A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, disputes over trade routes aggravated the cracks in the political foundation of an already crumbling democracy. As a result, an evil Empire ascended to power from the remains of the permanently altered Republic. The six-film Star Wars saga has had a significant influence on the genre of science fiction since the debut of the original film in 1977. References to its characters and themes are deeply embedded in popular culture; however, the images and descriptions contain political messages, which serve as an incisive metaphor for current environmental crisis. The overall premise of the Star Wars movies centers on the prophecy of the Chosen One and the balance that he is to bring to the Force, a universal spirit that “binds the galaxy together.” The story unfolds on a backdrop of a galactic economic and political system that seeks power at the expense of everything else, and the pursuit of power that is portrayed by the imagery from Star Wars indicates that capitalism creates a desire for wealth, which, in capitalistic societies, is the progeny of power. There is textual evidence to suggest that the Sith (the villains in the films) unnaturally manipulated the Force to craft this Chosen One, making him part of the Sith’s own creation. However, the Sith’s attempt to procure political power and to dominate nature actually disrupted the fragile ecosystem that exists among all living things. This imbalance prompted the indivisible Force to respond in an attempt at stability, and the Chosen One eventually unraveled the Sith’s own existence from within.
Likewise, humanity is slowly destroying its existence through unregulated and unbalanced creation within its environment. Furthermore, because nature has intrinsic value of its own, industrial development and the pursuit of power are causing an authority disparity – a divergence not unlike the Sith’s attempt to exact domination over the Force. This type of hubris leads to pollution and disease and is tantamount to apocalypse-in-the-making. As Donna Haraway contends in her essay “Animal Sociology and a Natural Economy of the Body Politic,” a marketplace that remakes all things and people into commodities could ultimately unmake civilization and the humanity that refuses to live as one with non-human nature. As humans continue to consciously design themselves and the world, nature exists as just another type of capitalist commodity that is shaped by forces of the free market. This type of politics is problematic because the relationship between nature and culture cannot be explained in a linear way, nor does culture emerge as any one specific course of action that seeks to dominate nature. Humans are culpable for the current environmental state of affairs; however, humans are interacting with processes beyond their control and understanding.
The Force of Star Wars is a ubiquitous power that possesses great significance for both the Jedi and Sith, and it represents the interconnectedness of humans and their environment. While some think of the Force simply in terms of good and evil, it is also an entity capable of intelligent thought (a sort of deity) that encompasses the entirety of space and time. The Force deals with the energy of every living thing. That is, the Force exists within and draws energy from the life forms that use it. In the original Star Wars film, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi defines the Force as “an energy field created by all living things” that “surrounds us and penetrates us.” Yoda describes the same phenomenon in The Empire Strikes Back: "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes."
The Force symbolizes the association among all living beings, surrounding and penetrating them, thus making all living things connected. This establishes the need for humans to institute policies that are mindfully attuned to other living beings around them. According to Haraway, “many branches of culture affirm the pleasure of connection of human and other living creatures." For example, the Greeks “perceive[d] the body politic as an organism, as fundamentally alive and as part of a large cosmic organism." In other words, the Greeks saw the universe as one great life form. Though this may be an ancient theory, in his essay “Toxic Discourse,” Lawrence Buell attests to a similar political concept and calls for “a new history of US environmentalism” – one that “insists on the interdependence of ecocentric and anthropocentric values” and “underscores the point that environmentalism must make concerns for human and social health more central and salient than it traditionally has if it is to thrive, perhaps even to survive."
This concept of symbiotic survival is central to the mythology of Star Wars. Though the Force is thought to flow through every life form in the galaxy, its power can only be employed by beings with a high count of internal organisms called midichlorians. In the Star Wars films, midichlorians are “a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells.” Qui-Gon Jinn goes on to say, “We are symbiants with them…life forms living together for mutual advantage[…]without the midichlorians, life cannot exist. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.” Because Force-sensitive beings are able to use their ability to tap into the Force to perform acts of great skill and agility, they are also able to use the Force to control and shape the world around them. This permits users of the Force to determine what they encounter and imagine to be both their environment and their culture. We can determine the significance of this metaphor when we compares it to Haraway’s claim: “What we experience and theorize as nature and as culture are transformed by our work. All we touch and therefore know, including our organic and or social bodies, is made possible for us through labor.” Therefore, there is a unifying “Force” that exists as a part of all living things, and all living things are made known through labor. Furthermore, according to Haraway, “culture does not dominate nature, nor is nature an enemy." This attests to the fact that human and non-human nature are inextricably linked. Perhaps Kate Rigby’s “Ecocriticism” provides a more specific definition. That is, “culture constructs the prism through which we know nature."
