Stanford PhD Student: ‘Star Wars’ Music Is Racist

Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm Ltd., 1980)
Lucasfilm/IMDB

In a recent column for the Washington Post, Stanford Ph.D. student Jeffrey Chen made the case that the Star Wars franchise “reinforces our prejudices” through its soundtrack.

Stanford doctoral student Jeffrey Chen published a column in the Washington Post to make the case that the Star Wars film franchise is racist.

“[I]f we take a moment to think about it, George Lucas’s galaxy is, and has always been, far, far away from being an original or an inclusive creation,” Chen writes in the column. It suffers from “Orientalizing” stereotypes — “patronizing tropes that represent an imagined East, or the Orient, as inferior to the rational, heroic West.”

It’s not just the film that is problematic, according to Chen. The doctoral student argues that the main problem with the franchise is John Williams’ celebrated score. Chen claims that the score takes European influences when the protagonists are on screen and Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences when antagonists are on screen.

Even those who have noted these prejudices could be excused for not noticing the presence of such tropes in another key element of every Star Wars film: John Williams’s iconic musical score. Williams’s music associates the ‘good guys’ with the grand orchestral style of the European Romantics (think of the beautifully hummable melodies for Luke, Leia and Rey), while the themes for the ‘bad guys’ are expressed in the vocabulary of Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern music.

Readers of the Washington Post column were quick to ridicule Chen’s tedious take. This is one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read,” one commenter wrote.  “Wow, I just go to the movies to have a good time. All this over analyzing isn’t good for you,” another commenter wrote.

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