Urban expert says Star Wars proves George Lucas thinks cities suck

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

We've all seen the original Star Wars trilogy enough times by now to accept any number of interpretations of it, from its religious themes to its well-trafficked mythic concepts. But here's one we haven't heard before: The original trilogy clearly demonstrates that George Lucas thinks "cities are evil."

"George Lucas hates cities," declares Tim De Chant, a journalist and urbanization expert who runs the urban issues blog Per Square Mile. De Chant claims to be quite a fan of the original trilogy, and after watching it the requisite hundreds of times, he started to see patterns in the way Lucas depicts urban and rural landscapes in the universe.

"The Star Wars movies are famous for hewing to archetypal stories—hero sets out to save galaxy from evil warlords, hero confronts his (familial) past, hero grapples with his role as a savior," De Chant said. "And the movies' portrayal of urban agglomerations is similarly archetypal, drawing on a long tradition of damning the city while praising the countryside."

De Chant walks us through the whole trilogy and how it paints cities. First, there's Luke Skywalker, the quintessential farm boy, who has a nasty experience in the city of Mos Eisley, which Obi-Wan Kenobi pre-emptively labels "a wretched hive of scum and villainy." From there, things move to the Death Star, which is essentially just a city in space, and a universal symbol of evil.

"The moon-sized space station is the city at its most extreme. The Death Star is not just a moon-sized spaceship with a city covering its surface—the whole thing is a city, straight through to the power station at its core," De Chant said. "And until it's destroyed at the end of A New Hope, it is the embodiment of the evil Empire."

De Chant also points out that while the Empire takes for their strongholds things like Death Stars and Super Star Destroyers, the Rebels seek out more isolated spots like the jungle planet of Yavin and the desolate ice world of Hoth, both very anti-urban environments. The metaphor is taken a step further in The Empire Strikes Back, when the gang arrives at the perceived safe haven of Cloud City, only to find betrayal at the hands of Lando Calrissian.

"Granted, Lando later struggles to undo his betrayal by helping Luke, Leia, and Chewbacca escape, but it's too little, too late," De Chant said. "In the bowels of Cloud City, Han is frozen in carbonite and handed over to Boba Fett while Luke battles Vader, losing a hand in the process and discovering the grim truth about his father. Cloud City is like Mos Eisley—you can't leave soon enough."

But wait, what about Coruscant? It's a whole planet made up of city, and Lucas doesn't portray it as a wretched hive of anything. De Chant argues that, since Lucas didn't actually feature it in the original version of the trilogy, it doesn't fit into his argument. But, given that it has a very important role to play in the Star Wars saga, he has some analysis for it anyway.

"Lucas's vision for the first three movies was unsubtle—there's good and there's evil and there's very little overlap between the two," De Chant said. "Even the central characters that are the most conflicted—Han and Lando—end up so unambiguously good that they spearhead the two-pronged attack on the second Death Star. Coruscant doesn't carry the same dichotomous baggage. Its later introduction means it's wreathed in subtleties that are missing in the original movies. But ultimately, it's still depicted as a bad place."

De Chant points out that this kind of contrast between urban and natural environments is nothing new. Writers have been doing it for centuries, and we know Lucas is well-versed in storytelling archetypes, so the argument really does make sense. Or at least, it makes sense until Lucas revises the films yet again to include a new Rebel supercity complete with free ice cream on every corner and universal healthcare.

(via Per Square Mile)

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