The War Economy Awakens: Thanatos and Hegemony in Star Wars.

(Rogue One came out in my country a week or so ago. In celebration of how little i can be bothered with it, here’s an utterly useless and untimely analysis of the Force Awakens.)

(Small disclaimer: i wrote most of this post before the news of  Carrie Fisher’s death. My personal attacks against Leia aren’t meant as bad taste against the actor; i really know nothing much about her, and her legacy means nothing in particular to me. That said, the fact that the person has been so readily conflated and swallowed by the character in current discourse indicates how powerfully Star Wars operates at the level of Myth in our culture.)



So the Empire is Trump. Even the director tweeted it. In the jejune era of 2015, it seemed ridiculous, that, say, the First Order would find the funding for Starkiller Base’s blind goal to eat the sun and vent it across space in indiscriminate fury. (What did they intend to do afterwards? Would the whole thing just be decommissioned? Would the stormtroopers at least get a good severance pay, before being frozen to death in a lightless galaxy?) Now, with a Trump presidency, the idea of pure libidinal belligerence and aggression, -backed by a homogenous alt-right army in armor and white- being a powerful enough force to consume whole worlds, rings uneasily close to home in popular conscience.

But if the Imperial forces are Trump, then it surely follows that the rebellion is Clinton. Despite less commentary to this effect, this seems more apt; just watch how the rebellion applauds itself as being a multicultural band of misfits, representing the outer rim and subaltern, whilst it gets run as Leia’s pet ego project: She’s a white aristocrat tweeting empty rhetoric about fringe groups and intersectional solutions, all while making back-room promises with big name Republican donors. Admiral Ackbar awkwardly tries to push ‘I’m with her’ shirts on disinterested Mon Calamarians. But they know what’s really up. Despite Leia’s softer, more token inclusive face, they know her and the imperial leaders are kin. They know the Rebels and the Empire are equally as reliant on the same war economy for survival; they fight, either way, the people loose, and the trade federation wins. But a job’s a job. Pick a side and find a way to get by. There were 1.7 million employed on the Death Star. Leia doesn’t even bother to hide her hatred for the urban working class: Her vanguard of two-dozen enlightened liberals just arrow for the exhaust bucket, murder the lot, and laugh it up in the glow of the neutron blast.

In the Force Awakens, after a fellow stormtrooper dies in his arms, Finn has a change of heart and helps rebel pilot Poe Dameron escape imperial clutches. He does this because ‘it’s the right thing to do.’ A minute later he shoots missiles at his old comrades within the pod bay; ‘Yeaah! Got one!’ The film is sadly not about Finn’s trauma-exacerbated psychotic breakdown; rather, the filmic devices utterly confirm the unquestionable righteousness of this decision. Star Wars is a universe where war orphans become silent, featureless, stormtroopers, whom live only to die, and die only so we can take pleasure in their suffering. The Alt-Right, while for utterly despicable and laughable reasons (claiming J.J Abrams is a Jew calling for white genocide,) are perhaps onto something in having seen the Force Awakens as an utterly vicious and violent piece of alt-centerist propaganda.


The Boston Post writes that “[Star Wars’] central tenets are freedom and dignity, regardless of age, gender, political or social status, sexuality, race, species, or geography. It is a galaxy far, far away, in which all creatures are intertwined through the all-encompassing Force. It has always opposed bigotry; it has always taken a stand on one side of the arc of justice.” The liberal center proclaims the Force as a totem of inclusivity, but the most cursory purview of the balance of power reveals the hollowness of this claim; of the major force-users we meet, we have among the white, male, (oft-aristocratic): Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, Count Dooku, Palpatine, Anakin, Luke, Kylo Ren. On the other hand we have white-female Rey, black-male Mace Windu, the Darthomirian Maul and of course Yoda. There are worse ratios in Hollywood than 7:4, but if the Force really is a hermetic theological constant that guarantees some universal egalitarian harmony, then it’s doing a real shit job at it.

Beyond a trite prescriptive head count though, this appeal to the Force shows the insidious operation of ideology in a more direct form. Laclau defines Hegemony in terms of a) a constitutive ‘unevenness of power’, b) by a superseding of the universality/particularity dichotomy, and by c) the ‘production of tendentially empty signifiers which, while maintaining the incommensurability between universal and particulars, enables the latter to take up the representation of the former.(Contingency, Hegemony, Universality, p.55-57.) We never see the Force as a universal wholeness; only its manifestation through an elite minority of particular force users. And yet, apparently, it is still a totem of universal inclusion; non-force-users should just accept the Jedi-councils right to rule, for they speak as representatives, spokesmen of the Force. What about Dark-side force users, then, who choose instead to cultivate an individualistic will to power; who actively oppose this universalizing instinct (supposedly) inherent in their mystical strength? Oh no, the Jedi claim. That is a ‘disturbance in the force’. Those particulars are not the right particulars. It is through denying their reality that we truly understand the Force. Somehow the blatant contradiction implicit in the Sith -that the Force is as cold, indifferent, and amoral as power itself- only strengthens the Jedi‘s conviction. But the reality is all too simple; the Force is an empty signifier, and its role in political discourse is just pure ideology, a text-book machination of hegemony.

