“Star Wars” and Carlos the Jackal

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Movies, Pop culture, Science fiction, TV shows

I’m making my way through Olivier Assayas’ miniseries “Carlos,” a fictionalized account of Carlos the Jackal’s life and career. I’m impressed. I think it does a good job in its presentation of Carlos. The series shows him for exactly what he was — a murderous fanatic with a knack for self-promotion. But actor Édgar Ramírez manages to convey the personal charisma that led apparently sane people to team up with him.

One thing I found interesting is the evocation of the 1970s, and the widespread atmosphere — at least in the circles where Carlos traveled — of “radical chic.” This is a milieu where people try to one-up each other with the extent of their commitment to revolutionary causes, and spit out the term “petit bourgeois” like it’s the vilest of  insults.

I was a kid in the 1970s, and grew up in a decidedly unhip suburban setting. If anybody in Marlton, N.J., was having marijuana-fueled discussions on Marxist theory late into the night, I was never invited to those parties.

My knowledge that something was afoot came mainly from the movies I’d watch on the portable black-and-white TV set I’d lug up to my bedroom. From the late 60s through the 70s, subversive subtexts were as ubiquitous as big sideburns in movies.

Some movies easily stand out when you’re looking for examples. “All the President’s Men.” “Z.” “The Parallax View.”

But how about “Star Wars?” You don’t really think of Star Wars as a subversive film, simply because it was so financially successful. George Lucas practically invented the summer mega-blockbuster, which is the very antithesis of radical film-making.

Still, the first movie in particular — and the next two sequels to a lesser extent — was very much a product of the 1970s.

The good guys were rebels and criminals, taking down an imperialist empire. They get assistance from indigenous people carrying out a guerrilla campaign on their home turf, using primitive but deadly weapons fashioned from materials occurring naturally in their terrain. (Describing Ewoks in that fashion makes them sound a lot more badass than the annoying little teddy bears that actually appeared onscreen.)

So did Star Wars represent a kind of stealth radicalism, sneaking into our collective consciousness in the form of a seemingly innocuous science fiction movie? Or am I reading WAY too much into this?

  1. José Román says:

    the sad thing is that the star wars saga mirrors george lucas’ transformation from a cinematic outsider to a dictatorial owner of his own empire. watch “the people vs. george lucas” whenever you can.

    • The other day, I was thinking about “American Graffiti” and what a great movie that was. And the whole appeal of that move rested on the low-key interactions among believable characters you could like and relate to. Compare that to the clanking, dehumanized artificiality that characterized everything about the last three Star Wars movies, and it’s clear that George Lucas lost something over the years.

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