Thirty years ago today, Biggs Darklighter articulated perhaps the most uncompromisingly libertarian critique a government has faced on film.
At this point, some of our less-nerdy readers are wondering who the heck Biggs Darklighter is. A minor character in Star Wars, which first hit theaters on May 25, 1977, Biggs, played by Garrick Hagon, is better known as Red Three, a pilot who perishes during the assault on the Death Star.
Luke Skywalker’s closest friend from his home planet of Tatooine, Biggs makes his eloquently anti-statist critique of the Galactic Empire in a scene that only appeared in a handful of prints that were released to some drive-in theaters. The so-called Anchorhead sequence, named for the town where Luke goes to hang out with his friends, was deleted from the film to improve the flow of the story. Rather than detour into Luke’s social life, the final cut follows the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. The droids’ path serves to efficiently introduce each of the main characters: They start on the spaceship where we meet Princess Leia and Darth Vader, then escape to the desert planet, where they run into Luke, then Obi-Wan Kenobi, and later Han Solo. But while the deletion of the Anchorhead sequence makes for a better film, it unfortunately means that an important part of Star Wars‘ political content was left on the cutting room floor.
While everyone knows that the Empire is undemocratic — Grand Moff Tarkin announces the dissolution of the Senate near the beginning of the movie, happily announcing that “the last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away” — few realize that it is also anti-capitalist. Biggs, who has been trained as a pilot at an Imperial Academy, confides in Luke about his plan to desert. “I made some friends at the Academy,” says Biggs, his voice dropping to a whisper. “When our frigate goes to one of the central systems, we’re going to jump ship and join the Alliance.” The Rebellion, Biggs says, is “the side I believe in.”
Luke is both astounded — he doubts that Biggs can even make his planned rendezvous with the Rebels — and jealous. As we all know from his incessant whining in the scenes that did make the final cut, Luke is unhappy to be stuck on Tatooine. But he tells Biggs that he can’t leave; his uncle needs him for the harvest. This is where Biggs warns that the galaxy is on the road to serfdom:
What good’s all your uncle’s work if the Empire takes it over? You know they’ve already started to nationalize commerce in the central systems? It won’t be long before your uncle is just a tenant, slaving for the greater glory of the Empire.
In his characterization of Imperial economic policy, George Lucas was most likely thinking of National Socialism; few viewers miss the resemblance between Imperial and Nazi uniforms. But the flat assertion of the fundamental injustice of nationalization is striking when one considers the state of global politics in 1977. Not only was half the world under the yoke of Communism, nationalization was a perfectly respectable policy even in the West. U.S. railroads were nationalized in 1970. Between 1975 and 1977, Britain nationalized much of its automobile, aircraft, and shipbuilding industries; British Steel had been nationalized in 1967. One wonders if a different cut of Star Wars would have become a rallying cry for Thatcherites.
In Kevin Smith’s Clerks, the lead characters discuss the morality of the assault of the unfinished second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. One character, arguing that independent contractors were unjustly killed in the attack, equates the Rebel Alliance to “left-wing militants.” But if the Anchorhead sequence is taken as canonical (there’s disagreement among fans on this point), it’s hard to cast the Alliance as a leftist movement in any conventional sense. The Rebellion, in fact, is a radically libertarian undertaking. Thirty years after Star Wars captured the world’s imagination, it’s past time that the Rebels’ fight for economic liberty was celebrated in those terms.