By Scott Lucas, Professor of American Studies
Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham
It was the magical moment- well, if you consider nuclear weapons magical – when Hollywood and US foreign policy embraced.
Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States and star of films such as Bedtime for Bonzo, told the US public in March 1983 of his Administration’s quest for a sharp increase in funding for the military. Since ‘blowing the world up’ was not the most approachable line, he proclaimed ‘a vision of the future which offers hope’: “What if…we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”
Despite Reagan’s delivery, the pitch still lacked something; a catch-phrase for public understanding of this new space umbrella. So, the Strategic Defense Initiative was converted by the media into “Star Wars”.
Star Wars:Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 1977 and Reagan “offers a new hope for our children in the twenty-first century” in this speech from 1983.
There’s no evidence that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas – let alone Luke, Obi-Wan, Leia, and C3PO – anticipated that their valiant stand against the Empire was designed for Reagan’s valiant defence against the Communists five years later. But Star Wars was always a film for the American imaginary of Us v. Them.
In 1977, the US was in a funk. The Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War had knocked the stuffing out of our ideals and our confidence, and the economy was in a recession we hadn’t known since 1945. New York City was almost bankrupt, the oil shock had stalled our big cars, and foreign leaders from the Shah to Nicaragua’s Somoza didn’t look so good anymore.
Yet enter our brave innocence guided by wisdom, and a tough Princess assisted by quirky androids. We could destroy the Death Star and do it not because we were bad but because we were very, very good.
More than 40 years later, it’s a nostalgic combination of film and politics. Obi-Wan, Hans Solo, and Carrie Fisher are dead, and the reality TV star in the White House is writing his own script. Rey and the wizened Luke do not have the answers or the reassurance for us.
May the Force Be with Us? It’s going to take a lot more than Hollywood this time around.
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