In a sure sign of the current cultural moment, I have recently found myself imaging the federal election as if it’s part of some grand Star Wars story.
In a casting decision so easy that it’s almost clichéd, this story features Stephen Harper as a dark Sith lord, ala Darth Vader. Meanwhile, both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau slide easily into roles as crusaders of the light side. But neither is a straight up hero. Their characters are complicated and they’re burdened by the constant temptation of the dark side. They’re kind of like Anakin Skywalker (in case you need a refresher, Anakin was a powerful Jedi before he was lured to the dark side, became Darth Vader, betrayed his former friends and allies, and helped impose totalitarian rule. He was also Luke Skywalker’s father.)
Chewie, I’m home too
In case it isn’t clear, I have definitely felt the awakening. The Disney/Lucasfilm hype machine has worked its Jedi mind trick magic and pulled me back to the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars has been a part of my life seemingly forever. Seeing the original movie in 1977 when I was 4-years-old blew my little formative mind and turned me into a diehard Star Wars follower. But like it was for many of my generation, my devotion was harder to maintain in the face of the Special Editions and the prequels. So once I was done squirming through the obligatory viewing of Revenge of the Sith in 2005, I shunned the galaxy far, far away altogether.
But with the franchise’s reboot firmly underway, I find myself consuming the new books, cartoons and comics that are being pumped out in advance of December’s release of The Force Awakens. I’ve even given all three prequels a second viewing, and while the acting, directing and writing are all still wooden, watching Episodes I through III didn’t trigger an existential crisis this time. As a result I was better able to appreciate some of the underlying themes George Lucas was trying to weave into his saga:
- The line that distinguishes heroes from villains is razor thin and people fall from one side to the other all the time – and sometimes even back again.
- Even our biggest heroes are fallible and sometimes blinded by their egos and emotions.
- The democratic republic that our beloved rebel heroes worked so diligently to restore in the original trilogy was an incredibly flawed institution. And it wasn’t overthrown by the Empire – it transformed into the Empire during the reign of an intelligent and devious –but democratically elected- leader. And so when we check in again in Episode VII, it’s likely that whatever democracy the rebels were able to put in place after the Empire fell will also turn out to have been incredibly flawed and fragile.
A long time ago …
…in the year 2005, a disgraced Liberal Empire clung to power after being caught out manipulating Canada’s democracy to serve its own purposes (see: sponsorship scandal.) Its leaders were now villains when only 12 years before they had been heroes, rescuing the dominion from the grip of the hated Progressive Conservatives. But now it was clear to many that the Liberals had themselves been corrupted by the dark side and its thirst for power
Having already brought together the Reform/Alliance party with what remained of the PCs into a band of plucky rebels, Stephen Harper seized the moment. With a helping hand from the NDP, his party toppled the already teetering minority government in a non-confidence-vote.
In the ensuing election, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives pledged to repair the Liberal-inflicted damage to Canada’s democracy and “replace a culture of entitlement and corruption with a culture of accountability. We need to replace benefits for a privileged few with government for all.”
It was a winning message that convinced Canadian voters to give him the reins, and he has spent the last nine years strengthening his grip on them. In the process he has been revealed as arguably the fiercest and most skilled disciple of the dark side that Parliament Hill has ever seen, even if he isn’t wearing Darth Vader’s tell-tale armour and respirator.
A man who once said that “information is the lifeblood of a democracy” has clamped down on the flow of information out of his government to an unprecedented and incredibly managed trickle. Harper’s government has spent millions on self-serving ads, muzzled scientists, subverted access to information laws, destroyed data, impeded the press’s ability to do its job, and betrayed many of the allies and supporters who helped it seize power.
Like the sponsorship scandal before it, the Duffy trial has given us an amazing glimpse of the culture and values this Prime Minister has fostered.
And so it seems like we might once again be on the threshold of another Return of the Jedi-like day of reckoning. Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are certainly battling it out for the right to don the hero mantle and guide Canada’s government back to the light side – though there is a chance voters could force them to team up, which would give the next episode of this saga a very interesting plot twist.
And make no mistake. No matter what happens on October 19th, this saga will continue. Regardless of what the next Prime Minister intends to do when they take office, they will soon be faced with the temptations of the dark side and its promise of untold power. Democracy will always be fragile.
Of course, there is also the possibility that I’ve completely misjudged what I’m watching. A new poll puts Harper and the Conservatives within striking distance of another majority government. So this chapter might still turn out to be less Return of the Jedi and more Empire Strikes Back, though it’s also likely to have some twists we’ve never seen before.