The Influence of Star Wars on Language, Economics and Politics | Laissez-Passer
The Influence of Star Wars on Language, Economics and Politics
Ladislaus Ludescher is a doctoral student and lecturer at the German Department at Heidelberg University. American history and culture is his specialty – and a big science fiction fan. His collection includes the best star wars canon books. He gave a lecture at the Neue Universität about the socio-cultural influences of the Star Wars epic. Before that, the RNZ met him for an interview.
Among other things, you have dealt with the influence of Star Wars on language. Where can you find them?
The sentence “I am your father” from Episode V is certainly one of the great quotes in film history and at least as well known as “I look you in the eye, little one” from “Casablanca” or “I’ll make him an offer that he won’t refuse can” from “The Godfather”. Hence it is used in many other contexts because almost everyone will understand the allusion when the Darth Vader phrase is pronounced with appropriate intonation and gesture.
The film series also influenced political language.
In the 1980s, the US government launched the SDI program. The aim was to eliminate ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads using a system that was to be stationed in space. In public it was quickly referred to as “Star Wars” or in German-speaking countries as “Star Wars”. The politicians even adopted these terms.
Economically, Star Wars is not only successful at the box office, but also in toy stores.
Merchandising is omnipresent today, almost every area has been developed. Star Wars was also a pioneer here. The action figure business really took off with the first film in 1977. At the start of the second trilogy in 1999, there was a contract with Lego. Through this and other collaborations, such as with “Lord of the Rings”, “Indiana Jones” or with the comic publishers’ Marvel and DC Comics, the company grew and was finally able to replace Mattel as the world market leader.
What about politics?
There are many curious anecdotes. In an interview, Barack Obama once wished for the Jedi’s ability to manipulate minds when it came to difficult negotiations with the Republicans. Political opponents are also often referred to as Darth Vader or dictators are portrayed as such. Depending on the political camp, Obama is repeatedly portrayed on the Internet as an evil Vader or a good Jedi Knight. And in Ukraine, there was a presidential candidate who wanted to run for the Internet Party – with the name Darth Vader and of course in the appropriate costume. However, he was excluded because he did not want to reveal his real name. In the end, the man turned out to be a hacker wanted by the FBI for credit card fraud.
The fan cult has parallels with other productions, such as Star Trek. In terms of economy, however, Star Wars is the lone leader. Why is that?
A sentence from Goethe’s “Faust” comes to mind: “He who brings much will bring something to some.” So if you position yourself broadly and can serve very different interests, you can also address a broad audience – and Star Wars does that better than Star Trek, for example. There are big action scenes, a dash of humor, romance, and lovable characters that are easy to identify with, such as the “farm boy” Luke Skywalker or Chewbacca and the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO. The classic fairy tale elements, such as the old dispute between good and evil, the rebels, and the empire, are productive.
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So George Lucas invented a universal story?
Exactly. He was also inspired by various templates from the history of literature and film. Star Wars isn’t called an “epic” for nothing. The oldest is the Gilgamesh epic, which, among other things, addresses the question of immortality. For example, in a scene in Episode III between the Emperor, who has not yet revealed himself, and Anakin Skywalker, who later becomes Darth Vader, this also plays a role. The Jedi Knights, on the other hand, appear as heroes, as can also be found in the “Odyssey” or the “Iliad”.
Can we learn anything from Star Wars?
The message that goodness triumphs, in the end, is certainly remarkable. Anakin Skywalker’s switch to the dark side isn’t the end of the story either. In the end, he develops positive feelings again, regrets them, and saves his son Luke’s life. That with sincere repentance one can find a way back into the community is also a deeply Christian message.
What do you expect from the new Star Wars movie? George Lucas is no longer directly involved after selling his rights to Disney.
From the new team around director JJ Abrams, I expect fresh impetus for the Star Wars universe. Maybe there’s a similar big surprise as in Episode V when it turned out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father – precisely because the story was kept so secret.
Finally, the ultimate fan question: Which films are better, the old ones or the new ones?
Difficult. I think it depends on which one you saw first. Both trilogies have something to offer, although the old one has more charm in my opinion. The relationships and tensions between the individual characters are more complex there. In the new films, new things were possible thanks to the trick technology, such as a sword fight with Yoda. However, many say that the many computer effects have lost the charm because everything seems too artificial.