Next Launch:

The War in Star Wars

Star Wars,Books,Wars
Chelsea Tatham Zukowski
Ian Crane
James Stuart
Tristan Dubin
December 20, 202210:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)

Star Wars has been, and always will be, deeply political. It’s also inspired by and rooted in history.

That’s the thesis of historian Chris Kempshall’s newest book, The History and Politics of Star Wars: Death Stars and Democracy— all the ways our own history, wars, and politics have been reflected in a 45-year-old space opera. And, how those historical and political ideas and events inspired the galaxy far, far away.

“What I’m hoping it’s going to give to Star Wars fans…is that understanding and that acceptance…that Star Wars has always been historical; Star Wars has always been politics, and it’s fine,” Kempshall said. “People can disagree on the history or politics or the analysis. But the fact remains: Star Wars is trying to transmit something to us.”

Kempshall’s book examines the cultural and political influences that made it into nearly every piece of Star Wars media from 1977 to 2022’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series. That includes hundreds of books both new canon and Legends, video games, nine movies, and several live-action and animated television shows.

Though Kempshall’s book was published right before the release of Andor, the UK-based historian — and many other social scientists and history buffs alike — have been enthralled with the series’ bold statements on fascism, authoritarianism, over-policing, the prison industrial complex, and the high cost of rebellion.

There's no such thing as an apolitical war.

It’s widely known that Lucas was inspired and influenced by the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa and the adventures of space cowboy Buck Rogers in crafting the space opera-western-samurai-fairy tale that is Star Wars. But Lucas’s feelings about real-world issues of the 1960s and 70s, especially the Vietnam War, were also reflected heavily in his entertainment work.


“Partly this book, in 100,000 words, is saying: Star Wars has always been political; George Lucas has never hidden this,” Kempshall said. “But also, why wouldn’t it be political? There’s no such thing as an apolitical war.”

In a broad sense, the Lucas-crafted original trilogy and prequel films explored and reflected his own ideas about empire, rebellion, and the causes of effects of collapsing democracies. It’s not hard to see the real-world ideas and events reflected in Star Wars.

As Lucas has said in countless interviews, many of which are referenced in Kempshall’s book, “the films were always political.” The veritable Maker of Star Wars emphasized the saga’s elaborate cultural and political context in which it rests, and that it’s up to the audience to notice and understand these inspirations.

But Lucas wasn’t the only Star Wars story creator explicit in their fusion of real-world politics with space politics. Kempshall said one of the surprising things he found in his work for the book was just how pronounced those inspirations and influences were.


He cites Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson, published in 1995 — four years after the end of the decades-long Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.


“I wondered if this is a book about nuclear proliferation because it’s like Death Star tech has gone out to this criminal gang of Hutts and they’re making their own mini Death Star. It feels like nuclear weapons,” Kempshall said. “And then I found this interview with him and he’s super annoyed that everyone doesn’t realize (the book) is about nuclear weapons.”

Fans like Kempshall have also praised Star Wars books like Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron trilogy for infusing classic Expanded Universe elements into the post-Disney new canon stories – including bold messages about real-world history and politics.

“(The trilogy) is a bleak, depressing view of warfare and it is fascinating,” he said. “And I believe at the end of the first book, the droid in it gives the most cutting critique of Palpatine as being just a petty, vengeful, cruel, miserable man, and reading that (thinking), you are clearly talking about Adolf Hitler.”

In the book’s penultimate chapter, a reprogrammed Imperial torture droid, who’s now an unlikely therapist for the ragtag squadron of wartorn soldiers, debunks the long-held myth that Emperor Palpatine was “a man of secret brilliance and foresight.”

The droid says Palpatine ordered the genocidal Operation Cinder and built two Death Stars, and “oversaw countless genocides and massacres and created an Empire where torture droids were in common use.”

The root of Palpatine’s behavior and power is that he was cruel and spiteful, “in the most ordinary of ways.”

It’s a simple yet brutal takedown of a man who ruled the galaxy for two decades. And it can be a tough pill to swallow for “true believers” of the emperor – and in the real world, propaganda-wielding fascists like Hitler and their followers.

“It is a perfect description of a fascist dictator. It’s a beautiful, really impressive, in-depth, well-conceived criticism of fascism, dressed within the Star Wars universe,” Kempshall said. “And to quote Grand Admiral Thrawn, it’s just so artfully done.”

Andor and the making of revolution

Then there’s Andor, which premiered its first episodes weeks after The History and Politics of Star Wars was published. 

While Kempshall said Andor “would’ve been ripe for going in” the book, he agrees that any analysis of the real-world historical and political influences in the show could fill an entirely separate book.


The series is a character study of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in the years before he dies for the cause alongside Jyn Erso moments after transmitting the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. It’s also a sweeping and poignant exploration of the makings of revolution — told via a spy thriller set in space.

