Happy Star Wars Day: May the 4th Be With You

May the force be with you.

(“And also with you…” No? Ok, moving on.)

Today marks the annual celebration of Star Wars. Conveniently, it is held every year on May 4th, spurring fans and superfans alike to greet each other with “May the Fourth be with you” in a nod to the classic movie line.

But beyond the excitement of lightsabers and fictional characters from galaxies far, far away, Star Wars teaches us helpful government lessons. According to Cass Sunstein, author of The World According to Star Wars, there are many parallels between George Lucas’s intergalactic fantasy and today’s world. From governance decisions about constitutional law to economics and political uprisings, Star Wars reveals a great deal that the U.S. government can learn from, argues Sunstein.

I do not agree with Mr. Sunstein on most things, but there were a couple interesting connections he made between Star Wars and the real-world.

There’s a point here about the political message of the movie where freedom of choice in individual life, which even the Sith respect, is mirrored by the plea for republican self-government as against the authoritarian Emperor. So if there’s one theme that belongs in the “Star Wars” pantheon with fatherhood and redemption, it is freedom of choice. That’s the Holy Trinity of the films.

George Lucas used his sci-fi saga to make a series of claims about freedom and remind us of its importance. Freedom as it relates to law and also as it relates to politics. (I think Mr. Lucas was inspired by one of the greatest economists of the 20th century, Milton Friedman. Free to Choose, anyone?)

But Star Wars also focuses on freedom in individual lives. Two of the main characters, Luke and Anakin, both face the same challenges and must decide how to respond while weighing the consequences of those decisions. There’s always a choice, and we see the results of the two paths chosen.

Sunstein’s comment above about republican self-government is also worth expanding on. Star Wars clearly distinguishes a Republic from an Empire. The Republic is better at providing justice and providing freedom of thought and speech. The Empire represents an oppressive dictatorship. While the Republic was not a perfect form of government, it was better than most forms of government we find today in the real world. It is worth noting the U.S. is a republic.

Whether or not these lessons matter to you, Star Wars will live on as one of the greatest sci-fi movie series.

I think I know what I’m watching this weekend.