If the Force really was an egalitarian power guaranteeing ‘freedom and dignity’, the Jedi could of manifested this utopia at any point. Instead, they used it for the paranoiac maintenance of their own power. As the (far more politically salient) prequel trilogy revealed, the Council-led-Republic that preceded the Empire was not a haven of peaceful inclusivity. It was a the binder of a turgid, convalescent, galactic economy, maintaining its unity only through pumping endless funds into grandiose, absurd, military spectacles solely designed to engage in a perpetual war against itself. (We’ll build a droid army! Now, we’ll build a clone army to defeat the droid army!) The Empire did not rise out of Palpatine’s manipulation. The Empire rose out of a bubble-economy bursting; out of the fact that the Republics war-hungry ruling class of professional bureaucratic intellectuals were ultimately just a pile of self-important, incompetent, uninspired, fatuous myopic and overall inconceivably stupid infants. (Again, the fact that ‘the Empire is Trump’ says just as much about the Democrats.) Sure, the First Order may want to roast the entire galaxy to a crisp, but why the fuck do the rebels want to put these guys back in charge?

i wonder how many austerity measures funded this
i wonder how many austerity measures funded this

Still, ‘the Force Awakens’ is a nice choice of title. The image of ‘national awakening’ has very fascistic overtones, and well evokes the First Order, whilst it also conveys awakening in theological terms: Enlightenment, spiritual revelation, a fog being lifted. In the movie, Kylo directly refers to Rey as said ‘awakening in the Force.’ But if the Force is inert, timeless, universal, how can it awaken? If the march of history is always in line with it, how can something akin to a revelation, an event, even occur? The answer is simple; it the Force is everything, then any event in it must be against itself.

The central mystery of the Force Awakens is Rey’s parentage. There are two popular theories; that she is Darth Sidious’ child (thus continuing 7-9 as the bland repetition/inversion of 4-6.) The other is that she doesn’t have any; she is an immaculate conception; a pure Force baby. (thus making it a bland repetition of 1-3) Despite the unpopularity of the latter possibly, I feel there is evidence for it, and a groundwork for an interesting potential direction for 7-9:

~F A N      S P E C U L A T I O N      T I M E~

Firstly, consider the libidinal case. As much as the internet speculated about the homo-erotic tensions between Finn and Dameron, what of Rey’s sexuality? We see her vehemently reject the maternal phallus when Maz Kanata hands her the lightsaber. Later, we see a scene straight out of Freud’s Totem and Taboo; Kylo Ren tries to establish pact-of-fraternity with her immediately after the death of the father. Again, she refuses. She follows neither sexual-hetrodox, nor an inversion. Finn grabs her to run away, she calls out ‘don’t touch me.’ Is this just an easy hollywood-feminist subversion of a shitty hollywood trope, or does it actually revel a deeper character insight; that Rey’s sexual being, or indeed, her entire physicality, is in fact pure negation?

Secondly, we have the choice of name; the unavoidable likeness to Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Rei, a parentless clone child, made to awaken humanity, qua return to the primordial state of pure unification. In Star Wars, the Force both gives rise to individuation, particulars, and binds them. It is both the AT-Field and its dissolving into instrumentality. Rei and Rey suffer the same dialectic; an Awakening that implies an impossible reconciliation, of that which, -within reconciliation- never could of been.

it’s a closer resemblance than Mace Windu and Snoke, at least

Thirdly, and most obviously, is the Christianic overtones; the trinity of trilogies. Films 1-3 are about the Father, 4-6 are about the Son. And so it follows, then, that 7-9 are about the Holy Ghost. But what is the holy ghost? As Zizek argues, the holy ghost is just the community of believers, left destitute after the physical death and torture of god, they are only united through trauma and loss; Christianity is a highly atheistic religion, its entire organization built on the abandonment of the Big Other.

And so, all the evidence converges. On a political level, the only humane ending for Star Wars would be the death of both the Republic and Empire, of both Jedi and Sith. Whether this opens up space for a truly egalitarian galaxy, –this time brought about from below,- or it is just a pure break down, a dissolution into galactic barbarism, will be revealed in time. Or perhaps it will be left open for the viewers. On the theological level however, it is clear the Force, as absolute, could only possibly awaken to is its own negation. Where Kreia and Meetra Surik fail, Rey must succeed. What Rey is, is simple: Rey must, and can only be, the death of the Force.


2 thoughts on “The War Economy Awakens: Thanatos and Hegemony in Star Wars.

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