit here, is
the separation of powers. So, may Seth you can
talk to us a little bit about the legislature, the
galactic senate its strengths and weaknesses and then
we can collectively talk about what is the role,
I’m more and more confused by the role of the Jedi. Is that supposed to be
the executive power? Who are they accountable
for and do we have to face up to the fact that the Jedi
are partially responsible for the fall of the Republic?>>Swara Salih: Okay. So, easy hitter. When I teach actually
legislatures I usually start off with the scene of
the legislature in the galactic republic
from Phantom Menace and just, you know, again like two minutes
of legislative behavior here and I ask students to say,
well tell me what’s missing, assuming this is an a
natural legislature, what should be here that isn’t? One of the things that’s there or that should be
there is parties. This is apparently an
enormous legislature. We never, we don’t
know the exact size, but there are thousands
maybe tens of thousands of systems represented and they
don’t seem very well-organized. One of the things that would
very likely emerge here is some sort of party divisions
and we don’t see that. We don’t see any
sort of formal order for the way things are done. There is queen Amidala who
gets to address the legislature as a nonmember of
that legislature. If that happened this thing
wouldn’t last a thousand generations, it wouldn’t last a
thousand years, I mean this is, it’s kind of a mess and
also there’s no media as far as we can tell and there’s
some little floating droid. I don’t know what that thing is,
but you know, they’re talking about a you know have
some members saying, hey the trade federation
is invading my planet and other members saying,
no, no they’re not. And there’s no finality
of that at all. They say, well maybe we should
have a report or maybe there, you know, turn on
CNN or something and you might have some sort
of inkling of what’s going on. There’s no evidence that
any of that occurs in there. So, there’s a number
of important problems with the way this
legislatures are run. Also, they just, you know, an
outside member when she gets to speak calls for a vote of
no confidence in the leader of the chain; this
is ridiculous. And then, in the second prequel
when they vote there’s no ayes or no’s, there’s just grunts. They just go like this and
that’s presumably a vote either for some piece of legislation. So, yeah, problems. Briefly.>>Colleen Shogan: Maybe
a lack of formal rules?>>Swara Salih: That’s.>>Colleen Shogan:
Immature institutions?>>Swara Salih: Yeah, yeah.>>Colleen Shogan: Even though
it’s a thousand generations old that’s a problem, okay.>>Swara Salih: Yeah. When George Lucas was writing
these films he wasn’t thinking of the specific rules. He was thinking what can I
put in for dramatic attention, because Padme Amidala is one
of the main protagonists, I’m going to have her be
pressured into calling for a vote of no
confidence, but as you point out Seth this makes
absolutely no sense. The system would fall apart in a
day if like any monarch or ruler from any planet could
just barge in and like demand whatever
they wanted. Yeah, George bless him, he
cares a lot about politics. He doesn’t know how to
write politics very well and I actually want to
suggest an article on NPR by Tamara Keith and Scott
Detrow, the politics of Star Wars make no sense. It is a very informative
and very entertaining read.>>Bill Davies: Well, all that said he does
understand the symbolism of the legislature branch. I mean, for me the great moment
in Revenge of the Sith is when Yoda and Darth
Sidious are fighting in the legislative chamber and what is Darth Sidious
using as his weapon? He’s using the pods.>>Seth Masket: The pods.>>Bill Davies: Yeah, the pods
that they used to deliberate and for me that was a
great symbolic moment that this is just a weapon for
Darth Sidious to gain power.>>Henry Jenkins: So, I thought
I’d fill in a couple of examples of how that translates back
to real world senate politics. So, Ted Cruz as some of you may
know is a hardcore Star Wars fan, releases an ad for
his presidential campaign where he turns the U.S.
