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Of Black Men and Sea Changes – and Hope

Having watched the teaser (okay, over and over again), I was thinking about the buzz surrounding the Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if we could reboot America like that? And then it occurred to me, we had. With Barack Obama in the role of J.J Abrams.

In both cases, Star Wars and the White House, people said it was time for a change. Both were elected twice: Obama in ’08 and ’12, and Abrams for Star Trek, and then a second time, for Star Wars.

We even got a black man with each. Is this a sign of a sea change? We will find out in December 2015. We need sea change, but in race relations in this country, such change has been mostly incremental. Barack Obama was an exception to that rule. Meanwhile, we can say that with each, the reaction was the same: outrage.

Reminiscent of reactions to Idris Elba playing Heimdall in Thor, Barack Obama was attacked because he is a black man in a role that always goes to white men: President. In Star Wars, John Boyega was attacked because he is a black man in a role that always goes to white men: a Storm Trooper. They have even had pretty much the same response to criticism: “get used to it.” President Obama has never apologized. Neither has John Boyega.

There are all sorts of parallels.

George Lucas got the ball rolling in 1977 with Star Wars (later to become Episode IV: A New Hope). He moved forward a bit with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Then, rather than kicking the ball downfield to show us what transpired after the good guys won, he went backwards, to what became Episode 1: 1999’s The Phantom Menace, quickly followed by Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005).

This decision was not met with enthusiasm. Nor were the films themselves by many hardcore fans. In a way, Lucas’ predicament is analogous to that of the Founding Fathers, who, after having gotten the ball rolling with the Declaration of Independence, found themselves faced with an equally zealous fan-base. There were as many ideas of what the new country was (or even if it was a country) as there were ideas of what next took place for Luke and Leia.

The Declaration was clearly canonical. Like the first Star Wars, without it, no franchise. Much of what followed from it was not, and just sort of “happened” in spontaneous bursts of enthusiasm. With Star Wars it was the “Expanded Universe.” With Independence (and within the loose strictures of the Articles of Confederation) the Founders called these the “excesses of democracy,” as the majority proceeded with great glee to bully the minority and other evils. In both respects, all sorts of unintended consequences took place.

Where Lucas’ response was to go back in time, the Founders went forward. Rather than returning to the embrace of England (as some wanted or thought inevitable) or handing somebody a crown, what they gave us was the United States Constitution. Like the Star Wars prequels, this move was not met with universal acclaim.

The Founders could have, like Lucas, washed their hands of the whole thing, but they did not. They pressed forward with the idea of a new nation, one conceived on the principal that political power derives from the people. As if that was not revolutionary enough, they invented the idea of separation of church and state to save us from the religious strife of what was, for them, the recent past.

The Founders realized they could not kick the ball down field. They realized that they were progenitors, and that each new generation would have to carry the ball forward. If he did not use a soccer metaphor, Thomas Jefferson, in particular, was conscious of the idea that each new generation was its own (Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813; Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1814), and would have to deal with the problems left unresolved by the last. In the same way, I suppose, that J.J. Abrams will now deal with the problems left unresolved by George Lucas.

One thing Abrams has done is to jettison the Expanded Universe. Which, as Entertainment Weekly observes, “is sad news for Mara Jade fans” (me among them). I will miss Grand Admiral Thrawn as well, whose clone was eventually destroyed by Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade.

Reboots are always full of good news/bad news, which is also true of life, which is, like politics is supposed to be (and used to be) a series of compromises. Without compromise, you can’t move forward. Which is why we are where we are right now at the end of 2014. Why the Stars Wars franchise was where it was before Lucas sold it to Disney.

Sometimes, you need change. When you get it, you have to embrace it. There will be inevitable disappointments. We never – any of us – get everything we want. I’d like to have seen Bush’s First Amendment-violating Faith Based Initiatives deep-sixed, but Obama didn’t give me that. But I can also live with it, because look at all the other change I got:

  • A jump-started and revitalized economy;
  • And end to two wars;
  • An end to torture;
  • Healthcare reform;
  • No new wars, and more.

In the new Star Wars we will get:

  • Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie back;
  • And end to Jar Jar Binks – but maybe an Ewok?;
  • More story than CGI (or at least a better balance;
  • Something truer to the original franchise.
  • A new bad guy, a champion of the old order (Ted Cruz?).

Of course, sometimes change brings outrage as well, like J.J. Abrams’ new lightsaber. Or Obamacare. Both addressed problems: in Star Wars, how to prevent hands from being lopped off. With Obamacare, how to treat those folks whose hands get lopped off.

I guess you can’t please everyone. But lets face it: both problems demanded solutions and we got solutions. They may not be perfect solutions, but they’re better than what we had before.

Fans should not hate on George Lucas for how all this has fallen out, but even now fans find reason to be angry with him. Once the ball is kicked, nobody can be quite sure what will happen. Star Wars took on a life of its own. So did the United States.

Just as Star Wars is where it is because of that first kick, so the United States is because of the Founders’ first kick. For the same reason, people should not be mad at the Founders for doing what they did (the Constitution – very contentious at the time), Abrams for doing what he did, or Obama doing what he did. All of them have existed within a context and nobody gets to do everything they want. Life just doesn’t work that way. We are all of us constrained by our shared reality.

Which brings me to my final analogy: the Sith and the Republican Party. These folks don’t like change. They don’t like being constrained by reality. And they don’t like having to share that reality with the hoi polloi. At best we are an inconvenience to them, at worst, people who should just die already.

Which is why we need heroes. We got Barack Obama (yes, Obama is a hero), our own New Hope, and we have more heroes coming in both in The Force Awakens and in real life too, with Elizabeth Warren.

In this future, no doubt Obama will take on Bill Clinton’s role of Old Ben, and like Old Ben and Old Bill, carry the torch of hope – and sanity – into the future. We can hope that Hillary will make an admirable Leia, and stare into Ted Cruz’s eyes and denounce his “foul stench.”

I will always remember a rainy spring day in 1977 when I saw Star Wars, and I will always remember a cold winter day in 2009 when I saw a black man become president. They both energized me, if for vastly different reasons, and engendered in me feelings that give me the chills even today, years later. They are neither one of them feelings I ever want to lose.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen's Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.

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