As General Hux gives a speech before a gathering of true believers and those gathered greet him with a salute that brings the words, “Heil Hitler” to mind, it becomes pretty clear that J.J. Abrams purposely folded Nazi and World War II symbolism into Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA). But to what end? A name like The First Order certainly resonated with The Third Reich, but is this connection necessary for us to understand that Snoke and Kyle Ren are the bad guys of this film? If not, then why does the youth indoctrination of Storm Troopers stink so much of Hitler Youth? Why does the term Supreme Leader remind me so much of the Fuhrer?* Certainly, the fallen state of the Empire and the need for re-purposing under strong leadership makes a comparison to post-World War I Germany kind of a no-brainer, but what I think we need to discuss is whether or not this was just a silly one-off gimmick that takes us out of the movie or if it brings a level of depth to our viewing experience that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
My friend Bobby — if you’ve read my post on family issues and the force in TFA, you’ll know that Bobby is the person I brainstormed all of these posts with — gave probably the most concise description of why Abrams included Nazi and World War II references throughout the film. His thought is that TFA is a film that is meant to give a memorable experience to children and adults alike. Whereas children might talk about that cute little droid named BB-8 or the escaped monsters on Han’s space freighter, these historical parallels bring a more rich experience to adults who are left thinking about what happened and possibly even writing long-winded blog posts about their thoughts (see what I did there). A good example of what Bobby is suggesting can be seen in the various works of Stephen Spielberg, who was one of George Lucas’ closest confidants during the creation of Star Warsand who worked with J.J. Abrams on the set of Super 8. Spielberg has consistently put out child-friendly films with blatant references to the Nazis and the historical plights of the Jews. The Indiana Jones film series is probably the best example. Children understand the Nazis only in their immediacy, as silly villains who say funny words like “schnell” and “verboten,” whereas the adult mind understands that these are dangerous people tied up in one of the most morally difficult situations in human history. I think Bobby is probably right that J.J. Abrams wanted to pull an Indiana Jones with the Nazi/WWII references, but I don’t want to end the discussion there.
There is some mystery surrounding the enigmatic old man from the beginning of TFA. As it turns out, this guy’s name is Lor San Tekka. What we know from TFA is that Tekka has been a supporter of Leia for a long time and that he knows her as a princess. Some are thinking that Tekka is merely a long-time supporter of the Rebellion. My gut feeling is that Tekka is a survivor of the destruction of Alderaan as witnessed in A New Hope. This may be because I have a serious problem with how little screen time has been devoted to dealing with the loss of a planet’s worth of lives in the Star Warsfilms.** Leia screams, Obi Wan feels a disturbance in the force, and from then on Leia Organa is the only Alderaanian to be named until the prequel trilogy brings us to a time before the planet’s destruction. I do believe that it would be difficult to deal with this emotional situation given the immediacy of Episodes IV, V, and VI, but the weight of the tragedy demands to be addressed, and we have some really talented creators who are perfectly able to walk the line between immediacy and reverence. Comparing an Alderaanian survivor to a Holocaust survivor is certainly not a 1-to-1 relationship. To our knowledge, the Alderaanians were not hunted down and placed in camps, but like the Jews they did witness countless friends, family members, and neighbors get put to death. If Lor San Tekka were an Alderaanian survivor, his motives for assisting General Leia and Luke Skywalker would make a whole lot of sense, and I would be pretty happy with some future character development beyond the one scene that he is featured in. Most importantly, Star Wars would be paying some long-needed respect to the victims of this intergalactic war.