Constitution into a light-saver. Goes after Obama who’s ripping
up the constitution where a pack of wild donkeys riding an
elephant charging into battle, fights his way through
a pack of rhinos and finally rescues the
Capitol from the control of, so it’s politics
everybody is incoherent as what we’re describing
in Star Wars itself. That it turned around though when in one his campaign
appearances in New Hampshire, a young activist
Andrew Slack showed up, gave him a light-saver which
he loved and started waving it around in front of the cameras
and the manger proceeded to ask what kind of senator he
was, was he Organa or Palpatine? In using the notion of the
dark force or dark money as a metaphor to think about
the campaign finance reform and the conversation
shutdown fairly quickly as the Star Wars fan running
for President realized that he was probably on the
wrong side of that metaphor.>>Swara Salih: One
more Ted Cruz story. He actually made, he
made I think during the, yeah 2016 Election an ad where
he set himself in Hillary and Barack Obama to the
trailer of The Force Awakens. He was setting himself as Rey,
he was setting Barack Obama as Darth Vader and Hillary
as Kylo Ren and no offense, Senator Cruz you are no Rey.>>Colleen Shogan:
And nobody wants to touch my question
about the Jedi and.>>Swara Salih: Oh
yeah, oh yeah. Oh, definitely. This is like.>>Colleen Shogan: Alright.>>Swara Salih: This is an
extremely important point, because the Jedi as
they started out, very spiritual religious
organization. They say, oh we are here
to help promote peace, but in our own spiritual
way letting the will of the force guide us. The force doesn’t play
politics unfortunately. It is outside any
sort of institution. So, you know, my our theory
on our show for what happened with the Jedi throughout the
generations of the republic is, as the republic became
more and more consolidated and needed some sort
of peacekeeping force across these desperate systems,
the Jedi’s first stepped in increasingly they were
originally embroiled in for lack of a better term,
earthly affairs and they essentially became
a political institution onto themselves, that
and they weren’t even in trying to the constitution. So, what you have in Revenge
of the Sith, what makes Windu and the other Jedi trying
to arrest Palpatine, what grounds do they
have to do that? It’s certainly not
in the constitution like Palpatine probably
notes, or like just thinking to himself, what are they doing? Like even if you
weren’t in Sith, you know this is something
else the Jedi are doing. They are discriminating
against the chancellor for his role as affiliation. So, you know, there’s
another question in there. Again, George wasn’t
really thinking that much about the rules,
but he gave a lot of really great fodder
for us to dig into.>>Seth Masket: I wrote
a piece a few years ago about the role of the Jedi. So, as I, as I see them they
are a secretive powerful religious order. They recruit children at a very
young age and indoctrinate them. They have this quasi
governing role that are totally unaccountable. They’re basically the Taliban. So, yeah anyway not
a fan, but yeah.>>Colleen Shogan:
Okay, alright.>>Bill Davies: For me the
Jedi are, looking at this from a jurisprudence angle, I think the Jedi is this weird
manifestation of concepts of natural law, but there’s
this underlying structure to the universe that is morally
sound and we just need to work out what these moral precepts
are and live our lives to them, and the Jedi are this
manifestation in the real world of natural law and Star Wars
is in a way it’s a critique of natural law in the sense that
as soon as these manifestations of natural law have to interact in the real world
then they fail. The become too rigid,
they become too absolute, and it just can’t deal
with the dirty reality of everyday politics.>>Colleen Shogan: So,
so go ahead, go ahead.>>Henry Jenkins: Yeah,
I again playing my role of bringing this back to the
realm of real world politics. One of the interesting
Jedi mobilizations was by a group called the Rebel
Alliance which was concerned with public education and they
discovered that May the 4th, the official Star Wars holiday
was, it existed the same week as Teacher Appreciation Week and so they launched a campaign
called Teach us your [inaudible] where people pay
tribute to their mentors. Now, I was bemused by this because mentorship is maybe
not the most successful strike, side of the Jedi’s
role in society. I mean if I failed my
students as bad as most of those teachers did
I would be probably out of my job even with tenure. There’s all kinds of inappropriate
relationships modeled on the Star War films
in terms of the Jedi.>>Colleen Shogan: We’ll move
onto the original trilogies. So, the theme, one of
the big political themes of the original trilogy
is rebellion; the theme of rebellion and one
thing that I’ve always struggled with is how this
much, much smaller, much less resource Rebel Force
is able to actually land punches and made gains and ultimately
overthrow the empire, this huge monolithic empire. And the empire is clearly a
bureaucratic organization. It’s hierarchical. So, what does that tell us that there is this
small force that’s able to overthrow the empire,
what does that tell us about the empire as a regime
and maybe talk a little bit about the theme of rebellion
and how that’s been used by politicians and
political protests, you know, in the political context?>>Seth Masket: I’m
going to jump in on this.>>Colleen Shogan: Good.>>Seth Masket: So, I actually
want to recommend on this piece that Vox Mischiefs of Faction
