The AnglerThe Angler
The Angler's Facebook page The Angler on Twitter The Angler magazine on LinkedIn


Heroic fights against repression by an authoritarian and/or totalitarian government are a popular theme in both literature and film. Characteristically, these books and movies focus on one or more characters who decide to resist, even though the odds are invariably against them. In this article some well-known novels and movies that deal with this theme are analysed: the graphic novel V for Vendetta, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the movies Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Star Trek: First Contact, the Matrix trilogy, and the Star Wars saga.

Ideas are bulletproof: V for Vendetta
The comic series V for Vendetta (1982-1985), written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, has been an inspiration for anarchistic groups such as Anonymous and participants in demonstrations world-wide. The Guy Fawkes mask worn by the main character, V, is a powerful and inspirational image. The historical Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, briefly features in the comic, insinuating parallels with the plot and the events in the graphic novel:

We are told to remember the idea and not the man. Because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten. But 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I have witnessed firsthand the power of ideas. I’ve seen people kill in the name of them. But you cannot kiss an idea... cannot touch it or hold it.
Ideas do not bleed. They do not feel pain. They do not love. And it is not an idea that I miss. It is a man. A man that made me remember the 5th of November. A man that I will never forget.

-- Alan Moore and David Lloyd,
V for Vendetta

Moore has given the historical events a little spin (I guess you can say that he took some creative license). It is well-established that the historical Guy Fawkes was a Catholic and the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was emphatically not an anarchistic act, but rather an attempt to replace the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. The whole affair was, in short, part of a religious power struggle.1 However, the central theme of V for Vendetta is not religion.
V defines himself as an anarchist.2 Chris Boge observes that “[t]he V symbol, spray-painted on a wall, signifies the victory over mindless uniformity and the disciplinary power of the state”.3 According to V, the absolute power firmly in the hands of a totalitarian and tyrannical government at the start of the graphic novel, should be given back to the people: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”4
As Boge observes, “[i]n the tradition of Plato’s Politeia and Hobbes’ Leviathan, Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel V for Vendetta envisages England as a totalitarian state comprised of body parts whose functions help maintain the Leader’s power.”5 The ministry of propaganda is called the Mouth, the ministry responsible for the video surveillance of citizens is called the Eye, the ministry responsible for the audio surveillance of citizens is called the Ear. The (secret) police are called The Finger, and the investigation department (comparable to Scotland Yard or the FBI) is named The Nose.
V’s revenge targets the representative of the vicious order – the fascist leader known as Adam (the first man?) who broadcasts to the people of London through the ‘Voice of Fate’ – actually a computer program heading the regime. […] ‘Fate’ has the maternal aspect of knowing, but in the monstrous sense as ‘she’ lacks the containing function. Nevertheless, Adam adores her, consults her as a source of knowledge and even falls in love with her in an act of perversion.6

Yair Neuman, in a psychoanalytical reading of the comic series, observes that V’s vengeance seems impersonal in a very deep sense: It has no individual voice but only the voice of ‘duty’. Indeed, it is a moral duty to fight against the fascist regime, but a duty detached from the individuality of the moral agent is always suspected of representing a psychological split. In the novel, this impersonal aspect of revenge has two manifestations associated with ‘face’ and ‘name’. First, V hides behind a mask and thus has no face but that of a historical figure. The face is a mark of individuality. We are hard-wired from birth to identify faces, and the frozen expression of the mask represents a twisted form of the face devoid of humanity and individuality. […] As the plot unfolds, we learn that V was a victim and the sole survivor of a diabolic medical experiment conducted on prisoners in a concentration camp. His room number was 5- V. Another aspect, then, of his lack of individuality is the absence of a name. Even the sign V is polysemous, indicating his cell number in the concentration camp. Again the lack of a real name signifies the lack of individuality.7

In the end, however, V’s rebellion is not successful:

