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#MayTheFourth: ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Affair’ as Parable for Propaganda and Alt-Right University Clashes in a Trumpian America

In the year and a half since Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States (and even prior, during his presidential campaign), fascism and racism under a variety of monikers (alt-right, neo-Nazism, neo-fascism, white supremacy, and so on) have become emboldened in America. While politicians and news agencies have either been slow or negligent in their response to this crisis, pop culture has taken up the mantle to criticize the Trump administration and the ensuing rise of the extreme right wing, from Saturday Night Live skits to promotional materials for a Purge prequel to comedians at correspondence dinners.

The Star Wars franchise (films, television, comics, games, and all other media) has always had a strong, anti-fascist message, and the current batch of films follow this trend, as well, by commenting on contemporary anxieties. Writing for The Mary Sue, Marykate Jasper points out that Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, J. J. Abrams) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson) is an “alt-right manbaby” and discusses at length the similarities between him and folks who identify as alt-right.  In an article for The Daily Beast discussing the umbrage alt-righters took to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards), Marlow Stern points out that, “Felicity Jones as the leader of a group of multicultural Rebel righters tasked with stealing the blueprints to the Empire’s planet-destroying super weapon, the Death Star, is far from the first film in the series with an anti-Nazi message.”

While the new media is doing a succinct job at commenting on the current political landscape, there’s a past text in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now rebranded as Star Wars Legends and considered non-canon) that can be incorporated into the dialogue, as well: the comic series X-Wing Rogue Squadron: The Phantom Affair. Published by Dark Horse Comics back in the first half of 1996, the events of the comic series are definitely applicable to today’s climate, specifically those involving the conflicts caused by the alt-right presence on college campuses, which can be appropriated as such for commentary or critique.

The Phantom Affair begins with Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron escorting a Republic Alliance convoy to Mrlsst, a planet with a large academic campus. Antilles is also on a mission to bid on a new technology from Mrlsst: the Phantom Ship, a small cloaking device that requires little energy. Erstwhile, the other pilots of Rogue Squadron happen upon a demonstration given by the AEA, the Ante-Endor Association, a group of students who claim that the Battle of Endor never happened. Tycho Celchu confronts the AEA, gets into a skirmish with them, but is saved when a ghost Jedi intervenes. For Antilles, it turns out he must bid for the Phantom Ship against the Empire, represented by Loka Hask, an Imperial officer who is responsible for the death of Antilles’ parents. Under the orders of Hask, the members of the AEA steal the data cards for the Phantom Ship and frame Celchu. It is soon revealed that the Phantom Ship project is non-existent and was instead a Republic Alliance ploy to milk the Empire for funds. Hask orders his TIE Bomber squadron to incinerate the Mrlsst academy, but they are repelled by Rogue Squadron. Hask is vanquished when another top-secret weapon, a gravity beam, is activated, crushing his Star Destroyer.

With the rise of the alt-right, university campuses have become one of their primary targets. In a Washington Post article discussing this, Joe Helm writes:

They became the primary battlegrounds for far-right groups that sought out the schools for organized rallies and speeches and made them the focus of recruiting efforts. For 2018, the goal of these groups is to expand their reach on campuses, force showdowns over free speech, generate more publicity, and win over more adherents.

The Ante-Endor Association’s activities on Mrlsst certainly echo some of these objectives, in particular the spreading of propaganda and false information under the guise of free speech. The AEA themselves are presented in fascist fashion, with golden armbands adorned with their symbol: the Imperial crest with a Death Star over it. Their black outfits make them appear similar to Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s.

AEA and Mosley e0a

The AEA not only claim that the Battle of Endor never happened, but also spread falsehoods that it was the Rebels who, in fact, destroyed Alderaan. According to the speech given by the unnamed AEA spokesperson:

  “So what is this ridiculous piece of data saying? It says that the Rebels, a mere handful of them, destroyed the second Death Star! It says that they killed the Emperor, and that they had a Jedi on their side! How stupid do they think we are?! Any sentient wouldn’t swallow that the ultimate in Imperial technology could be destroyed by the same bunch that had blown up Alderaan trying to invent some weapon to match the original Death Star!”

The AEA appear to elude being confronted with their message (Celchu being the exception) and fully exploit the limitations of free speech. According to Mirax Terrik (a trader and childhood friend to Antilles) when prompted by Celchu about the AEA’s nonsense: “I’m afraid we can’t do anything, Tycho! That’s democracy in action – Mrlssi pride themselves on the freedom of speech, no matter who speaks!” The AEA efforts at spreading disinformation appear to work; they obviously drum up attention to their activities (The crowd outside their gathering appears large enough.), and they even have students questioning the possibility of Endor happening. During a scene where Rogue Squadron visits Wes Janson recovering in a hospital, a researcher visits the pilots, questioning them if they truly have been to Endor. They assure them they had, and filled with guilt, the researcher takes off.

While the AEA has many similarities to the alt-right, there are, surprisingly, a few differences. The AEA appears to be made up of quite a few non-human members. This is in stark contrast to the Galactic Empire which is portrayed in the films as white humans. In this regard, the AEA can be seen less racist when compared to the Empire they revere so much (but still just as fascist); however, in the final issue of The Phantom Affair, after Hask has ordered the TIE Bombers to bomb the campus, members of the AEA can been seen combating the flames with their other students. Whether they have a complete change of heart or ideology isn’t resolved in the issue, but hope for change is still presented. It’s an optimistic note, and a greatly needed one in this day and age of fake news, propaganda, and fascism.


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