written by Amy Erica Smith who wrote, actually some
commentary on the Solo movie. This is the one, one
piece of praise I’ll offer for this film is that it shows
us the bureaucratic weakness of the empire. This is, it’s a government
that’s actually not been around very long by the time
we see these events unfold and they’re having
trouble staffing up. It’s actually hard to
develop a bureaucracy.>>Colleen Shogan: There’s
not a lot of job security.>>Seth Masket: There’s not?>>Colleen Shogan: There’s big
punishment if you screw up.>>Seth Masket: Yeah. Yeah.>>Colleen Shogan: Yeah.>>Seth Masket: You rise too
high it will choke you and then, so it’s actually fairly
hard to coordinate things across great distances. One of the things
that is kind of, well actually very inconsistent
across all these films, is just how large this
universe is and how easy it is to communicate and
to travel across it. In the early films it seems to
actually take a very long time. It’s harder to administer
the outer rim planets which is why slavery basically
existed there unchecked for so long which is
why local war lords and mob bosses basically have.>>Colleen Shogan: Right.>>Seth Masket: Free rein there. So, in many ways this is
actually a very vulnerable system and you know the rebels
were pretty good at, you know, finding its weak places, plus
you had the fact that the, you know, when I think
very foolish things that the emperor did was
dissolve the imperial senate.>>Colleen Shogan: Right.>>Seth Masket: Which was
obviously not a, you know, not a very strong
or important body, but it held a vital
symbolic role. It told people that if you have
problems there is a political organization where you
can channel them and once that was gone, it was really, there was no political
solution to anything.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, and they
were expecting the Death Star along with the original
governors to keep the local
systems in mind like that was the exact
line in episode four, sorry. So, yeah, Seth you hit
the nail on the head. It’s really about the
sheer magnitude of trying to govern an entire
galaxy with hundreds of thousands of systems
basically. The thing about the
republic is, this is just like I know we’re trying
to be general here, but this is something
I’ve read around that, it was initially started
as a sort of trade system. Like for planets to facilitate
like trade and economic stuff, sorry, across the galaxy. So, when you get to the empire
that’s trying to express like a lot of control over
the galaxy then you run into problems and then
you don’t have the senate that like Seth said,
was this sort of conduit between the citizen
Rey and the executive. So, the rebel alliance
coming from various systems like General Ackbar and his
compatriots from Mon Calamari, Alderann other systems
I’m not going to go into, but various across the
galaxy join together and found the weak spots in
this very poorly managed system and they were effectively able
to dismantle the structure from the inside with the final
victory being at Endor or Battle of Jakku with like you know
have a battle front to. So, yeah it’s like just be like larger does not
always equal better. There in a lot of ways, it
fell like the Roman Empire with its structural like
weaknesses and other empires when you like look
through world history and it was only a
matter of time really.>>Bill Davies: I would add that I think Lucas had the
experiences of the 1930s with dictatorships
in Europe in mind when he was thinking not
just about the appearance of this [inaudible]
prison imperial offices, but the way that this bloated
bureaucracy was functioning and the main job for
these bureaucrats was not to actually do their
job very well, it was to please the
superior and make sure that superior doesn’t
strangle them to death.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, that
was Palpatine’s ruling style.>>Bill Davies: Exactly. What I really like about the
new novels, the Aftermath series and the Throne novels is
that they, it really gets into the details of
that, you really see some of these horrible,
horrible bureaucrats. You always tend to
be depicted as a kind of Hermann Goring very
overweight and selfish and the horrible bureaucrat
who does whatever he can do to make sure that he stays
in his position regardless of any kind of merit of
any of his inferiors. And the one thing that really
stands out for me about Thrawn in these books is that he
runs his ship as a meritocracy and that’s why it’s
so much more efficient and so much more
effective his ship compared to the other imperial
as the other ships in the imperial fleet. So, I really think that was a
part of Luke’s ruling too is.>>Colleen Shogan: Yeah,
what about the theme of rebellion politically?>>Henry Jenkins: Well, I
think we, there’s no accident that we’re using the term “the
resistance” right now to talk about progressive pushback
against Donald Trump, right? And thanks to Princess Leia’s
standing over my head right, she has given us a
model for thinking about an organization
that’s intersectional, that involves people
from a variety of different backgrounds. We could say something about
her racism toward Wookies in particular which
is problematic.>>She had just lost her
playmate give her a break.>>Henry Jenkins: Talk out for
people of [multiple speakers].>>That’s locker
room talk, that was.>>Henry Jenkins: People [brief
laughter] need to be sort of need better treatment
within the resistance, but I think nevertheless, and
it’s just locker room talk because it results in
them not getting a medal and having a stand