Despite his death, which is experienced from an impersonal perspective as it is not his death, V gets his final revenge, which is closely associated with a woman and the knowledge she carries like a fetus. Evey, who under his paternal guidance has turned into a vengeful persona, wears V’s mask and continues on his mission. […] Unlike V, however, Evey is motivated to take revenge by her love for V. V’s final achievement is to be loved by a woman. [...] Evey, the daughter/wife/ mother, knows V better than anyone else as she is the one he adopted and educated. Through her name, she also represents the first, archetypical wife and mother Eve (the Biblical Adam’s wife), who tasted from the Tree of Knowledge and delivered her knowledge to the generations to come at the price of mortal life. Eve is therefore the archetypical mother as she should have been, loving and containing. [...] While V’s revenge is destined toward (self-)destruction, there seems to be a seed of optimism in Eve’s future. Getting even is not her main motivation but justice in its most practical and concrete sense, justice with a face, the real face of V and others who have been masked by the evil of the regime.8

Boge argues that “V’s voice may be that of a maniac, and perhaps also that of a madman, but he is a precisely reasoning and calculating maniac who was spawned by the system itself: He was experimented on in a concentration camp, and his vendetta can be seen as an insane person’s attempt to cure society from collective madness, from involuntary ‘order without justice, without love or liberty.’”9
In the case of V for Vendetta, resistance was not entirely futile: in the end, all main figures within the fascist regime of the Norsefire party have been killed and the ensuing power vacuum has plunged the city of London into a leaderless chaos. V would have been proud.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.
-- Nineteen Eighty-Four
Contrary to Moore’s graphic novel, Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (also known as 1984) is an exploration of the author’s own past, in a sense. Since its first publication in 1949, 1984 has become a classic and interest in this novel has significantly increased in recent years. The novel’s portrayal of an authoritarian and totalitarian state that goes as far as trying to control people’s thoughts, shows clear parallels with fascist and communist regimes, both past and present. Orwell wrote the novel “trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office.10 This critical stance may come as a surprise, as George Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of POUM, the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista.11 Orwell’s writings about his experiences resulted in the famous novel Homage to Catalonia.
So where does Orwell’s criticism come from? Let us start with a (very) brief history of the Spanish Civil War. At the start of the war, in 1936, there were two parties fighting each other: on the one side were the Falange, a fascist movement supported by monarchists, nationalists and (Catholic) conservatives. On the other side were the Republicans, consisting of anarchists, communists and socialists who were supported by communist Russia. During the course of the war, however, a crisis ensued in Russia: Stalin seized absolute power over the Communist Party and had Leon Trotsky murdered. All people opposing Stalin’s authoritarian rule were branded “Trotskyist” and either murdered or put into a gulag. As all communist parties worldwide followed the so-called “Moscow” line, this split in the Russian communist party basically divided communists worldwide.
Political fragmentisation happened among the Spanish communists as well. One faction kept supporting Stalin, the other faction opposed Stalin. Naturally, the faction opposing Stalin were immediately branded as Trotskyists and the two groups began fighting each other. This then led to a second front, behind the frontline at which the fascist, monarchist Falange were fought. Many people who were on the communist, Republican side blame this internal struggle within the communist faction for the loss of the war.12
Ultimately the Falange won and this led to Francisco Franco’s fascist rule over Spain, which lasted until his death in1975. Orwell, who had literally lived this period of Spanish history, returned to Britain a disillusioned man. He remained a socialist throughout his life, but he was staunchly anti-Stalinist. Orwell’s political views permeate his entire oeuvre, with Nineteen Eighty-Four as only one example. As Orwell himself puts it: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”13 Orwell was a proponent of a federal socialist Europe, a position outlined in his 1947 essay “Toward European Unity,” which first appeared in Partisan Review.14 With all this information in the back of our minds, let us take a look at the portrayal of totalitarianism in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns – after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces – at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.15

According to Chris Boge, the passage above illustrates how “[o]ne of Orwell’s crucial twists lies in making the individual doubt the validity of their mental representations of ‘reality’ because of a forceful, rapid and incessant erasure of any traces of a stable, unchanging past. […] Orwell’s dystopia gives us a world in flux hanging on the strings of an invisible puppeteer with a gigantic eraser.16 In 1984, history is constantly rewritten from scratch whenever Oceania switches alliances with the other two world powers – Eurasia and Eastasia.17 Ervin Xhinaku and Olsa Perna remark that

[l]iving in the midst of an environment marked by universal surveillance and ubiquitous spying, men in Oceania have either become adepts in the art of dissimulating their feelings, or, even worse, have become so thoroughly debased by the pressures of indoctrination as to feel themselves comfortably at home in slavish captivity. In such circumstances any idea of starting a rebellion against the Party seems outright foolish.18

