‘Star Wars’ is a genre-mashing, cultural melting pot and therefore open to multiple interpretations. This is presented across the variety of essays presented in ‘A Galaxy Here And Now: Historical And Cultural Readings Of Star Wars’ edited by Peter W. Lee.
Explorations of race, nation and gender dominate the text. Gregory E Rutledge and Paul Charbel provide a viewpoint of the movies through the lens of both a Western-African and Bedouin perspective, which given the focus of the movies on the desert landscapes of Tattooine and Jakku makes absolute sense. The use of the Tusken Raiders (Sand People) as aggressors, kidnappers and slave traders plays into a cultural prejudice about desert-dwelling peoples.
Mara Wood examines the dual roles played by both Padme Amidla and Leia Organa in both trilogies, being the only key female roles in the first six movies. A slightly different tack is taken by Karin Hilick in her essay on NASA and its public image with regards to female identification and imagery. As Hilick points out ‘Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, as played by Nichelle Nichols, was someone who actively helped NASA promote to women and people of colour. Princess Leia, despite exciting the imagination of the young Hilick, didn’t seem culturally significant, along with the rest of ‘Star Wars’ to NASA. That has something that has changed in more recent years.
In her essay on genre character types and masculinity, Erin C. Callahan points out how George Lucas set about redefining and exploring just what a ‘Jedi Knight’ was part-wizard, part-samurai, part-monk. Han Solo by comparison is part-cowboy, part-pirate and all-reckless romantic lead.
For me, one of the more interesting essays was definitely Tom Zlabinger’s on music and ‘Star Wars’ starting with an examination of the ‘Star Wars’ disco phenomena of the late 70s and then also involving jazz and rock. This piece shows how ‘Star Wars’ has spread its cultural wings and insinuated itself into other areas of popular entertainment.
This book was overall a highly enjoyable collection of essays that were thoughtfully written and intelligently argued. They prove that ‘Star Wars’ is one of the defining cultural focal points of both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and are, I believe, worthy of further study and debate.
(pub: McFarland, 2015. 245 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £32.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-47666-220-6)