like everyone else.>>Colleen Shogan: That’s true.>>Henry Jenkins: Right? That’s justice for
Wookies hashtag. But, you know, but the
interesting thing is you can move in you can be a fly or
can be a farm boy one day and a commander in the
resistance movement the next, right, that there’s a certain
meritocracy in her sense of command that results in
both Han and Luke and later Ray and Finn being immediately
incorporated into that. There is a willingness to listen
to subordinance talk back. I think that’s an
interesting model of what a political organization
might do, but also a willingness to put men in their place which I think is also a really
interesting model in our “Me Too” times up moment
to see what command looks like over a resistance movement.>>Colleen Shogan:
This is a good segue into our next discussion
which is about race and gender and diversity in the
Star Wars universe. So, the first question,
you know, we see elements of democracy in the
Star Wars universe. We see elements of
republicanism representiveness in the Star Wars universe. Do we see elements, is the Star
Wars universe ever a liberal society, a rights-based society
or is that just nonexistent in the Star Wars universe?>>Swara Salih: So,
until the Disney era, for the most part Star Wars
a franchise I have loved with all my heart since I was 9, has been mainly headlined
by white men. It’s a, The Phantom has
always been very diverse, but at the same time,
certain voices were only, would be highlighted and
a lot of people of color and women even like a
lot of women would be out of the conversation
about this. I’m talking about both
the Star Wars universe and The Phantom here; the
Disney era has made a lot of great strides when you
look from The Force Awakens to The Last Jedi, Solo,
Rogue One especially with the super diverse cast. There’s still strides to go on
with that and it’s interesting because George Lucas did
intend the Rebel Alliance to be a multiracial or
multispecies coalition against the “human
supremacist empire” like the allegory was meant
to be that the empire was like a Nazi organization
only promoting human rights and not alien’s rights and that
it was a metaphor George Lucas was going for. It wasn’t race-based, but
it was species-based and, again, that was a metaphor. I’m not sure like with canon like how much that’s really
being digged into now, but I do know that was like
very much in his thinking. And but it is still interesting,
because when you look at the original trilogy films it
would only, it was mostly human. It wasn’t until beside Chewbacca
it wasn’t until episode six when we saw aliens
in the Rebel Alliance and we didn’t even
really get that much talk about the human supremacy
of the empire. It was something that you’d read
in books or George would talk about maybe in some
interviews here and there. So, all of this is, it’s very
interesting to think about. It can be uncomfortable
at times, but it does necessitate
a discussion, again, Star Wars when you look at the
films now they’re making strides at that can certainly
go further and I think for on the women question
I think barely any of the films pass
the Bechdel test. So, and if they do it’s
only for like 30 seconds. There’s a long way to go
in terms of it promoting a, you know, I think this is
like tangential to being, to being more liberal like
a more diverse society when we’re looking
at the discussion of our politics today. So, as a.>>Colleen Shogan: There’s a
question that major characters that are people of color, right?>>Swara Salih: Right.>>Colleen Shogan: I mean,
there are people of color who are characters even in
the recent Star Wars movies, but what are they doing? How, you know, what is
their storylines things like that, right?>>Swara Salih: Yeah, yeah it’s
like I loved The Last Jedi. It’s my favorite Star Wars
film, but I appreciate and agree with a lot of the criticisms
of how it treats its people of color and its women. You know, like I think
that it does try to dig into some really
serious conversations and I love Ryan Johnson. I think he’s a brilliant
director, a brilliant writer. I think it would have helped a
lot if he happen to have a woman of color a cowriter, a
co-director to look at some, when you look at a lot of
the conversation in the media about the film, this film
and some of the racial and sex-based issues it has, I think this would have
solved a lot of it. If he, if it and like Lucas
film, I don’t, it has a bit of a white man problem where
it is mostly white men creators creating and writing these films
and I think it can be opened up more especially,
you know, for example, just have more women,
have more people of color, have people of the
LGBT community. It’s we’re living in an era now
where people know so much more about how their films are made
and, you know, it’s like clear on the screen when we’re
watching them as well.>>Seth Masket: So, I want to
recommend another blog post. This is I believe by Sarah
Parkinson at the Monkey Cage. She did a little write up of
Rogue One noting that, you know, one of the real innovations
of that film is that it showed the
centrality of women to the resistance movement. Not necessarily as the lead
fighters, but the organizers of it, the generals, the
people who are connected from different systems that actually put
this thing together. That includes people like Jyn
Erso, that includes Mon Mothma, it incluse Leia and she notes that this is actually a
familiar pattern in a lot of resistance movements around
the world that we see today. So, you know, I don’t know that
I would necessarily call that; I mean that was a very good
film for representation. I don’t know if I would