It occurred to me that the Starkiller itself could itself represent the holocaust. After all, the Greek word roughly translated means “that which is completely burned” from holos, meaning whole, and kaustos (root word kaio, where we get the word “caustic” from), meaning burnt. In this sense, the tragedy that the Jews call Shoah, or catastrophe, is boiled down to the specific situation in which Jews were burnt alive. This was certainly the intent in the Starkiller, which was used to focus the fires of a star into directed attacks against the Hosnian System and its various planets. This is the easy comparison. The more difficult comparison is if we consider that the Starkiller was meant to represent the atomic bomb. The comparison is technically much more easy — in the United States we created a couple of hydrogen bombs which, because of their use of fusion reactions, have been described as harnessing the power of the sun — but emotionally it is much more difficult. Rather than pointing to The First Order as “them” (the Nazis, the Germans, the Axis powers), we would have to identify them as “us.”
I don’t have a huge problem comparing my own nation with The First Order. American imperialism is one of the most insidious forces in the world, especially because it doesn’t associate with (and publicly criticizes) the traditional understanding of an empire. If the comparison of Starkiller to the two H-bombs unleashed on Japan is meant to be cautionary, I can certainly handle it, but there is a slightly more interesting Star Wars theory that criticizing the “good guys” naturally leads to — the theory that Luke Skywalker is going to turn to the dark side and become the new Darth Vader. In comparing Starkiller base to the Death Star, we are forced to confront the question of whether or not a second Starkiller or similar weapon might be constructed in Episode IX much like the appearance of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Perhaps Luke Skywalker is involved in the construction of a Starkiller-like weapon of his own which the Resistance can use against The First Order. This one would be force-attuned, of course, and perhaps it would magnify Luke’s own force powers much like the inner chamber of Darth Vader’s custom TIE is rumored to do. In this sense we would be fighting fire with fire, holocaust with holocaust, and maybe, just maybe, we could see how American imprisonment of Japanese citizens and the subsequent bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an issue that needs as much attention as the German extermination of the Jews.
Probably the clearest Nazi/WWII themes actually surround our former Storm Trooper Finn, who works perfectly as the “Good German.” Trained from an early age as a tool of The First Order, his definition of the status quo would be the will of The First Order. In other words, good would be defined as coinciding with the will of Supreme Leader Snoke, and bad would then be understood as that which goes against Snoke. When Finn has his crisis of conscience, he commits what would be called an evil action in bailing on The First Order and freeing a prisoner. I think there might actually be a better example of this issue in American history if we’re OK with fingers pointing back at us. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Huck is taught that slavery is right and an escaping slave is wrong. As he is helping Jim escape, he believes what he is doing is wrong. I don’t think it is a coincidence that a character named Finn acts in a way similar to a character named Huck Finn, especially considering that Darth Vader’s name means “father” and he is Luke and Leia’s father.*** Finn is almost certainly meant to be a reference to Huck Finn and this specific comparison. Finn helps Poe escape similar to the way that Huck helps Jim escape. Coming back to the German reference, I guess the best comparison would be between Finn and Schindler. Of course, Finn would have to save a lot of people from The First Order before he’s anywhere as accomplished as Schindler.
I’m taking suggestions for the next Star Wars article. I may just try to tackle the big ticket mysteries starting with Rey’s parentage, gathering the theories together, properly defending each argument, and then deciding which is most likely and which would be the most fun. That said, I’d be happy to chase down any other interesting leads as well. Also, when I get some extra time, which may be never, but it may be soon too, I am thinking about delving into the entire new canon of Star Wars to see what comes of it. If any of you out there are interested, hit me up. I’m going to have to finish Marvel’s Civil War first, but I’d be happy to follow it up with intergalactic civil war next.
* At one point, Adolf Hitler did dub himself the Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, and that’s just one word away from Supreme Leader.
** There have been comics written by both Dark Horse Comics and Marvel Comics that have attempted to address the diaspora of Alderaanians who were off-planet when Alderaan was destroyed. One of them, Marvel’s Princess Leia, is even considered canonical now that Disney has acquired the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas.
*** “Rey” is pretty close to a word meaning king or queen. If she’s Leia’s daughter she would be an heir to Alderaan and Naboo, and if she’s Luke’s daughter she would still be an heir to Naboo.