However, Boge argues that

[u]ltra-nationalist sentiments form the basis for the fascistic/totalitarian enterprise, and enemies of the state (real or imagined) serve as markers of demarcation in that they help establish and maintain the ideological framework. Put differently, the voice of authority needs a correlative voice of resistance that can be perceived as constantly threatening to undermine it.19

The character of Julia is a perfect example of the fundamental hypocrisy which orders the life of those citizens who, having not yet been entirely brainwashed by the incessant propaganda, have found spiritual refuge behind the mask of social conformity. Pretending to be a fanatically loyal adherent of the Party line, Julia harbours an intense inner hatred of the whole Oceanic system, especially of its puritanical sexual morality.20 By decreeing and enforcing a very strict sexual code on its subjects the Party manages to obstruct the natural release of their sexual energies, and, then, to perversely channel them into a beastly hatred directed against the – ‘enemies of the people’.21
Interestingly, in his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich observes that the German fascism employed a similar strategy. Central to Reich’s theory is the strong (self-)identification with a führer (which he likens to an authoritarian father figure) and the mother (strongly correlated with the ‘motherland’). The suppression by the führer/authoritarian father causes a (sexual) tension that is ultimately released via violence and channelled through the party ideology (that builds self-esteem and makes people feel part of a great(er) whole). According to Reich, “nationalistic sentiments are a direct continuation of the sentiments of the authoritarian family. But mystical feelings are also a source of nationalistic ideology. Hence, patriarchal family attitudes and a mystical frame of mind are the basic psychological elements of fascism and imperialistic nationalism in the masses.”22 This makes sense, as it also explains the anti-religious stance of many, if not all, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes: The regime functions as a replacement for religion, as it taps into the feelings of religious ecstasy. According to Reich, “[w]hile national feeling is derived from the maternal tie (home feeling), mystical sentiments originate in the anti-sexual atmosphere that is inseparately bound to this familial tie. The authoritarian familial tie presupposes the inhibition of sensuous sexuality. Without exception, all children brought up in a patriarchal society are subject to this sensuous inhibition.”23 Therefore, “the patriarchal-authoritarian compulsive order offers sufficient opportunity for sadistic-mystical discharges. The social rationalisation of such behavior effaces its pathological character.24
Back to the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four and the omnipresent Big Brother that slowly grows into an even bigger monster. As Xhinaku and Pema note,

[i]n the end, when all sophisticated methods of surveillance and control have failed to give their due results, the totalitarian regime in Orwell‘s 1984 […] relapses into the old habit of despotism – subjecting the unprotected individual to extreme physical violence. In 1984 physical violence is represented as an embodiment of absolute evil, which might even be used to symbolize the nature of the whole relationship between the totalitarian state and the people. Unlike the primitive violence of the jungle, however, totalitarian violence is not of a personal or spontaneous kind. The perpetrators of totalitarian violence in 1984 are not portrayed as human beings but as blind impersonal forces that act on their orders with a almost robot-like thoughtless efficiency. Among the many violent scenes in 1984 the one when the two clandestine lovers – Winston and Julia – are caught, arrested and reduced into two trembling pathetic figures by the black uniformed thugs of the political police is particularly suggestive in drawing the contrast between the frailty and vulnerability of the naked human body (Winston and Julia are naked and defenceless in their secret room when they are caught out) and the inexorable anonymous violence of the totalitarian state epitomised by these “solid men in black uniforms, with iron-shod boots on their feet and truncheons in their hands.”25
It seems that their renunciation in the face of totalitarian violence results from an inbuilt fatalistic conception which attributes to the workings of the totalitarian state the same ineluctable rigidity as that of the iron laws of nature or the supreme will of the gods. According to this implicit philosophy of life, acting against the might of the totalitarian juggernaut would be a completely absurd and futile endeavour. In 1984 [...], then, even the minds of those who have managed to see through the cruder lies and fabrications of totalitarian propaganda, have been quite unconsciously infused with an ideological fatalism that makes them, in the long run, completely innocuous to the ruling tyranny. This mistaken metaphysicizing of a contingent state of social and political relationships, that the people, if only they understood its true nature, could actually abolish, represents the ultimate triumph of the totalitarian state in achieving and maintaining control over its subjects.26

The ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four makes it clear that, depressingly, when it comes to Big Brother resistance is indeed futile. Orwell’s novel depicts a totalitarianism of the mind, where the victims are seemingly unaware of the fact how oppressed they are.