call it a feminist film by a longshot, but it was.>>Swara Salih: Like Jyn’s story
and this is criticism I’ve heard from a lot of my women
friends is that a lot of her plot is based
on the actions of men or like her father in
particular, I mean I think, I think she had a
great plot overall. I think it was very compelling and I think she can be a
really great role model, but I do understand
those criticisms as well. We should have women
writers for these films.>>Henry Jenkins:
No, absolutely. I mean the interesting
thing about the politics of these films is
there’s one contingent who thinks it hasn’t far enough
or far enough, fast enough and we can look at Phantom
as a site which really has for a longtime fought for representational
politics even something like cosplay which.>>Yeah.>>Henry Jenkins:
Traditionally was about fidelity to the original costume is
now being used as a tool to help us imagine what a
more racially and diverse or more gender of binary,
non-binary Star Wars might look like and so it’s a tool. Fan fiction has been a tool for
imagining other possibilities. Although the interesting
data there was coming out of Force Awakens where you
have these characters of color, the most popular pairing
in fan fiction has been Hux and Rylo or Kylo Renaissance.>>Colleen Shogan: Oh.>>Henry Jenkins: Not any
of the characters of color, so even fan fiction
has failed us.>>Colleen Shogan: Yeah.>>Henry Jenkins: In terms of imagining what
diversity would look like. On the other side,
we have the people who are angry fan
boys, so-called toxic.>>Colleen Shogan: Right.>>Henry Jenkins:
Fan masculinities which from the very beginning
was hostile to the new films with some good reason, right,
it’s a very mixed group that we’re talking about. There’s a lot of built-up
animosity, you know, going back over a
variety of issues, but a lot of them do
have to do with gender and racial representational
issues. The media overblew some
parts of the story. It turns out the
#blackstormtropper was built around a Lego movie that
had nothing to do with race and a very small percentage when you crunch the numbers
were racially, you know, white supremacist posts, but
there is that discourse there that people are looking at and
that we need to think about. So, there’s a struggle
around the politics of the film that’s very real. The problem when the media
over-represents toxic phantom and backlash, is it allows
the producer to say we need to go slow because
our base is upset.>>Yeah, yeah.>>Henry Jenkins:
And it doesn’t, and the media is not covering
all of the progressive moves to representational
politics in Finn.>>Swara Salih: It’s
like when we’re looking at The Last Jedi reaction
for example, when you look at different metrics you have
something called cinema score which pulls audiences directly when they’re coming
out of the movie. The Last Jedi got an A
grade on Rotten Tomatoes which allows anyone
to go on and comment and put whatever
rating they want. It had something
like a 45% rotten; that is a coordinated
campaign to try to dash the score of a film. You’re absolutely right. It’s like it’s so
overblown, it’s so frustrating because the broad majority
of the public and when I talk to people outside of hardcore
fandom, like a lot most liked or loved the film; however,
I have friends that didn’t like the film as
well and that’s fine. What they do is they
say, I don’t like this. I’m moving along with my fandom. For example, I didn’t like Solo. I’m just going to
leave it at that. I don’t need to harp on
anyone else for loving it and I do have friends
that love it.>>Henry Jenkins: So, I
think what matters though is that Finn is a Black.>>Swara Salih: Yes.>>Henry Jenkins: Right? I mean, I think Frantz Fanon
could write a whole book just about Finn’s journey from someone whose peoples
have been conquered. He’s enlisted into the service. He struggles with issues of
conscience and finally rebels, but is torn between the desire
to get out of the system and a desire to become a
hero in the system’s terms, and I think there’s a
really powerful journey just around the edges in terms
of thinking about what, why it matters Finn takes place. Re-watching the films
getting ready for this, though the moment that really
threw me out of my chair is in the beginning of Sith,
there’s a rolling credit that tells us there would good
people on both sides [laughter]. Well, I kid you not. Unless this is another one of George Lucas’s
alteration of the text.>>Oh, George.>>Henry Jenkins: I’m assuming
it was there all along.>>Colleen Shogan: So, my
last question before we get; I want to get to the audience because I know you guys
have a lot of questions, so we’ll fast-forward here
to the sequel trilogy. Right now we know they’re
filming episode nine. There’s not that much
information out there, but they’re filming episode nine
and the one thing we do know about episode nine
is that it is going to be the last episode
that’s going to deal with the Skywalker saga. That has been made very clear. So, I have a two-part
question for the panel and this is the last question and then we’ll go
to the audience. How do you want the
Skywalker saga to end? And how do you think the
Skywalker saga will end? So, those are could be
two different questions; how do you want it to end and
how do you think it is going to end in episode nine?>>Swara Salih: Ah, so.>>Colleen Shogan:
It’s a toughie.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, I
have been so in the middle of this debate raging online.>>Colleen Shogan:
Well this is your, you’re at the Library
of Congress. You’re on record here.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, so.>>Colleen Shogan:
