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The Empire Strikes Bush

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 16, 2005; 12:48 PM

"This is how liberty dies -- to thunderous applause."

So observes Queen Amidala of Naboo as the galactic senate grants dictator-to-be Palpatine sweeping new powers in his crusade against the Jedi in the final "Star Wars" movie opening this week.

It's just one of several lines in "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," that reveal the movie to be more than just a sci-fi blockbuster and gargantuan cultural phenomenon.

"Revenge of the Sith," it turns out, can also be seen as a cautionary tale for our time -- a blistering critique of the war in Iraq, a reminder of how democracies can give up their freedoms too easily, and an admonition about the seduction of good people by absolute power.

Some film critics suggest it could be the biggest anti-Bush blockbuster since "Fahrenheit 9/11."

New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott gives "Sith" a rave, and notes that Lucas "grounds it in a cogent and (for the first time) comprehensible political context.

" 'Revenge of the Sith' is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, 'If you're not with me, you're my enemy.' Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: 'Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.' "

Agence France Presse reports that the movie delivers "a galactic jab to US President George W. Bush."

It's been generating "murmurs at the parallels being drawn between Bush's administration and the birth of the space opera's evil Empire."

Are some people reading too much into the movie?

Filmmaker George Lucas insists that the genesis of his story dates back 30 years. But he pointed out that certain themes do seem to repeat themselves, whether here and now or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Bruce Kirkland writes in the Toronto Sun: "Star Wars is a wakeup call to Americans about the erosion of democratic freedoms under George W. Bush, filmmaker George Lucas said yesterday.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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