The Borg in Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
According to Steven Coulter, the Borg, a collective of humanoid cyborgs linked together in a hive-mind and modelled on the earthly superorganisms of ant colonies and beehives, have been the most feared alien race in the Star Trek universe. The formidable success of the Borg in assimilating their foes corresponds to the astounding success of superorganisms in our own biosphere. Since the Borg are portrayed as mindless automatons whose only purpose is to turn as many other humanoids into Borg as possible, they may superficially appear to be a metaphor for world Communism as it had been metaphorically represented in Westerns and science fiction from the 1950s onward. However, the Cold War has long since ended and the Borg are as popular as ever in the Star Trek franchise.27 Robert Tindol’s explanation for this is that “this is because they are a modern manifestation of the 400-year-old American captivity narrative – the first distinct literary genre created in the New World. Rather than a metaphoric iteration of the Communist threat, the Borg instead represent the age-old American paranoia of being held in thrall by an Other who would drag Americans where they do not wish to be dragged.”28 As Tindol points out, “[t]he Borg, in other words, are a state of mind and a “bad idea” rather than a ra¬cial or perhaps even an ethnic identity. Seemingly paralleling anti-Communism in its most paranoid manifestations, the fear of the Borg is the fear of a dire fate to which death is decidedly preferable.”29 This becomes clear in the subsequent appearances of the Borg in Star Trek episodes, where the viewer learns that a ‘borgified’ individual retains his awareness and sense of self: his sense of self is caged in the circuits of the Borg collective.
In this context, the origins of the captivity narrative are better understood. The narrative was originally intended as a lesson in religious rectitude and self-denial, the captivity narrative received its first and arguably most memorable treatment in the account of Mary Rowlandson of her weeks-long experience as a prisoner of the Indians during King Philip’s War in the late 17th century. The captivity narrative, therefore, is by no means incompatible with mainstream Christian faith, which stipulates that the protection afforded the hapless pilgrim in the throes of malevolent forces, human or otherwise, does not necessarily take the form of physical survival, but always without fail affords spiritual continuance if the victim maintains faith.30 Applied to the ‘borgified’ individual, having become Borg would not denote defeat, since the individual’s humanity was retained.
What the early settlers of British North America have in common with their 21st-century descendants is the need for playing out the New World experience as a romantic quest for an elusive “freedom-from.” Today, as four centuries ago, we all possess a seemingly bottomless appetite for repeated tellings of the narrative of those who have dramatically fought for their freedom from the Other. In short, the captivity narrative is earlier in our awakening individual consciousnesses and even more visceral than the enjoinder to do good and maintain one’s Christian faith. Small wonder that the literary genre continues to have traction in the semi-utopian world of 24th-century Star Trek.31
The relevance of 24th-century quality of life is by no means a cursory statement, because the entire argument of Star Trek: First Contact is that life on Earth has become near-utopian because the Borg were never permitted a toehold on the planet. This implies that not having been captured has led to a highly civilised societal system. The movie concerns a travel to mid-21st-century America after the Picard crew of the Enterprise has won a skirmish with the Borg some 300 years in the future. Unable to conquer the Federation in a direct battle, the Borg have elected to go back in time and prevent the very history that provided Earth with its puissance and its resistance to outside influence – namely, the original contact with the Vulcans that first notified Earthlings that they were not alone in the universe. This is the “first contact” of the film’s title.32

In the end, however, Captain Picard and his crew manage to thwart the Borg Queen’s attempt to change history. Ironically,the movie does not deal with actually resisting a Borg attack, but rather preventing Borg contact in the first place, in other words: keeping one’s mind clean.

