The iconic Star Wars saga was brought down to Earth during a panel discussion Wednesday evening as various classics and world religions, political science, and history professors presented on the relationship between the series and historical events.
The development of authoritarian governments and conflict between good and “evil” were two ideas commonly discussed throughout the event, which was attended by around 90 people. Topics ranged from the presence of slavery and its relationship to gender and race to the destruction of republics and space Nazis.
“(Director George) Lucas is clearly trying to craft a universe we can relate to,” Mariana Dantas, an associate history professor, said about the presence of slavery in Star Wars. “It mirrors the evolution of human societies.”
One parallel drawn between Star Wars and Earth history was the similarities between the Empire and Ancient Rome. The two, said history associate professor Miriam Shadis, both used similar forms of armies and saw similar transitions of power.
“Palpatine’s rise to power … he’s kind of like a combination of both Julius Caesar and his heir Octavian Augustus,” Shadis said.
Palpatine and his related Caesar-Augustus hybrid both rose to power through existing political systems and then replaced those systems with empires under the guise of what was best for the people, Dantas said.
This was a pattern replicated in another significant topic of conversation during the evening: Nazi Germany.
“One of the things that (Lucas has) done of course in the original Star Wars trilogy and in the original three Indiana Jones movies is he’s given us basically the model for what you all think the Nazis were,” said Mirna Zakić, a history professor at OU. “In Star Wars, you have space Nazis.”
A few of the connections Zakić highlighted included the obsession with power and control by both the Empire and the Nazis, as well as the “hatred of non-humans.” This was portrayed clearly in Star Wars because actual alien species existed to be targeted.
The color scheme for Nazis and the Empire — black, white, grey and red — was also a clear connection.
“All that’s lacking in that scene of the emperor’s arrival is the swastika flags, basically,” Zakić said.
However, she pointed out that the ultimate goals of the Empire and the Nazi party were fundamentally different: Nazis had a vision for their takeover of Europe and the world, while the Empire pursued its actions for the sake of increasing its power.
A third topic discussed by the panel was the role slavery played in Star Wars, which Dantas said mirrors themes in the history of slavery that might have been in Lucas’ mind during the creation of the movies.
She specifically mentioned how people becomes slaves, how slavery is gendered, the impact of slavery on families and the struggle of the freed slave.
“(Anakin Skywalker) has a trauma that is much longer,” Dantas said. “That is the traumatic experience of having been a slave. In some ways, in Anakin, we see this constant struggle that he has to fit as a former slave. He’s freed, but then he’s put into this Jedi order that is another type of constraint.”
Star Wars’ religious symbolism was also addressed by Brian Collins, a classics and world religions professor, who additionally explained that Lucas wanted to make religion more appealing to younger people. He also talked about the importance of meaning placed on or drawn from Star Wars, such as the development of the religion called “Jediism” and an ability to connect to oneself on a more abstract or transcendent level.
“In our secular society we have loss a loss in ability to connect deeply and profoundly with our metaphysical selves,” Collins said. “Fandom, especially Star Wars fandom, gives us a way of doing this.”