May 2, 2009

Casting Dick Cheney

Which movie bad guy is Dick Cheney? A debate has started up after Maureen Down reported that George Lucas rejected the analogy to Darth Vader: Cheney, Lucas said, is the wicked emperor who pulled the strings and turned his protégé to the dark side.
Lucas explained politely as I listened contritely. Anakin Skywalker is a promising young man who is turned to the dark side by an older politician and becomes Darth Vader. “George Bush is Darth Vader,” he said. “Cheney is the emperor.”
The New Yorker's George Packer objects:
Bush as Vader is ludicrous. The comparison betrays a failure on Lucas’s part to understand the resonance of his own characters, which explains a lot, especially about Episodes I & VI. Other than being the father of twins, Anakin Skywalker, born a slave, with extraordinary abilities (the “best pilot in the galaxy”), has almost nothing in common with Bush, born to privilege and not much of an advertisement for the notion of a natural aristocracy. Is Jenna going to be Luke and bring him back from the Dark Side? If we are going to play this game, Bush has more in common with Count Dooku, the Jedi dropout turned warmonger, or, better yet, Jar Jar Binks, who, after a buffoonish youth, improbably rises to a prominent political position and obliviously fronts for the soon-to-be emperor in getting the “Star Wars” equivalent of the Patriot Act passed. Of course, all this can be taken too far (Condoleezza Rice as Asajj Ventress), but one thing is clear: Donald Rumsfeld is Grand Moff Tarkin.
So who is Cheney? Andrew Sullivan has been running a tally of contenders: Dr Strangelove, Colonal Kurtz, Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. New York's David Edelstein suggests:
"Cheney is Palpatine with a soupçon of Sauron, a pinch of Voldemort, a dash of Mabuse, a jigger of Fu, with some Elmer Fudd and Richard Nixon folded in."
Lucas was right, I think: Cheney is Palpatine. A comparison to one character does not imply a corresponding comparison must exist for the entire cast or we would get nowhere. Which isn't to say that Lucas's films don't work as a broad allegory, mapping America's imperial leanings over the last few decades. In the first Star Wars, it was clear: the good guys were the rebels, mostly Americans but also inclusive of Wookies and droids, as befits a country built on its immigrants. They believed in Force that surrounds us all, binds us all together, and which was open to everyone, even a poor farmboy from Tatooine. The bad guys were the Europeans: they looked like Germans, sounded like Brits and disposed of their garbage like the French, which is to say: by means of hefty taxes and heavy centralised government.

By the second film and third films, this had begun to change: Luke was revealed as the Son of Darth Vadar and the brother of s princess. He was no farm boy. He had blue blood running in his veins. The saga took on a more dynastic, European tinge: the Force was no longer open to all but a matter of good breeding.* By the time of the prequels, this Europeanisation was complete, both in the film's gargantuan Renaissence-fair set designs and ceremonial deference towards titular privelage ("The count, your highness...."). Lucas was like one of those self-made American millionaires (Hearst, Hughes) who go shopping for a castle. The republic was shown voting in the tyrant who would centralise all executive power and turn it into an evil empire. "This is how liberty dies — to thunderous applause." Voila: the Florida recount.

*Talking of which Publius has a very good take on Republican fear-mongering re cloning.

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