This is part of.>>Swara Salih: Yes,
yes exactly.>>Colleen Shogan: This
is part of national okay?>>Swara Salih: Exactly. Okay.>>Colleen Shogan: No pressure.>>Swara Salih: I view
the Skywalker’s as Icarus, flying too close
to the sun to talk about another mythic reference. I love Luke and Leia. They are two of my favorite
characters of all time, but I think even they
would agree by the end of The Last Jedi that their time
has passed, that what they need to focus on is what’s good
for the galaxy at large. The Skywalker’s are the
family we’ve been following for so long, but there are
things far more important than one single family. Kylo Ren who is a fascinating
conflicted character in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi has had
multiple times at going to the other side or helping the
resistance or trying to atone for the various sins
he has committed. There is maybe a chance
of redemption for him in episode nine, but I
think I’m very much at 50/50 on whether it’s going to happen. We will see. I think my ideal for episode
nine for the Skywalker saga to be wrapped up, is for Rey to
lead a new order of Jedi for her to undergo a journey of
understanding what it is that she really wants to do in
this galaxy and how she wants to contribute and to
let go of trying to live up to another’s legacy. And for Kylo Ren, I don’t know
what I want for him exactly. I think whatever happens
in the film I will like and appreciate if
they do it well. I could see him dying, I
could see him being redeemed and then dying, I could see
him going into exile as long as they do it well, I’m for it. What I think will happen
if I’m trying to gauge like chances here and there, I think they will pull
a Vader with Kylo Ren. I think that he will
be redeemed. He’ll do some action
to help the resistance, but then he will die following
the legacy of his grandfather and potentially being welcomed
into the force ghost afterlife by Luke, Kyoto, Obi-Wan
and Han again [laughter].>>Seth Masket: What music
is playing when that happens?>>Swara Salih: Probably
The Force theme. They would definitely
play The Force theme. But honestly, as long
as Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose and our resistance
heroes, as long as they get to have their, you know,
shining moments in episode nine and the story is really focused
on them and how they’re going to save the galaxy, I’m happy.>>Bill Davies: Thanks. So, one of the exciting
things I really enjoyed about Solo was this discussion
or this nascent discussion about droid rights, and I think
that really has a good potential for a more neutral or a more
dispassionate discussion about equality and
rights that we talked about in the previous
discussion, so I hope that continues
in the next movie. What do I see happening after having just
finished the Thrawn novels? Rey and Kylo Ren teaming up to
fight an invasion led by Thrawn from the unknown regions and
Kylo Ren sacrificing himself in the process to save Rey. There we go.>>Henry Jenkins: Well, I I said that I though The Last Jedi
has been somewhat misunderstood and to me part of what The Last
Jedi does incredibly well is break the cycle of the Heroes
Journey or Monomyth all of Joseph Campbell
that’s drove so much of Luke’s own conceptions
of Star Wars, and I’m drawing here
a little bit on a guy named Jeff Gomez who’s
done a series of blog posts about culturally we’re
shifting from Heroes Journey to a collective journey where
there are multiple protagonists, multiple ways of
succeeding, multiple missions and we form coalitions or
there’s intersectionality between characters and characters can sometimes be
opposed and sometimes friends. So, the complexity of that
is part of what takes place in The Last Jedi and
we see that pushback and the hotshot masculinity
of just blowing up things is not sufficient
that’s put in its place over the course of
the film which is one of the many reasons why white
fan boys are often upset by Last Jedi is that it
literally is saying you’re not, not only is the era of The Jedi
over, but the era of a kind of masculine narrative
that’s hero driven, this has to give way to a
coalition centered narrative. So, I do think we’re
going to see the coalition of the new characters and
the passing of the torch. We already get it when Leia
says, who are you looking at follow him at the end of
Jedi that that’s a moment of passing the torch that she
did, that Carrie Fisher did get in while she was alive
and we can sort of see that as a monumental
moment and we’ve built across the three films
the passing of the torch by each of those characters. And on top of the joyride
thing, I would also point to Rose’s moment of
talking about animal rights, because we have this
blurring of categories running through Star Wars between
characters that are subhuman, and I think Wookies are
treated and Ewoks are treated as subhuman often in the
films and those characters that are treated as animals
and the relations between them and to some degree the poor
Chewbacca relationship sort of starts to play with
that and Rose’s moment of rescuing the horse and
saying, or the creature.>>Swara Salih: The Fathier.>>Henry Jenkins:
Yes and saying free.>>Swara Salih: Nerd.>>Henry Jenkins: Is similarly
makes those questions open. So, we’re now asking who
has rights in Star Wars as we move toward a more
ensemble-based narrative and less away from it
being a Skywalker saga.>>Colleen Shogan: Seth?>>Seth Masket: Ah, I’m
okay with us moving away from the Skywalkers, but I
would just say that what the, the most recent films have
done is they’ve been a way to say goodbye to
