Editorials The Force Is With Us
ABy Paul Kingsnorth
long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... something eerily familiar happened. Picture this: a peaceful indigenous population, living off the fruits of its own labour and generally minding its own business, finds itself threatened from the outside by a larger, more powerful and more technologically advanced enemy. Under the pretext of freeing up the economy for some much-needed competition, this enemy proceeds to blockade, harass and finally invade said indigenous population, in a blatant attempt (thinly veiled in the language of legal rights and market economics) to colonise it, grab its land and claim its resources for its own.
I f this development-as-colonialism scenario is one which Ecologist readers feel they've seen before, there are two possible reasons. One: you've recently succumbed to the unrelenting global hype and visited your local multiplex to take in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, the plot of which revolves around the conflict outlined above. Two: you've been reading The Ecologist for a while. For, interestingly (though incidentally), George Lucas, writer and director of the Star Wars films, claims to base all his plots on common themes drawn from the traditional mythologies of ancient (Earthbound) civilisations. This surely means that, whatever their other failings, the Star Wars films must be the only Hollywood blockbusters in history with a sound anthropological footing.
I f The Ecologist is the last publication in which you expected to read acres of guff about history's most over-hyped film, please do persevere: there is a reason. For, whether he knows it or not (and I suspect not), George Lucas has created, with The Phantom Menace, not only an unrivalled marketing phenomenon which will keep him in champagne and truffles for the rest of his days, but also a powerful allegory about the state of the world as we leave the 20th century. And although it would probably be going too far to suggest that the key struggle of the film - between the heroic, vaguely Zenlike Jedi knights and the evil Trade Federation - mirrors the fight between the environmental movement and the rapacious proponents of globalisation, I'm
George Lucas has created, with The Phantom Menace, not only an unrivalled marketing phenomenon which will keep him in champagne and truffles for the rest of his days, but also a powerful allegory about the state of the world as we leave the 20th century.
going to suggest it anyway, because I like a challenge.
A brief trot through the plot of The Phantom Menace will support my thesis. As the film opens, we learn that the peaceful planet of Naboo, a green and pleasant Utopia of spectacular Byzantine citadels, surrounded by absurdly verdant rainforest, is being harassed by the sinister Trade Federation, a sort of galactic descendant of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The viewer never learns quite what the dispute is about, but the Trade Federation is accusing Naboo's government (disturbingly, most of the planets in George Lucas's imaginary universe are run by centralised world governments, which are often little more than overblown feudal hierarchies - but that's another story) of breaking one of its trade rules. Possibly the planet's population are refusing to eat geneticallymodified ! Wookie meat or
Whatever the cause of the dispute, the Federation wants the Naboo government, headed by the oddly-dressed Queen Amidala, to sign a treaty which will essentially hand the levers of her economy over to them. Admirably, she refuses, and the Federation, in a clear echo of the current Euro-American beef war, erects a trade barrier around her planet. However, the Trade Federation has more resources than the WTO, being presumably at a much later stage of development: its idea of a trade barrier is not the raising of import tariffs, but a ring of a hundred vast starships hanging around in Naboo's atmosphere, blasting anything that attempts to get in or out. Renato Ruggiero take note: it's possibly illegal, but it works.
Enter the film's heroes. The Galactic Jedi Council, a sort of United Nations with lightsabres and political will, sends a couple of Jedi knights - Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn - to the headquarters of the Trade Federation to mediate between its leaders and the Naboo government. In a move which might also give our political and industrial leaders some fond ideas, the Trade Federation's response to this selfless gesture is to attempt to have the two mediators gassed as they wait in the lobby. Being Jedi knights, though, and thus able to hold their breath for several days, they survive and proceed to give the Federation's minor officials a good kicking before escaping to warn the galaxy that something very dodgy is going on with the execution of macroeconomic policy.
It is at this stage that things start to get even more allegorical. For we learn what
The Star Wars films must be the only Hollywood blockbusters in history with a sound anthropological footing.
the Jedis suspect - there is a hidden agenda behind the Trade Federation's blockade of Naboo. The two weaselworded Directors of the Federation • are having their strings pulled by a deeply unpleasant figure known as Darth Sidious, whose agenda, rather like that of Bill Clinton, is the conquest and coloni-
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999