March into the archives : Star Wars

Woroni, the ANU student newspaper, ran my piece on the cultural impact of Star Wars in April 1997, ahead of the 20th anniversary re-release of the film.
Ahead of the re-release of the film in 3D, the argument that Luke Skywalker was an influential SNAG seems worthy of further consideration as George Lucas' new film embraces another civil rights topic

While media attention regarding the re-release of Star Wars has focused on the digital enhancements, the opportunity to analyse the effects of this cultural phenomenon has been neglected.

Just as film scholars have proposed that the Oedipal plots of the film noir genre were inspired by the spread of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, I propose that the impact of Star Wars contributed to the creation of the Sensitive New Age Guy (or SNAG). To argue this I will concentrate solely on the first film and not the original trilogy nor the subsequent pre-trilogy.

The term SNAG is a recent addition to our vocabulary and is thought to have entered into popular usuage within the last 30 years. It is noticeably absent from dictionaries in the Chifley Library.

Feminism and the women's movement were firmly entrenched in public knowledge at the time of Star Wars release in 1977. There are only two female characters in Star Wars: Princess Leia and Luke's short-lived Aunt Beru. Leia revolutionised the role of women in science fiction and her influence can be seen in later characters such as Ripley in Alien and Sarah Connor in The Terminator.

Though she may not fly an X-wing into battle (even recently released science fiction like Independence Day maintain women can't fly), Leia survives an Imperial torture device without revealing Rebel secrets, uses scathing sarcasm to undermine the male authority of Darth Vader, General Tankim and later Han Solo, wastes a few stormtroopers and takes charge to blast a way out of the Death Star's detention centre ("Somebody has to save our skins").

In comparison Aunt Beru, as a submissive older woman from an earlier generation, is happy cooking vegetables with her chrome-plated food processor. Furthermore, Feminism is given a veiled reference by Han Solo who, after referring to Leia as "Sister" says "I ain't in this for your revolution" -- linking the fight of the Rebels against the Evil Empire to fight against social patriarchy.

The SNAG message is conveyed to the audience via Luke Skywalker's indoctrination into the Jedi ideology. Under instruction from Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke is taught to use the Force ("An energy field...which penetrates and binds the galaxy together") and to develop a skill akin to women's intuition.

This process shapes young Luke into a classic SNAG as Obi encourages him to "trust your feelings" and "stretch out with your emotions" while instructing him to ignore his rational (and 'masculine') thoughts with "let go of your conscious self" and "your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them".

Luke learns these 'feminine' traits quickly and by the film's final third he tells Leia he cares, doesn't flinch from expressing his sorrow at Obi's death and learns to use sarcasm ("Take care of yourself Han, I guess that's what you're best at").

It is important to note the benefits of SNAG qualities are reinforced in the viewer in two ways. Firstly, through the rivalry between Luke and Han to win the affections of Leia. The bold Captain Solo (who dismisses both the Force and Leia's "female advice") admires her spirit, while Luke describes Leia as beautiful from his first encounter with her holographic image.

Their rivalry is explicit during a conversation when Han asks "What do you think, a princess and a guy like me?" To which Luke replies quickily and sulkily "No". Within a subdued context in the film's final scene, the SNAG gets the Princess as illustrated during the award ceremony. Leia ignores Han Solo's sleazy smuggler's grin and common wink to bestow upon Luke a full pearly white smile.

The SNAG as a sexual conqueror is suggested during the climactic battle where the vulnerable Death Star is exposed to fighters using phallic torpedoes. I propose this is a metaphor for reproduction, with the ovum being penetrated (which you may recall is a function of the Force) by the successful sperm of a "one man" X-wing spacecraft. Our fearless SNAG hero uses the Force to endure longer than his fellow Rebel pilots, who "can't hold on" and merely "impact on the surface".

Thus Luke, an ex-dirt farmer turned star blazing SNAG, wins the day and Star Wars influences a generation of males to get in touch with their feelings and use the Force to win a princess.