In spite of this, political capitalism imposes a standard of needs and wants, creating a desire for humans to label and compartmentalize nature as a resource to be exploited. Western capitalists attempt to separate humanity from nature, as if humanity is not a part of nature. However, by signifying these distinctions with words, these individuals create an indissoluble union with non-human nature. Human society is not independent of nature. It is a hybrid of nature and culture. For this reason, nature and culture cannot be interpreted as independent progressions. If humans continue to allow capitalist politics to exploit the nature/culture dichotomy, any attempt at environmental change will be impossible.
Like the Star Wars notion of the Force, humans are nature, and nature is humans. Therefore, the power struggle that ensues between culture and nature prompts “godlike” human invention and policies that follow. Haraway asserts that when “we have granted science the role of a fetish, an object human beings make only to forget their role in creating it, no longer responsive to the dialectical interplay of human beings with the surrounding world in the satisfaction of social and organic needs,” an imbalance of power is created. Moreover, as Lawrence Buell observes, “More and more it may become second nature to everyone's environmental imagination to visualize humanity in relation to environment, not as solitary escapees or consumers, but as collectivities with no alternative but to cooperate in acknowledgement of their necessary, like-it-or-not interdependence.” In other words, when humans only relate to nature in terms of industry (and when their political agendas reflect that relationship) they are, in fact, dominating nature. The resulting manipulations of nature tear the fabric of the “Force” and produce apocalypse.
Nevertheless, the evil Empire found its motivation in the political desire to emphasize culture as superior to nature. In the films, the Emperor repeatedly uses the influence of technology to interfere with life (heretofore thought of as “playing God”) and manipulate it at the basic level. Haraway contends that these “manipulations, concepts, organizing principles – the entire range of tools of the science – must be seen to be penetrated by the principle of domination." As previously stated, such domination changes the character of life itself. This raises deep-seated doubts and worries, both in the Star Wars universe and within the existing environmental movement. This is not to say that humans should not benefit from non-human nature. According to Marx, “The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world.” However, Marx does imply that an acutely capitalist system obscures the fact that “nature[…]provides the means of life in the more restricted sense – i.e., the means for the physical subsistence of the worker himself.” The irony here is that modernity prompts society to think of industry as the complete domination of nature, yet industry is vitally dependent on nature. It serves to reason then, that because nature is inextricably linked with culture, the more the worker allocates the natural world for capital gain, the more he or she alters the tapestry of life itself.
Ostensibly, the most tapestry-altering villains in Attack of the Clones are the Trade Federation, the Banking Guild, and other groups associated with commerce; however, it is Chancellor Palpatine, the future evil Emperor, who influences groups like the Trade Federation for his own gain. The desire for this power is perpetuated by Haraway’s “principle of domination.” The Emperor manipulates political institutions into starting wars so that he can consolidate his power. For example, in Star Wars, Chancellor Palpatine controls the Galactic Senate (the democracy). The senate chamber is comprised of pods, which resemble biological cells, replete with midichlorians (senators). This symbolism, which suggests Palpatine’s willful manipulation of the Force is mirrored in the physical realm when Palpatine commissions “a clone army[…]one of the finest” to propel his capitalist political agenda. The clones’ growth is accelerated, their genetic structure modified, and these cyborgs are “immensely superior to droids.” Haraway argues that “a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star War apocalypse waged in the name of defense.” This fact is significant because, according to Haraway, “cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurable tight coupling” between people and other living beings. Through exertion of domination over nature, this cloning introduces an artificial element into the Force, causing the symbiosis between human and non-human to become damaged.
Anakin Skywalker, or the Chosen One, is perhaps the most notable cyborg in the Star Wars saga, and the Sith’s non-biological orchestration of his conception (perhaps the Empire’s most serious ecological infraction) is one of the criterion that classifies him as a cyborg. According to Haraway, “Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction." Although the Sith’s involvement in Anakin’s conception is not expressly stated as fact in the films, substantiation for the idea exists within the story’s content. For example, when asked about Anakin’s father, Shmi (Anakin’s mother) replied, “There was no father. I carried him. I gave birth. I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.” Furthermore, in Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine speaks of a Sith Lord “so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life.” Again, this point attests to the Sith’s desire to dominate nature in a political declaration of culture as superior. The idea that Anakin was created as a result of manipulations of the Force supports Haraway’s suggestion that “the cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed." For that reason, if Anakin was conceived by the Force, and if he existed as the embodiment of that which was to restore balance to the Force, then the Sith deliberately violated the boundary between human and non-human nature in an attempt to gain political power.
