Last week, the first teaser trailer for J.J. Abram’s upcoming Star Wars continuation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, hit the Internet, inspiring sentimental awe or newfound rage, depending on where you looked. Already, a few retrograde objections have appeared in opposition to the skin color of John Boyega, the first actor—supposedly with a lead role—seen in the trailer. In our increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural world, conversations about race continue to appear in the sphere of political and pop culture in a way that they perhaps did not in the year 1977, when the first Star Wars film was released. Then again, a black man in a lead role—especially in science fiction—was a little harder to come by.
But that doesn’t mean that Star Wars was simply that—a science fiction adventure preoccupied with other worlds. In fact, the original film incorporated many political and cultural themes of the 1970s, some of which might be totally invisible to a young viewer in 2015, when the newest film will be released.
George Lucas admitted to some trickle-down influence of Apocalypse Now into the making of Star Wars as a reflection on the Vietnam War (in which, much like in Star Wars, a huge and oppressive government is faced by a small, ideological group of dissidents). Original drafts of the film even included a planet called Aquilae (ultimately scrapped in editing) specifically designed to resemble North Vietnam, and whose system has largely been conquered by neighboring gangsters.
In this way, an argument can be made that Star Wars contextualizes the United States as the Empire, and the rebel forces (Luke Skywalker and the gang) as the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong. So that even in a distant star system, our real world comes back to meet us.
I reckon that J.J. Abrams must be aware of this secret history, and hopefully he captains a ship worthy of the same real-world wonder Lucas managed to bring to a film about unrecognizable aliens and spaceships the size of moons. I hope that he took a good look at this second decade of the 2000s and found a place for it in a galaxy far, far away.