Through its 12-episode first season, Andor has tackled concepts like the moral grayness of the rebellion spectrum and the depth of tyranny for the sake of order. It’s also narrowed its scope to touch on the psychology of fascism and authoritarian regimes, class division, and prison labor systems.

“...this is about oppression. This is about colonialism. This is the abuse of power. This is about revolution. It’s been happening from the time that people first started gathering together in a town square,” Andor showrunner Tony Gilroy said in an interview with .

In the same interview, Gilroy said he was inspired by reading nonfiction histories, in particular a book titled Young Stalin. While episode 10’s prison break wasn’t directly inspired by Joseph Stalin’s early life, Gilroy points to a rebellion-funding bank robbery in 1907 led by the Soviet leader.

“If you look at a picture of Young Stalin, isn’t he glamorous? He looks like Diego! We’re not doing [the] Stalin show. But, it’s fascinating. All through every revolution, it’s the same thing. It takes coin,” Gilroy said.

Andor is not your typical Star Wars story – leaning more into dystopian science fiction even as it dives deeper into classic space opera themes of good guys vs. bad. Still, because of its affecting statements mirroring real-world history and politics, it’s been lauded by critics and fans as one of the freshest, darkest, and most intriguing pieces of Star Wars storytelling we’ve seen so far.

“In the case of Andor, you have a show that is committed not just to showcasing the internal politics of the Star Wars universe but also to fairly overtly indicating where it is drawing on our history as well,” Kempshall said. “This willingness to use one to inform the other is a perfect example of how Star Wars and the real world reflect onto each other. I just wish it had been out in time for me to include it in the book!’

Star Wars, though set in space, doesn’t exist in a vacuum

The contextualized examples in Kempshall’s book seem endless – from clear references to the Cold War and the War on Terror in the Expanded Universe books of the 1990s and early 2000s, to current issues of diversity and political polarization reflected in The High Republic.

“Stuff that’s happening right now in the world is still making its way into Star Wars,” Kempshall said. “You can definitely see elements of Star Wars reacting to things like the presidency of Donald Trump in more recent things.”

One theme seen throughout all of Star Wars is the idea of “forever wars” and conflicts that span multiple generations – coupled with the traumatic cost of waging those wars paid by everyone from soldiers and generals to their children and civilians.

In his book, Kempshall explores how Finn and Rose Tico of the sequel trilogy of films embody the children of war trope. Finn, formerly a stormtrooper, defects from the First Order after being traumatised in battle. And Rose witnessed the shelling of her community at an impoverished outpost, which pushed her to join the Resistance with her sister.

Explored further is the parallels between decades-long conflicts in Star Wars and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the Star Wars sequel trilogy, many of the soldiers and leaders of the Resistance fought in the Galactic Civil War or had parents or even grandparents in it. 

In our own world, the 20-year war in Afghanistan, which ended in 2021, also saw the children of soldiers take up the same fight as their parents. And at the same time, the changing cultural and political landscape in the United States before and after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“But going back to the stuff on the War on Terror – just before September 11th and after – how quickly and in different ways Star Wars began reacting to that,” Kempshall said. “The very explicit ways it gets dragged into the Star Wars universe. You end up with the equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security…in some of the Star Wars books.”

“The ideas of secret police and racial profiling and extraordinary rendition; enhanced interrogation and torture. It doesn’t take very long at all for some of that stuff to start appearing in the books.”

Then there’s the goosebumps-inducing Citizens Fleet – tens of thousands of civilian ships led by Lando Calrissian in the final assault on the reanimated emperor’s Sith Eternal on Exegol in The Rise of Skywalker.

Alongside decorated but war-weary fighters are thousands of volunteers and “just…people,” as one First Order officer says in the film.

“The Citizen’s Fleet which wins the war is composed of ordinary people who took the final step to ensure their own freedom,” Kempshall wrote. “In that sense it holds contemporary resonance as a rallying cry against modern authoritarianism but also harkens back to both Vietnam and the American Revolution.”

Kempshall also noted the depiction of Tusken Raiders in The Book of Boba Fett, which premiered at the end of 2021 and ran through the early months of 2022.

“They spend several episodes basically depicting Tusken Raiders as Indigenous people having their land rights and resources stolen by foreign settlers,” he said. 

The Book of Boba Fett was as much entertaining fan service as it was a reintroduction and rebirth of the quiet, badass bounty hunter and the Tusken Raiders formerly known as “Sand People.” It reflected the ramifications of a life filled with violence and trauma and touched on Boba’s legacy as the son/exact clone of his father.

The stories of the Tusken Raiders were also a clear nod to movements and efforts to return land, artifacts, art, and other cultural pieces back to Indigenous peoples around the world.

“This is pure, modern understanding of Indigenous rights and struggles happening at the moment in America and elsewhere around the world,” Kempshall said.

Maybe we need Star Wars more than ever

Kempshall’s book, particularly the last chapter, also explores the many ways current and ongoing Star Wars projects have put a mirror to our own world’s issues of systemic racism, misogyny, and homophobia. 

