Firstly, don’t read this if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as it contains spoilers for the film.
Secondly, I am not suggesting here that the film-makers were definitely trying to make the points that I do below; that would be ridiculous. Sadly however I always have my history teacher head on, so these things occurred to me a few days after seeing The Force Awakens, digesting it, and discussing it with my friends and family. There have already been some ‘identity politics’ readings of the film (here and here, for example) which I’m not going anywhere near here, for the reason that these are concerned with character whereas the things I point out below are more to do with context and background; broad brush-strokes rather than specific, plot-based allegory.
Thirdly, I won’t be making references to or comparisons with the previous Star Wars films. They’ve been picked apart for four decades now, I have nothing new to say.
Right then. Here we go. The First Order look like Nazis. Look at them:
Here’s some Nazis at a rally in Nuremberg, in case you weren’t sure what they looked like:
Their soldiers are called ‘stormtroopers’, they love red, white and black, and they are massively evil. We also have the ‘Resistance’ pitched up against the First Order, echoing the French Resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke, meanwhile, rules from afar by fear and decree, letting his underlings get on with the actual day-to-day running of affairs amidst petty administrative squabbling. He’s a big giant head playing Hitler.
Let’s push this even further. Maz’s palace/pub is basically Rick’s bar from Casablanca: a refuge from the wider goings-on in the world, clearly it will be affected by larger events but people can generally go about their business. Rick didn’t have a lightsabre though. If he did, that French national anthem scene would have been a lot less tense.
The First Order aren’t just Nazis, though. Confusingly, they’re also the Soviet Union. They seem to live on Starkiller Base, a place covered in lush forests and snowy wastes, which they have turned – in a very short space of time – into a hugely industrialised military machine capable of immense destruction. Russia under Stalin, then. On a more general totalitarian theme, the First Order also raise and indoctrinate their soldiers from a young age and take orders from one figure of authority.
The thing is, the First Order are just playing at being in power. Look at them. Hux, Kylo Ren and all the officers and engineers we see are really young. Even the officer guy that Kylo tries to Force-choke isn’t as old as the experienced, English public school, civil service chaps that Vader loses his temper with in the original films. So instead of Nazis or Communists, the First Order really represent the naivety and inexperience of post-revolutionary regimes who think they know what they’re doing but actually haven’t got a clue. I’m on about the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Kylo Ren is the radicalised fanatic, all flaming sword and long black robes. Hux is the civilian politician. Both are rubbish at their jobs.
Let’s stay in the Middle East. Finn, our ex-stormtrooper. He quits his job, despairing after witnessing an atrocity against defenceless villagers in a sandy place carried out by his colleagues, as well as being unable to help his dying army buddy. Is he Bowe Berghdal? Probably not. But he is at least a shout out to US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. This makes the First Order the USA, as well as Nazi Germany, the USSR and the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Broad brush strokes, not specific allegory.
Back to Maz’s palace/pub. It isn’t Rick’s bar in Casablanca. It is actually in Restoration London. It’s been a time of great political upheaval, with civil war and changes of regime all over the place. But the ordinary people just want to get on with their lives. Maz is very old; she’s seen all this before but her customers keep coming.