Why do we always expect metal ships?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978)
The science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, particularly the 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland and Veronica Carthwright, is a personal favourite of mine. The original, from 1956, “[a]lthough commonly read as a fable about McCarthyism, also expresses profound fear and distrust of the dehumanizing and debilitating force of 1950s middle-class marriage and domesticity.”33 The pods mount a constant assault on those who question or threaten the social contract defined by the nuclear family and the suburban lifestyle. The alien invasion plot progresses through a series of failed consumptions: uneaten meals, undrunk coffee, unfulfilled desires. When read as a Gothic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers presents a chilling critique of postwar American domestic ideology and its hidden contaminations.34
When read as a Gothic tale, the sense of the story is clear. As social documents, Gothic narratives topically address prevailing or sublimated fears of institutions that threaten the essential human. Indeed, as David Punter and Glennis Byron remind us, Gothic narratives appear at times of cultural confusion: the beginning of industrialization, the end of an empire, the rise of the middle class. The vehicle of such conformity in Invasion is sleep, during which humans change into something less. Sleep represents capitulation in Invasion not just to the pods but also to what they represent: the numb, emotionless, quotidian domestic life of Santa Mira. Emotion, resistance, refusal to comply: all of these are marks of individualism. Thus, in Invasion the unconsciousness of sleep parallels that of domestic conformity, both here positioned in the center of the house, the bedroom. Clearly, safety begins at home.35

The film addresses an anxiety about cultural institutions that threaten the individual.36 Postwar American ambivalence about divorce pervades the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, reflecting both anxiety and exhilaration about impermanent marital bonds. The double-bind of the invasion is that, without emotion, not only will divorce be unnecessary, but marriage as well. To take the invasion to its logical extension: once there’s no need for procreation, marriage loses its social function. Thus, the projected resolution is entropy, indeed.37
What stands out is that there is no bad guy that is being fought, no system that needs to be overturned. The pods occupy a Gothic liminal space, neither food nor fuel: rather than a nurture, they are a means of consumption. These vegetable invaders are perfectly tailored to the Central Valley and its agrarian roots, although the question of their origin and agency remains vexed.38 What brings them to Santa Mira, and why “now”? Of course, generations of critics have read the pod story as Jack Finney’s anti-McCarthyist fable. Finney flatly denied that allegorical reading of his novel.39
Although time and tropes change, the two film versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers both maintain a subtext of marriage and divorce as part of the Gothic apparatus of the film narratives. Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version updates the science to plant pathology and the location to contemporary San Francisco. The city provides Victorian houses and Beaux Arts city buildings as urban Gothic settings for an infestation of parasitic pink-flowered pod-plants. In this case, not divorce but faux marriage is the contaminant. Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) shares an Alamo Park Victorian house—locally known as “painted ladies”—with her sports-obsessed dentist boyfriend, Geoffrey (Art Hindle). The unmarried cohabitants lead a lonely life together, marked by Geoffrey’s inattention to anything but the game on TV. In sharp contrast with Miles and Becky’s house-playing, Elizabeth knows something is seriously wrong when Geoffrey starts acting like a good husband—taking out the trash, picking up after himself, eschewing sports and giving away his tickets. The possible causes for this sudden disinterest in sports reflects Seventies hipster culture: Elizabeth’s colleague Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) wonders if Geoffrey might be having an affair, be gay, have a social disease—or be a Republican. Each of these reasons would threaten the family, but none so much as Elizabeth’s unspoken expectations of a better partner. The subplot of Elizabeth’s ambivalence about her living arrangements continues the thread of the divorce motif in the original film.40

The pods in the movie lead to emptiness, a loss of consciousness altogether. Anybody who has seen either version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers knows that, in the end, resistance is futile:


A prison for your Mind: The Matrix
The concept of the Matrix trilogy (1999, 2003) is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except the ‘body snatchers’ are machines instead of aliens from outer space. The first Matrix movie starts sometime after the machines have successfully enslaved the human race, with the exception of a small rebelling band who actively resist the computer-programmed virtual reality world the machines have built for mankind. The rebels have built a heavily fortified city, which is given the Biblical name ‘Zion.’ Their leader is the charismatic Morpheus, the name of the Greek god of dreams. Other characters have mythological or Biblical names as well: Trinity Seraph (or Seraphim, a heavenly being in Christianity and Judaism that holds the highest rank in the angelic hierarchy),41 and Niobe (from Greek mythology: Niobe is the prototype of the bereaved mother, weeping for the loss of her children).42 Another Biblical them is the Oracle’s prophesy that Morpheus will find ‘The One’ who will be the saviour of mankind. Keanu Reeve’s character is named Neo, an anagram of ‘One,’ and he indeed manages to destroy all the Smiths in the Matrix at the end of Matrix Revolutions and, in another parallel with the story of Christ, sacrifices his life in order “to save both the Machines and humans.”43 Thus, at the end of Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Neo is unplugged from the Matrix and his body is respectfully carried away by the Machines. The Architect, upon meeting the Oracle, tells her that she “played a very dangerous game” by attempting to change the way the Matrix functioned. The Oracle responds by saying that she understood the risk and knew it was worth taking. She asks the Architect what will become of any humans who want to be unplugged from the Matrix, and the Architect replies that “they will be freed.” The Oracle asks the Architect, “Do I have your word?” The Architect answers “What do you think I am? Human?”
The closing shot of the film depicts a new dawn on the world of the Matrix
[...]. Plant life is shown in the Matrix, and for the first (and last) time the ubiquitous green tint is absent.44