“If your starting point is, Star Wars uses real-world history and politics for its own purposes, then the natural conclusion is that the real world does exactly the same thing,” he said. “It reflects in both directions. And you see that on Twitter and other places on the internet that have ongoing culture wars; that utilize Star Wars as a battleground.”

“The idea of who’s being represented and who isn’t. Star Wars becomes something to fight over or to debate over. They’re doing it quite overtly for various political reasons whether it be left or right.”

“So, Star Wars itself doesn’t exist in a vacuum from the real world-politics that it’s trying to draw from.”

Two stark examples of that reflection in both directions is the Aftermath trilogy of novels and The High Republic era of books and comics.


As our own society continues to become increasingly more diverse, so too has our culture reflected that diversity and inclusion. Though far from perfect, Disney and Star Wars’ efforts to reflect the myriad ethnicities, genders, and sexuality of humans can be lauded as well as criticized.

“Because it doesn’t always do it well; there are issues with how Star Wars digs into real world politics and history,” Kempshall said. “Some of the portrayals of aliens and women and people of color are not…universally brilliant. And that can be critiqued as well as anything else can.”

Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath books were not the first Star Wars stories to include more diversity, but the writing of them and their publication came during a contentious moment in American political and cultural history – the election of Donald Trump as president and the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacist ideals, especially in open internet spaces.


“Something I tell my students…the date that something is created can sometimes be more important than what that thing actually says,” Kempshall said. “The person who created it is going to be influenced by the world around them.”

The Aftermath trilogy is a transition point both within the Star Wars universe and without – the pivot from the fascistic Empire to the First Order and the Darth Vader-idolizing Kylo Ren. But when Wendig, and in turn the creators of the sequel films, included people of color and LGBTQ+ characters in these new Star Wars stories, the “fandom menace” took aim.

But Wendig fired back on Twitter and in his blog, In an August 2017 post following the release of Empire’s End, Wendig wrote:

“I think about Rey and Finn and Cassian and Jyn and Poe, I think about Sinjir and Conder and Rae and Eleodie, and I think about how white guys (like, well, me) are no longer finding pop culture to be as perfect a mirror for them as it used to be…

After so long of having not to share, we’re being made to share. That excites some people. And it enrages others. Because children don’t always like to share. We no longer have the mirror to ourselves. We no longer have toys that are ours and ours alone…

To some, that’s amazing. The chance to widen the doorway, to see more than just yourself in the glass. Others hear that and they just want to break the mirror.

If they can’t have it all to themselves, then nobody can have it.

That’s the Empire.

That’s the First Order.

Maybe we’re living just a little bit of Aftermath right here, right now.

And maybe we need Star Wars more than ever.”

More recently, The High Republic publishing campaign has become a veritable safe space for authors and creators to further explore the galaxy far, far away from the original, established canon. Set some 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menace, The High Republic is dubbed a Golden Age of the Jedi Order and the Republic.

Kempshall writes that the pages of The High Republic books and comics is where we’ll continue to find explorations and reflections of the current world. Since its launch nearly two years ago, The High Republic has provided more ideal and authentic portrayals of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community as well as veered away having all the heroes be white and human.


The High Republic has also provided a space to reflect and examine current issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and the evolving nature of conflict. In Light of the Jedi, a hyperspace disaster shut down large swaths of intergalactic travel, stranding millions on their homeworlds or elsewhere.

At the time the book debuted, January 2021, we were nearly a year into a pandemic that shutdown travel worldwide. 

The Rising Storm and The Fallen Star adult books also depicted what were essentially large-scale terrorist attacks on the Republic Fair and then on Starlight Beacon – which was a space station and safe haven for travelers as well as a symbol for intergalactic relations.

Parts of these attacks were broadcast live to the entire galaxy. 

And as Kempshall writes, “both of these chime not just with existing memories of 9/11 and the ability to watch terrorism play out in real-time, but also with more recent examples – such as the attacks across Paris in 2015 – that moved conceptions of terrorism away from grand scale events…to something that can spread across a city leaving death and destruction in its wake while simultaneously being trackable on both television and social media.”

No matter what’s being reflected, mirrored, or explored in a piece of popular culture or entertainment, the creation of art is a psychological and political act. That’s what art, culture, and entertainment is – franchises like Star Wars, films, television shows, books, and the like are trying to tell us something; trying to send a message about human nature and society.

“Anything that is created is trying to tell us something, and it’s fine to just accept that not everything is trying to exist in some kind of vanilla beige vacuum bubble,” Kempshall said. “When Star Wars is talking to us, what is it trying to say? When Star Wars speaks, when it draws on examples when it tries to point us at things, there’s a reason for it.”

Chelsea Tatham Zukowski
Ian Crane
James Stuart
Tristan Dubin
December 20, 202210:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)