the original heroes. Han Solo, Luke Skywalker
got really nice endings and Leia deserved that and I
don’t see anyway she’s going to get that now, and that
is, that’s unfortunate because she’s deserving
of a good send off. I don’t really know that
the right way to sort of end that family’s story. I had a, had a history
professor in college, Slottman [phonetic] was his
name and he was always sort of working, I don’t know if he ever finished it before he
passed away, but he was working on some novel about
that he wanted to call The Last
Haspur [phonetic]. And he just wanted just with
the last Haspur just advocating getting in a limousine
and driving away. And it would be nice if the
last Skywalker could do that.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay, great. So, we’re going to
go to the audience. Do we have a microphone? Roswell has a microphone
if you raise your hand, we’ll take some questions.>>So I like the prequels. I always have, but I
really fell in love with the prequels even deeper
once I watched The Clone Wars. I thought that it
kind of enriched a lot of the political
legal aspects of it. I mean, there’s a court
scene in season five, the Jedi they’re immune from prosecution while
they’re a Jedi it’s almost like a ecclesiastical rights
you know in older times. Well, what was your
view of the politics of specifically I
guess the prequels in light of The Clone Wars? Did that change for you? Did that enrich you? Like what was your view of that?>>Swara Salih: So, as someone who watched The Clone
Wars only recently, yeah it definitely enriched it. It, I love political dramas. Like for example, West Wing or
until the scumbag was removed, House of Cards and yeah I find
it all really fascinating seeing Padme, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and other senators
discuss the republics, public health care
system; how does that work? I have no idea. But still, it’s like really
fascinating to hear them talk about the sort of
nuances of The Clone Wars. You know, we’ve mentioned before
the line heroes on both sides, there was actually an episode
of Clone Wars entitled Heroes on Both Sides and it shows that the separatists
are not just Count Dooku and his scary looking
alien like in patriots. It’s or like the
commerce skilled. Like the [inaudible]
basically really bad metaphors for East Asia as
a dominating force that were even racially
tinged unfortunately. And like this episode showed
like yeah the separatists as like just regular people. planets that are
really dissatisfied with the way the republic has
been run and why they’re trying to get out and what
rights they’re seeking and in this episode,
Padme goes with one of our main characters Ahsoka who is Anakin’s apprentice
in The Clone Wars. You might want if you’re
interested, you might want to check out this
series, and Ahsoka gets to see hey these
aren’t monsters. These aren’t our sworn enemies. They’re real people
with genuine grievances and maybe we should hear them
out and maybe we can come to a solution to this awful war. There are a lot of like episodes like that throughout The Clone
Wars that deepen what each of these individual
planets are going through. It’s not just in the
legislature, it’s not just in the senate, you actually see
what’s happening to the people and I, I; my relationship with
the prequels, I loved them as kid, not so much growing up. I recognize them for
their many, many flaws. But I really wish that
Clone Wars was the prequels. I really wish that we were
seeing these various planets that Clone War showed
us in the actual films. I think it would
have helped it a lot.>>Bill Davies: Can I
had something to that?>>Colleen Shogan: Oh,
sure go ahead sorry.>>Bill Davies: Actually
my favorite episode of The Clone Wars series
is the trial of Ahsoka.>>Swara Salih: That
was so good.>>Bill Davies: Yeah,
absolutely. I mean, you get in
one not a court room, I think it’s the
headquarters of the Navy because it’s a military
trial a court-martial. You get in one room you
get Chancellor Palpatine, you get Admiral talking at the
time and you get Pademe Amidala and Ahsoka and I you
get Skywalker there and for me that’s a great scene of just how different the
Jedi are from normal citizens of the republic, but also just
how much power Palpatine is exercising over the entire
political judicial process by that point.>>You’ll have to forgive
it’s not very political, but I just up or down on Jar
Jar and up or down on Rose?>>Swara Salih: On what?>>Seth Masket: What?>>Colleen Shogan: On?>>Rose, Jar Jar and Rose?>>Colleen Shogan: Oh. Down on Jar Jar,
but way up on Rose.>>Henry Jenkins: I
have an interesting, Ahmed Best who played Jar Jar
Binks was a guest on our podcast and we had a long
discussion about this and he posed a really
interesting challenge which was that if, now I’m going
to lose his name, Andy Serkis had played Jar Jar and he had played Gollum
how would we respond to those two characters? And he was talking about Gollum
slathering on rocks and talking about Master and so forth. It would be politically
incredibly awkward and difficult to imagine that. The problem is I can’t imagine
Andy Serkis being given the lines that Jar Jar was
given in that film. Right? And watching it
again he sort of sold me in the conversation, but watching the film prequels
again, I just can’t get there.>>Colleen Shogan:
Yeah, yeah for sure.>>Henry Jenkins: It is a
deeply problematic character.>>Swara Salih: Yes.>>Henry Jenkins: It’s
that shows Lucas’s roots and menstrual humor of
the 40s and so forth.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, the