In the Matrix trilogy the idiom ‘resistance is futile’ proves to be incorrect, as long as you have The One on your side and believe. The dialogue between the Oracle and the Architect about people who want to be unplugged is particularly interesting, as this implies that there are people who do not wish to be freed.

Rebellions are built on hope: Star Wars

We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope! — Jyn Erso
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

The Star Wars saga (1977 – present) features the Rebel Alliance, led by Leia Organa, locked in a struggle with the Empire. At first glance, the Star Wars universe appears to have been neatly divided into good (the rebels, the Jedi) and evil (the Empire, the Sith), particularly in the original trilogy - A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). Even though the viewer sympathises with the plight of the rebels, in the original trilogy it is ambiguous who is right and who is wrong. A New Hope starts in medias res (like any good epic), the story of how the situation came about is revealed through the characters. As the protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, sides with the rebel alliance, the narration of the movies is biased in favour of the rebels and against the Empire. Only in the prequels - The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2003), and Revenge of the Sith (2005) does it become apparent that the Republic has been the victim of a coup d’état, legitimating the rebellion against Emperor Palpatine.
Fans are generally not very fond of the prequels, but apart from revealing how Palpatine managed to seize power, one more aspect about the storyline in the prequels makes watching these movies interesting and worthwhile. Democracy is almost universally accepted as the best form of government, something worth dying for. In the Star Wars saga, too, the Rebel Alliance tries to reinstate a democratic government at a great cost of life. In the prequels, however, the Republic is depicted as a democracy that is very flawed and, as the story progresses, proves to be fragile and vulnerable. The movies very effectively demonstrate that the system of democracy is not perfect.
Also outside of the Star Wars universe, in the real word, this holds true. Winston Churchill has called democracy “the worst form of government except [for] all the others that have been tried from time to time.”45 Temma Kaplan confirms this view:

[t]he attraction of democracy is that it raises possibilities for creating what the nineteenth-century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham called “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” By the sheer quantity of ideas people reasoning together can promote, democracies increase the chances of achieving peace, justice, and social benefits for all. But, democracy has never come easily and its only chance for gaining what it, more than any other set of practices, might achieve, is by making it ever more inclusive. Since democracy never rests and must continuously be re-created and protected, it is always unstable and threatened with extinction.46

Kaplan recognises ‘two fatal flaws’ in the democratic system:

Accompanying democracy’s achievements, most democracies have historically had two fatal flaws: one is the lack of effective routine communication between elected officials and ordinary people needed to share ideas and work out conflicts. The other is that democracies, like authoritarian governments, have tendencies that reach toward expansionism. Even in efforts to grant citizenship and extend democratic rights to previously excluded groups of former slaves, immigrants, and people of different ethnic origins, for example, most democracies have imposed themselves on others, colonizing them and dislodging or suppressing original inhabitants. Often, conflicts even within established democracies have also led to oppressive conditions for some of the population.47

It is not difficult to see the parallels, both in the Star Wars universe and the world around us. Return of the Jedi ends with the fall of the Empire and hints at a restoration of the Republic. In The Force Awakens democracy, as well as the restored Republic, is once more under threat. Even the Rebel Alliance of old has been resurrected, this time to fight the fascistic New Order. Will resistance prove to be futile or successful in the long run? The Last Jedi, released in December 2017, reveals the next phase in the struggle.

