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The Politics of Star Wars: Lessons from A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Panel speaking at Star Wars Under the Stars event

As a special events coordinator at the United States Library of Congress, Clay Pencek, SPA/MPA ’17 and SIS/BA ’11, tries to create programs that will spark the imagination of the public and get them to think of the library’s collection in new ways.

He recently helped create “Star Wars Under the Stars,” a three-day event that included a display of Star Wars posters, the presentation of the original movie trilogy, and a discussion titled, “The Politics of a Galaxy, Far, Far Away.” Pencek asked SPA Associate Professor Bill Davies to join scholars to discuss the prosperity and turmoil of the Star Wars universe, the real-life history it draws from, and lessons it could provide.

“Being on the Hill, we figured it would be fun to talk about the politics of the Star Wars universe,” said Pencek, who credits Davies, his professor for an undergraduate western legal tradition class at SPA, in part, for the idea.

“A decade ago, we chatted about a possible independent study class orbiting the same idea," said Pencek. "It was natural that I invited him as we have stayed in touch and I know his background on politics/legal systems, Star Wars, and his passion for the combination of the two.”

The panelists at the Library of Congress event talked about their favorite characters, the role of diversity in the films, and political messages — both within and stemming from — Star Wars movies. The scholars highlighted the threat of larger powers overtaking smaller entities as a running theme. Some pointed to the overtly political scenes involving voting that took place at the Galactic legislature. Others gave examples of Star Wars iconology cropping up in American politics, such as when an activist gave Sen. Ted Cruz a lightsaber at a campaign event and used the prop to reference dark money in campaigns.

Davies said he weaves Star Wars examples into this SPA classes on legal history and jurisprudence. Drawing analogies between the fall of both the Roman and Galactic Republics in his teaching, Davies said is can be very motivating and engaging for some of his students. Most are familiar enough with Star Wars to at least understand the references while a few who have never seen the movies rely on classmates to fill them in.

The response to the event at the Library of Congress reflects the impact the movies have had over the years, said Davies.

“The room was completely full. People were absolutely riveted, asking on-point questions," said Davies. "If that doesn’t speak to the significance of Star Wars as part of our political culture and terminology in the 21st century in the U.S. and Europe, I don’t know what does.”