The Sith’s pride and Anakin’s cyborg nature are further revealed in the Chosen One’s transformation from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. After Anakin is burned on the planet Mustafar, he is fitted with the iconic Darth Vader suit. This change is another example of technology perverting and aiding life through domination over nature. Because of the suit, Darth Vader becomes a hybrid human with robotic limbs and built-in life support. As Obi-Wan Kenobi puts it, “he [Vader] is more machine than man.” The black shroud is a constant reminder that its owner is cheating death. Additionally, it represents the fact that technology, if manipulated correctly, has the ability to sustain, or usurp life, implying once again that culture is superior to nature. Moreover, the suit functions as a metaphor for the obscured humanity of Anakin Skywalker. The costume becomes dominant over his rational self and literally overwhelms his human body, suggesting that there may be nothing left. Most importantly, the suit symbolizes the enslavement of a man who sought political power, yet further shackled himself in his quest.
Perhaps then, it is the road to apocalypse that is paved with “good” intentions. In other words, an intrusion into an intricate, self-balancing organism creates unanticipated and often unwanted outcomes. The short story, “Inertia” by Nancy Kress expresses the dangers of functioning under conditions such as the Darth Vader suit, as Dr. McHabe attests that “we have enough action out there. And no one can control it – it’s all the wrong kind.” He goes on to say, “What we need now is to slow everything down a little – before there’s nothing left to slow down.” In the story, this type of “intertia” has the ability to “set in motion a civilization” and is “as hard to stop as a disease.” Humans must not neglect to consider Rigby’s claim that ecological criticism “presupposes a natural world which can no longer be thought of as passive, orderly and compliant, but which is rather volatile, unpredictable, and responsive to our interventions in ways that we can neither foresee nor control.” This is not to say that humans must “lightly accept the damaging distinction between pure and applied science, between use and abuse of science, and even between nature and culture.” Rather, it is entirely reasonable for humans to advance politics that acknowledge nature as culture continuous and symbiotic.
Anakin truly becomes “the eyes, ears, and voice of the Republic,” as the shift of the Republic to Empire directly parallels the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. His injured, disfigured, and technologically-dominated self symbolizes the remains of the Republic (or the Empire) as it now exists – manipulated by Palpatine and separated from the promises of the past. Significantly, Darth Vader’s last request is for his son Luke to remove his mask, so that he may see Luke directly, without the technological filter. The scene corroborates the sentient nature of the Force and its course-correcting character because, with the help of his son, Anakin neglects his origin and overthrows the evil Empire.
The greatest weakness of the Sith is their own arrogance. At the end of Return of the Jedi, the saga’s final film, the Emperor is literally destroyed by his own hand. This is not surprising because, as Haraway claims, “The main trouble with cyborgs is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. In the end, the Sith orchestrates their own downfall; their politics create the Chosen One that is destined to destroy them. Despite all of Palpatine’s meticulous manipulations, he is unable to see that he is playing into the design of the Force. From the Force’s point of view, Palpatine was neither “good” nor “evil.” He was the means to an end. Without him, there would be no Anakin, no Chosen One, and in turn, no balance. At the climax of his transformation, Anakin aids the Emperor in killing a Jedi Master. Anakin then asks, “What have I done?” To which Palpatine replies, “You are fulfilling your destiny.” The irony here is that Palpatine is right. Anakin is fulfilling his destiny, but his destiny is to destroy the Sith. If humans accept this suggestion that nothing happens by accident, then they must also accept the notion that “bad” individuals and institutions are merely results of the will of the “Force.”
It is impossible for humans to be entirely secluded from nature. Likewise, humans cannot be separated from culture. However, the politics of tampering with the genes of life can bring unregulated creation to an end because nature is not completely silent, and despite humans’ labor toward supremacy and domination, it is not entirely inferior. This point is evident as droughts, earthquakes, floods, blizzards, and volcanic eruptions serve as convincing reminders. As Kate Rigby observes, “the view that nature is silent might well say more about our refusal to hear than about nature’s inability to communicate.” Accordingly, the unifying “Force” will struggle against human domination, as it attempts to repair its continuum from the rips of imbalance that are caused by humans’ desire to control nature. Therefore, humans must focus first on changing the dominating politics (or behaviors) that lead to apocalypse A human apocalypse is inevitable if humans continue to inflict apocalypse upon nature and the environment. Humans must restore the balance of peace with non-human nature, or peace among people cannot be attained.
This is how and why hope is perpetuated in these films, both within the personal lives of the audience and within the context of considering the direction of civilization. Even when circumstances look their darkest, it is only the point of view that makes them look dark. Haraway asserts that “the alternative is not cynicism or faithlessness.” In other words, we should have faith that the “Force” that is comprised of both human and non-human nature knows what it is doing, and that it is infinitely more complex and compassionate than any person or institution. Its ultimate goal is balance and harmony.
From guest contributor Amy Tuttle