way Jar Jar was portrayed and was not the best to be sure. So, I just wanted to like say
another note of that Ahmed Best. It was actually revealed
recently that he went through era of depression after
the Phantom Menace with all of the Phantom discourse around
his character and, you know, let’s remember that these
are actors just doing a job and it’s the writers who
have created these things that we may detest, so you
know, with all due respect to Ahmed Best and of the; he
really did put incredible work into the character even though
he don’t really like him that much, Jar Jar that is. So, you know, with
all due respect to him and everything he’s
been through, I’m going to give Jar
Jar a thumbs down, but on the other
character of Rose Tico, I give her again a
stratospheric thumbs up.>>Colleen Shogan: Yes.>>Swara Salih: I will
say though about Rose and I love Rose as a character,
I wish they didn’t have that kiss in Last Jedi. It just, it was completely
out of place in my opinion. That’s it.>>Seth Masket: I yeah,
you probably said enough about Jar Jar, just but
I’m a big fan of Rose. I, in particular her I
thought her contribution to The Last Jedi just
saying you know it’s not about the bad people
we kill it’s about the good people we
save, that kind of turned in many ways the entire
franchise on its head in a really helpful way. So, you know, if she
does nothing else, I think that would be, that’s an
important character right there.>>Henry Jenkins: And if we
want to talk about characters, who actors who have
been harassed.>>Colleen Shogan: Yes.>>Henry Jenkins:
That’s the latest.>>Swara Salih: Yes.>>Henry Jenkins:
Story on harassment where angry white fan boy rage
has just torn her life apart. But yeah, I think the
introduction of sisterhood as a motif in the story is
another step toward decentering the male narrative and
emphasizing other kinds of relationships and we only
saw her sister very briefly in the opening of The Last Jedi,
it’s a really powerful sequence of the scene them play with
her medal that goes back to the sister I think
is particularly strong.>>Bill Davies: Yeah, the sister
does play a more important role in normalization. But a for me, Rose was important
in a strange way for me because growing up as a white
British male, I you know, I never had any problems
finding heroes that looked me on the screen. But I’m now, I’m married
to a Korean American with a mixed race daughter and for the first time I
had a real visceral sense of just how important it was for
someone like my young daughter to see someone that looked like
her on the screen and realize that she could also immolate
this hero role that’s played in the movie.>>Colleen Shogan: Okay, we
have time for one more question. Go ahead.>>Very simple question;
favorite light-saver fight? Favorite light-saver fight.>>Colleen Shogan: Oh,
favorite light-saver fight. Good question.>>Seth Masket: Oh, can I? Phantom Menace. Yeah, not a good
film, but man is that a good light-saver
scene and, in fact, I, I’ll argue that light-saver
scene actually makes the case for the film better than
the film does [laughter]. It’s actually, it’s
well-thought through. It’s beautifully choreographed. The whole story of the
light-saver fight is that you know you have these
two Jedi who are supposed to work together, but they’re, and you have Darth
Maul basically trying to tar them apart, even
though he can’t beat them if they’re working together,
so he’s constantly trying to draw one away from the other. You see, you know, sometimes
they’re trying to do sort of innovative moves that kind
of fail and I think it’s, and you see the very
different Jedi versus set style that absolutely beautiful.>>Bill Davies: And Jewel of
the Duel of the Fates the score to the, it’s mind blowing. Mind blowing.>>Henry Jenkins: Yeah, and
when I said earlier that, when I said earlier I didn’t
want to interview the cast, I also seen the trailer in
fairness the very first trailer of Star Wars didn’t have John
Williams’ music attached to it.>>Yeah.>>Henry Jenkins: So, imagine
how different it would be to experience Star Wars
without Williams’ music.>>Swara Salih: Yeah, George Lucas called it the
secret sauce of Star Wars once. Yeah, mine is actually
Return of the Jedi. I think it’s a very
emotionally charged beautifully choreographed, beautifully
shot light-saver battle between this father and
son who are battling for each other’s souls
effectively and you can tell that it’s not just that
they’re light-savers that are clashing even
if it is done very well, it’s their emotions,
it’s their thoughts, it’s like they’re projecting
telepathically to each other and Mark Hamill’s expressions and even Vader’s expressions
even though he’s in a mask, it’s like this is the fact
that I love about Darth Vader, it’s like you can always feel, you can always tell what
he’s thinking or feeling just by looking at him and he’s like it’s just the
same mask, but anyway. Anyway, it I really love it. It’s a been one of my favorites, it is my favorite basically my
whole life and it means a lot to me, like in everything
it portrays.>>Bill Davies: For me
it’s Revenge of the Sith. It’s the two brothers
fighting, I just, thinking about that
opening dialogue and then when they start fighting, just
I got goose pimples right now.>>Colleen Shogan: Alright. Well, join me in
thanking everybody here on this panel today. [ Applause ] So, once again please join us
for Empire Strikes Back outside in the North lawn at 7:30 and
then Return of the Jedi tomorrow at 7:30 and our display
open from 1 to 6 in the Jefferson
Building tomorrow. Thank you.

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