Politics in the Mix
One of the most controversial allegories that arose from this film was the (real or imagined) similarity between President George W. Bush's post-9/11 policies and those of the Galactic Empire. This was a big talking point way back in 2005, and we'd be bad Shmoopeople if we didn't throw this debate into the ring.
Even though George Lucas insists that Revenge of the Sith was written long before the events of September 11, 2001, politically minded viewers insist that there are some similarities between Sith ideology and that of Bush's second term in office that are difficult to explain.
But, you know us: we never shy away from symbolism that's difficult to explain. (Check out our module on Moby-Dick if you don't believe us.)
The most striking example, which if it wasn't intended as a political statement is merely a very unfortunate coincidence, was Anakin's line to Obi-Wan Kenobi as they prepare to battle on Mustafar: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy."
In an address to a joint session of Congress that was highly publicized and watched by many only a few days after the attack, President Bush famously stated: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." (Source)
So, you can see how politically minded symbolism hunters would perk up their ears. The two statements are nearly identical in terms of syntax and express the same exact black-and-white viewpoint. Opponents of this comparison argue that they are merely unfortunately similar because they are so simple, and both express a way of thinking that many people share.
If you wanted to take the controversy a tad further (and some people just can't help themselves), there are two more comparisons that people either loved or hated, depending on their political affiliation. (Source)
You may recall that Chancellor Palpatine used the war as an excuse to get the Senate to approve greater powers and extended terms for himself, diminishing civil liberties and paving the way for his ability to declare himself Emperor. Senator Amidala (Padmé) is dismayed, observing:
PADMÉ: So, this is how liberty dies. To thunderous applause.
Well, some critics argue that this is all too familiar to how President Bush sought to strengthen security after 9/11 by urging senators to pass the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that was born amid its own thunderous applause but has long been controversial for infringing on civil liberties. (Source)
War of Diversion
Some also argue that Palpatine's method of misdirection by starting a war to divert attention from his own dastardly plans is too similar to Bush's push to go to war against Iraq based on evidence that has now been largely dismissed. In an article in the Washington Post soon after the movie's release, Dan Froomkin writes:
Revenge of the Sith, it turns out, can also be seen as a cautionary tale for our time—a blistering critique of the war in Iraq, a reminder of how democracies can give up their freedoms too easily, and an admonition about the seduction of good people by absolute power. (Source)
So, what does Lucas have to say about it? The article continues, quoting Lucas as saying:
"I didn't think it was going to get quite this close," he said of the parallels between the Nixon era and the current Bush presidency, which has been sacrificing freedoms in the interests of national security. "It is just one of those re-occurring things. I hope this doesn't come true in our country. Maybe the film will awaken people to the situation of how dangerous it is." (Source)
We're going to lob one more quote at you, from Mr. Sith Lord himself: Ian McDiarmid.
"It's a film that reflects contemporary events, but it is a film. Enjoy the metaphor." (Source)
So, what do you think? Is Revenge of the Sith a scathing satire of not-so-distant politics, or is it a film about tragic supernatural events that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away?