Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Science Fiction and Politics Podcast

I recently came across a podcast that should really appeal to any Poli-Sci Jedi. Courtney Brown, Professor of Political Science at Emory University, has posted lectures from his Science Fiction and Politics class on iTunes. The podcast focuses on science fiction literature, not movies, so unfortunately Star Wars is not represented on the curriculum. Nevertheless, the lectures include classics such as Ender's Game and Foundation.

Definitely worth checking out if you want to see what political scientists get out of science fiction. This is the type of class I'd love to teach one day. Of course, I would include Star Wars, as well as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars Heresies

In addition to Star Wars, I am also a fan of The Lord of the Rings and have been impressed with the high-quality academic discussion of the themes and imagery in Tolkien's legendarium available through The Tolkien Professor podcast and the Mythgard Institute. Part of the reason I created Poli-Sci Jedi was because I felt that the Star Wars saga deserves that same level of critical attention. With a few exceptions (including Star Wars and History), there's a remarkable dearth of literary criticism of the movies.
Anakin as baby Jesus? (Star Wars Heresies)

Paul F. McDonald, librarian and consummate Star Wars fan, took matters into his own hands with his new book, The Star Wars Heresies. The book's mission is to expose the deeper mythological themes embedded within the Prequel Trilogy.

There are of course other books about Star Wars and philosophy (e.g., Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful than You Can Possibly Imagine) and myth (e.g., Star Wars: The Magic of Myth), but The Star Wars Heresies still brings enough new material to the table to make it feel fresh. First, The Star Wars Heresies focuses only on the Prequels. Mentions are made to the Original Trilogy, Clone Wars, and Expended Universe - particularly the recent Darth Plagueis novel - but only to the extent they illustrate a particular point. Given that the Prequels are regarded by some as the black sheep in the Star Wars family, it's easy for authors to zero in on the Original Trilogy, especially the ever-quotable Yoda. Fortunately, by excluding its more popular cousin, McDonald is able to engage in a much closer analysis of the Prequel story.

Second, many other works only point out parallels to Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey" or Buddhism, but McDonald goes beyond those sources. He draws upon impressive range of real-world mythological and religious traditions, including obscure Chinese legends and linguistic translations of the names of key characters (it turns out Qui-Gon Jinn's name foreshadows his role at the end of Revenge of the Sith). The Star Wars Heresies can't be categorized quite so cleanly as about philosophy, religion, mythology, or politics because it draws upon all of these fields.