As this short overview demonstrates, both tyranny and rebellion in popular culture take on different shapes and forms: from a mad guy in a Guy Fawkes mask fighting an Orwellian fascistic regime, via a middle class couple facing an alien invasion and a Christ-like hero saving the world from the machines to an intergalactic rag-tag band of rebels fighting against a tyrannic Emperor. These rebellion-against-invasion and rebelling-against-oppression themes invite us rethink our preconceptions about democracy, tyranny, freedom, and slavery.

By Birgitte Breemerkamp


1. 1. Another important episode in this power struggle between Catholics and Protestants in early modern England is the so-called ‘Babington Plot’, which is discussed at length in my article “Babington Plot: Crisis at Court” The Angler 1 (2017).

2. Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. While anti-statism is central, anarchism specifically entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations, including—but not limited to—the state system. Anarchism is usually considered a far-left ideology and much of anarchist economics and anarchist legal philosophy reflects anti-authoritarian interpretations of communism, collectivism, syndicalism, mutualism or participatory economics. Source:

3. Chris Boge, “’There Were No Longer Any Laws’: Voices of Authority, Complicity, and Resistance in Totalitarian Dystopias and Holocaust Imaginings,” Pólemos 9 (2015): 273.

4. Alan Moore and David Lloyd. V for Vendetta.

5. Boge, “’There Were No Longer Any Laws,” 273.

6. Yair Neuman, “On revenge.” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 17 (2012): 11.

7. Ibid., 10.

8. Ibid., 12.

9. Moore, V for Vendetta, 198 cited in Boge, “’There Were No Longer Any Laws,” 274.

10. Sidney Sheldon, The Other Side of Me (Grand Central Publishing, 2006): 213 cited from Wikipedia:

11. “Orwell joined the POUM (Revolutionary Anti-Stalinist Communists) rather than the communist-run International Brigades by chance – but his experiences, in particular his witnessing the communist suppression of the POUM in May 1937, made him sympathetic towards the POUM.” George Orwell, Fighting in Spain (Penguin Books, 2007), Introduction.

12. John Blake and David Hart, The Spanish Civil War (1983) TV Series.

13. George Orwell, “Why I Write”, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, 1 – An Age Like This 1945–1950, (Penguin): 23.

14. Wikipedia: - Political_views.

15. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, online edition.:

16. Boge, “’There Were No Longer Any Laws,” 268.

17. Ervin Xhinaku and Olsa Pema, “The Totalitarian Achievement and Maintenance of Absolute Control over Man in George Orwell’s 1984 and Ismail Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams,” Diversitate si Identitate Culturala in Europa 12 (2015): 33.

18. Ibid., 27. 19. Boge, “’There Were No Longer Any Laws,” 270.

20. Xhinaku and Pema, “The Totalitarian Achievement,” 27.

21. Ibid., 29.

22. Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism edited by Mary Higgins and Chester M. Raphael, M.D. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970): 131.

23. Ibid., 136.

24. Ibid., 137-138.

25. George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984 (2003): 298 cited in Xhinaku and Pema, “The Totalitarian Achievement,” 33. Emphasis in original.

26. Xhinaku and Pema, “The Totalitarian Achievement,” 34-35. 27. Robert Tindol, “The Star-Trek Borg As an All-American Captivity Narrative.” Brno Studies in English 38 (2012): 151.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid., 152.

30. Ibid., 152-53.

31. Ibid.,154.

32. Ibid.,155.

33. Ibid.

34. Jennifer L. Jenkins, “‘Lovelier the Second Time Around’: Divorce, Desire, and Gothic Domesticity in Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” The Journal of Popular Culture 45 (2012): 478.

35. Ibid., 480-481.

36. Ibid., 482.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. A. LeGacy, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Metaphor for the Fifties.” Literature/Film Quarterly 6 (1978): 287 cited in Jenkins, “‘Lovelier the Second Time Around’,” 482.

40. Jenkins, “‘Lovelier the Second Time Around’,” 493-494.

41. Wikipedia:

42. Encyclopedia Brittanica:

43. Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB):

44. Ibid.

45. “Sir Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, November 11, 1947, Hansard. Verbatim transcripts of Parliamentary Debates in Britain. Hansard Archive (digitized debates from 1803),; (pt0002).” Temma Kaplan, Democracy: A World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015): 1.

46. Kaplan, Democracy, 2.

47. Ibid., 3.