Did Original 'Star Wars' Films Help Reagan Get Elected?
On this day, the day many have anticipated more than Christmas this year, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens in U.S. theaters, the seventh installment of a cultural phenomenon that begin with the first movie in 1977. But "A New Hope" and the upcoming "The Empire Strikes Back" may have done more in 1980 than give birth to a die-hard class of "Star Wars" nerds. It may have played a role in presidential race as well.
Some have speculated over the years if "Star Wars" helped Ronald Reagan — if even just a little — secure his landslide victory of 1980. And if that is true, it would have had the opposite effect of what writer and director George Lucas had intended at the time.
In a recent i09 article, Charlie Jane Anders goes into great detail about the U.S. history leading up to the first "Star Wars" movie and how it connected with audiences in just the right way at just the right time. Here are some of her fascinating conclusions:
1. Reeling from the withdraw from the Vietnam War, the Nixon scandal, and a national "malaise," "Star Wars" represented "a pure jolt of American optimism and moral simplicity, that came at just the right time to make us feel like ourselves again." A 1983 Washington Post article described the classic "Star Wars" trilogy as helping "close some of the psychological wounds left by the war in Vietnam. 'Star Wars' tapped into inspirational depths that transcend political allegiance. It reflected politically uncomplicated yearnings — to be in the right, to fight on the side of justice against tyranny.”
2. Lucas intended the movies to be a criticism of American imperialism, "in which the evil Empire was supposed to be the United States" and Richard Nixon the Emperor. But he pulled it off poorly by also wanting to reference the heroic Flash Gordon, World War II, and Western shows he grew up watching, which have a strong connection to American optimism and "helped set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s 'morning in America' presidency." In another twist, Lucas actually turned down an opportunity to direct the dark, depressing Vietnam War film "Apocalypse Now," choosing instead to make something more wholesome for kids.
3. The marketing campaign for "The Empire Strikes Back" was at its height during Reagan's presidential run, and his "Morning In America" campaign fit well with a movie series that hearkened to a simpler era where "good guys" and "bad guys" were clearly defined — an optimism clearly needed in the midst of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
4. Interestingly enough, even after Reagan was elected, his presidency continued to have connections with "Star Wars," such as with his famous 1983 speech — just a couple months before "Return of the Jedi" hit theaters — where he described the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire." Later on, Democrats derided Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative by calling it "Star Wars," but using a name connected to such a well-loved movie franchise failed to have a negative effect.
5. Author David Sirota also connects Reagan's revolution in people's mind as not only fighting the Soviet Union but also Big Government in America with freedom-loving Rebels battling against the Empire.
6. Anders concludes her piece by saying "...the purity of [the Rebels] struggle against evil was the greatest gift that 'Star Wars' gave Ronald Reagan."
It's obvious that Ronald Reagan was elected for far more reasons than movie-goers' enthrallment with the birth of a space fantasy series, but it is interesting to speculate how one of the most beloved movies of all time — and one that was meant to criticize America — may have helped elect one of the greatest and most patriotic leader America has ever had.