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January 19, 2005

George Lucas is a racist

Yes, this post is about The Phantom Menace, and about five years to late, but in my defense, there was no diogenesclub.net five years ago.

A lot of people have made off-handed remarks that this or that character is a racist stereotype, mostly Jar Jar Binks, but to my knowledge, no one has ever looked at the movie as a whole to notice, pigeon English aside, how racist the movie actually is.

The original Star Wars had a message. It didn't hit you over the head with it, but it was there. The point of Star Wars (or at least one of them) was that the human spirit triumphs over technology. The point of The Phantom Menace was that racism is wrong. I know this because I was hit over the head with it. Obi-Wan kindly dumbs it down for us and Boss Nass to understand:

OBI-WAN: You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of
you will affect the other.

The much maligned midi-chlorians were introduced to hit the point home:

QUI-GON: We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians.
ANAKIN: Symbionts?
QUI-GON: Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the
midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the

Get it? He used that big word 'symbiont' both times so we wouldn't miss out on the wisdom being proffered. To refresh your memory, The Phantom Menace involves a conflict between the amphibious Gungans and the humanoid Naboo. They can't get along, and while they share their planet peacefully, they are entirely segregated from one another.

It's not hard to map these two races onto our own world, the Naboo are the white majority and the Gungans are, well, whatever oppressed minority you like, blacks, hispanics, native americans, you name it. So, over the course of the movie, the two races put aside their differences and defeat the moderately evil Trade Federation. And everybody learns a lesson.

Here's the thing: The Gungans are idiots and the Naboo aren't. At no point do the Naboo ever say anything bad about the Gungans. But the Gungans will bring it up at the drop of a hat. The Gungans are paranoid and unjustified in their dislike for the Naboo, while the Naboo just want to be friends. The Naboo are a bunch of upper class white people sitting in a cocktail lounge saying, "Of course I would have black friends, but I just don't know any blacks," while the Gungans are sitting around in the separate-but-equal underwater homes, blaming everything on whitey.

The Naboo we meet in the movie are beautiful, peaceful, smart, and dignified. Here are the four Gungans with speaking parts:

Jar Jar Binks
    Aside from noting that he's arguably the most hated fictional character of all time, with Barney at a distant second, I don't think I need to say much about the big Double-J.
Boss Nass
    By far the most paranoid and bigoted Gungan in the movie. He sends every Gungan into battle (except himself) simply because the Queen of the Naboo vaguely implies that she doesn't think she's smarter than the Gungans. But not before he spits all over himself.
    Also note that he is given the title Boss, not a dignified royal title like humanoid characters get. (Lucas tries to have his cake and eat it too by making Amidala an elected(!) queen.)
Captain Tarpals
    He comes close to being a old, respectable Gungan warrior, except that he says doo-doo not once, but twice.
The one who says "Theysa comin!"
    Sadly, the Gungan who has only one line seems to be the smartest Gungan by default.

So basically, Lucas is saying in own his roundabout way, that minorities should stop being so stupid and paranoid and help us kindly white folk in our ivory tower whenever we ask. This wouldn't bother me so much, except that Lucas has gone out of his way to teach us a trite lesson of tolerance and equality, going so far as introducing something as lame as midi-chlorians, and he's in fact supporting the exact opposite view! Maybe Lucas has made some sort of genius Starship Troopers-esque meditation on the hypocrisy of the civil rights movement, but I sincerely doubt it.

Oh yeah, and that movie sucks besides.

Posted by Will at January 19, 2005 8:40 PM


first of all, it's "Eat your cake and have it too" - you can have cake and eat it, no sweat, but it's nearly impossible to eat cake and still have it. well, for about 36 hours anyway, depending on your metabolism.

secondly, my Harlem Rennaissance professor at Vassar, Mr. Moore, swore up and down that the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi were racist. He also said that Gremlins were racist ("bug-eyed and cute until you give em something to drink and then they overrun the town") as well as E.T. ("tell me that ain't a 'brother moves in next door and there goes the neighborhood' movie?").

the only thing that Lucas is of higher ground to orate upon is being a complete and utter fuckface. outside of that, I can safely assert that I will never, ever see episodes II or III.

