Star Wars stirs critics with political edge

Quest: Rose and Finn in the Canto Bight casino: the scene symbolises the evils of capitalism.

Can we take the politics of The Last Jedi seriously? The film promotes many liberal attitudes and has even been interpreted as anti-capitalist. But some say its stance reeks of hypocrisy.

Since its release last week, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has blasted off to become the biggest box office hit of the year. Many have been thrilled by its intergalactic battles and nostalgic nods to the original trilogy. But for others the movie has caused quite a stir with its political stance.

Some aspects, like the inclusion of strong female leads were praised. Film critic Anna Smith called the film “triumphantly feminist” — the movie passing the Bechdel test with flying colours, with Princess Leia and Rey authoritatively taking centre stage.

The film also champions diversity. Several non-white heroes take centre stage, including Rose Tico: a plucky Resistance engineer played by American-Asian actress Kelly Marie Tran.

In the film, Rose’s quest takes her to a casino in a debauched city called Canto Bight — full of mega-rich arms dealers sloshing piles of money into slot machines. The symbolism of the scene is hardly subtle; the film is taking aim at the grotesque excesses of capitalism.

However, on this point some critics have accused the film of hypocrisy.

It all comes down to business done off-screen. The Star Wars brand is owned by the Walt Disney Company, described by journalist Toby Moses as one of the most “capitalistic [and] money-grabbing of platforms”.

In recent years, Disney has come to utterly dominate the film industry. The company is worth over $150 billion and has launched four of the ten highest selling movies this year.

But its path to such riches has been marred by controversy. Most recently the company was slammed after it banned LA Times journalists from seeing advanced screenings of The Last Jedi. The reason? The paper had written articles criticising the company for its aggressive business deals.

And last year, the Daily Mail exposed a factory in China where workers toil in “sweltering [and] overcrowded” conditions for just £5.30 per day — simply to make plastic toys of Disney characters.

But does this make the anti-capitalist message of Star Wars hypocritical?

Disney’s dark side

Of course, say some. Culture and art do not exist in a vacuum. It is offensive for Star Wars to offer trite and meaningless soundbites about equality, while the company behind the movie behaves with such greed. Once the callous corporate culture of Hollywood changes, maybe then we will take these messages seriously.

What rubbish, others respond. The wealth of the Walt Disney Company is just proof of how successfully they give the public what they really want: entertainment. And besides, the film’s progressive views on diversity are more likely to influence society precisely because they come from such a big-brand blockbuster.

You Decide

  1. Do you like Star Wars?
  2. Should blockbusters have political messages?

Activities

  1. What is your favourite film? It can be anything (but can still be from the Star Wars series if you like). Think about what happens in the film and the attitudes of its main characters. Does the movie contain any messages about how people should live their lives?
  2. Read the article from Indiewire in Become An Expert — it is the fourth one down. Do you think that Disney’s increasing dominance of the film industry is good for cinema? How do you think it will influence the type of films we watch and how we watch them?

Some People Say...

“Inside Star Wars are values that mean something to people. It's aspirational. It's full of hope.”

Kathleen Kennedy

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In 2016 the Walt Disney Company secured the highest market share of all film studios, its films accounting for 26.3% of all ticket sales. It could have a similar result this year if The Last Jedi continues to succeed at the box office.
What do we not know?
In terms of reviews for The Last Jedi, there has been a disconnect between the largely positive reviews from critics, and less positive reactions from audiences. At time of writing, the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes states, according to its its “Tomatometer”, that the critics’ score is 93% likes, but the audience’s 55%. We do not know precisely why this discrepancy has occurred. However, some think that a small of group of people have repeatedly given the film bad reviews on the site to artificially lower the score.

Word Watch

Year
The film made $450 million worldwide over its opening weekend. This makes it the second biggest opening in history behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in 2015.
Original trilogy
The first Star Wars trilogy began in 1977 with the release of A New Hope, and was completed by The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. (The three films were of course released as Episodes 4-6.)
Bechdel test
A way of judging if a film avoids portraying women in a stereotypical way. To pass the test a movie must feature at least two female characters. These women must talk to each other at one point about something other than a man.
Walt Disney Company
Disney also owns the Marvel Entertainment company, meaning it is controls the rights for characters including Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.
Four of the ten
The Last Jedi is one of them, and the others are Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Thor: Ragnarok.
Advanced screenings
In order for journalists to write film reviews they are normally invited to watch the film before it is released to the general public.