Posted by: grosz at January 21, 2005 5:03 AM

First, the idea of the cake phrase is that the two are mutually exclusive, and the order you say the two states of the cake in doesn't actually matter. I'll point you to this ( http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hav2.htm ), which says that both versions are common and acceptable.

Second, yes, I imagine that any movie's themes can be twisted into racists ones from a certain standpoint, but The Phantom Menace irks me particurlarly because it attempts to deliver an anti-racism message and does the exact opposite.

I doubt you'll miss much by not seeing episodes two and three.

Posted by: Will at January 21, 2005 4:39 PM

David Brin's take on Star Wars fascism:


Posted by: Sumana at January 21, 2005 7:32 PM

honestly, will - i never thought that you would acknowledge the "regular and acceptable." just becuase people accept it, don't make it right. if need be, please see the phrase "nu-kew-lar"

any chance Lucas will direct an Amos N' Andy compilation?

Posted by: grosz at January 22, 2005 6:50 AM

Whatever man, I was right, so deal with it. Don't nitpick a nitpicker.

That Salon article is good, I read it a while ago. It's definitely better researched and thought out than this one. But I talked about Barney and said doo-doo.

Posted by: Will at January 22, 2005 6:57 AM

The reason Lucas' racism is so jarring is because it isn't even self-aware. He seems to think he's telling cute parables about tolerance, without even noticing that his image of a cuddly second race is a subhuman sterotype. He probably thinks it's a great civil rights message. That's offensive on a level that 'Triumph of the Will' could hardly stoop to.

Posted by: Dan at January 22, 2005 7:29 AM

And let's not even get started on the Trade Federation, who are shifty, with weird eyes, speak in thick asian accents (my favorite line being "herro plincess") and are dressed directly out of the Last Emperor. Not to mention that they're weak.

I read an interview with Lucas where he was saying that with the various races they were simply borrowing ideas from real cultures. Yeah? Bullshit. If you borrow all of your ideas from one culture (like, for example, China in this case) I don't think you're really doing a great job of basing the races on a pastiche of various historical peoples.

Ugh. I hate those movies.

Posted by: isaac at March 5, 2005 1:52 PM

To be honest, the Nemoidians don't really bother me other than the fact that they're lame and their mouths don't move right when they talk. (Their accent is supposed to be Transylvanian or something, so I'm told.) Watto, the Arab or Jew stereotype, take your pick, doesn't kill me either. If you want to have some racist stereotypes in a movie, it's no skin off my nose, just don't use them to illustrate a point about tolerance.

Posted by: Will at March 5, 2005 10:52 PM

You make some interesting points, but they would be more credible if you spelled words correctly and used proper grammar.

Posted by: Not George Lucas at August 2, 2007 2:22 PM

You make some interesting points, but they would be more credible if you spelled words correctly and used proper grammar.

Posted by: Not George Lucas at August 2, 2007 2:22 PM

Your point about proper grammar would be more credible if you didn't double click the post button like an idiot.

Posted by: Will at August 2, 2007 2:27 PM

I imagine that when Mr lucas dies it will come out that he was a fanatical discursive racist much like Mr Disney.

Posted by: Jay at December 23, 2007 2:11 PM

Episode 6
George decided to put the required Chinese and the required black character into the script.
Comically they lasted as long as it takes to say "she's gona blow" and "I'm hit" THERE's equal oportunity at work! The funny thing is I think it was the right thing to do. DID THE BLACKS OR THE CHINESE INVENT THE TECHNIQUES OF ILM OR LUCAS FILMS....NO WHITE PEOPLE DID> So quit your whining! White people rule cuz we have more to offer.

Posted by: jedi at February 24, 2008 6:58 PM

Thanks for the racist comment. You can read my response here:


Posted by: Will at February 25, 2008 1:50 AM