Exploring US involvement in Afghanistan through Star Wars

Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved. /

Star Wars has always set out to be political. Through the lens of a grand tale set in a galaxy far far away, George Lucas constructs a narrative that at its heart, investigates crises that everyone is familiar with. For example, Lucas incorporates critiques of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War into his story, with the Empire and Republic being reflections of America. Palpatine began life as a politician, one by the name of Richard Nixon.

But Lucas didn’t just keep his focus on a singular event in history. After all, America is involved in conflicts all across the world. Future Star Wars stories began to explore this involvement, and it is something that continues to this day. This exploration focuses on Saw Gerrera’s storyline in Star Wars, can be interpreted to be an exploration of the US involvement in Afghanistan.

Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved. /

Star Wars: The Clone Wars introduces Saw Gerrera and his rebels on Onderon, fighting the Separatist backed government. The Jedi are unwilling to get openly involved, arguing they shouldn’t train terrorists, however, when Anakin points out that they are instead supporting freedom fighters, the Jedi Council sends Anakin, Obi Wan, Ahsoka and Captain Rex to train the Saw. With this training and support, Saw and the Partisans overthrow the Separatists.

This relationship doesn’t last. In Star Wars: The Bad Batch, the Empire orders Saw’s destruction, despite the Republic training him. Labelling him as an insurgent, Tarkin sends Cloneforce 99 to eliminate Saw. Tech exclaims his surprise that the Empire is sending them to attack their own forces and The Bad Batch refuses to kill Saw. Instead the Empire sends Crosshair’s special forces squad to carry out the mission. Crosshair and his team decimate Saw’s camp, and when they find unarmed civilians Crosshair doesn’t hesitate to order their execution. Neither missions got approval from the Imperial Senate.

The Republic’s involvement in training Saw Gerrera and his fights parallels early American involvement in Afghanistan. Prompted by the Soviet invasion in 1979,  CIA funded and equipped the Afghan Mujahideen rebels to fight Soviet forces. Dubbed Operation Cyclone, over the course of the conflict the CIA funnelled between $3 billion and $20 billion through Pakistan to the rebel groups. American Stinger missiles were sent to combat Soviet helicopters, not unlike how rocket launchers bought with Republic funds were funnelled through Hondo to help combat Separatist gunships. The CIA also sent British rifles, similar to how the Republic equipped Saw with Republic weaponry.

The deterioration of the relationship with Saw and the Empire is evocative of the deterioration of the relationship between America and the Mujahideen .Due to the growth in extremism in Afghanistan, American funds and weapons would later be against America. Jalaluddian Haqqani, a close associate of Osama Bin Laden, received millions of dollars, and a third of all supplies the US sent passed directly through his base. Once the US left, Haqqani and his network would play a fundamental role in the formation and growth of Al-Qaeda. Mirroring this, the weaponry and funds the Republic sent the Onderon rebels being used against the Empire, with the majority sent to Saw Gerrera, who would be a prominent figure in forming a wider insurrection against the Empire.

America would later invade Afghanistan, and would conduct night raids using special forces squads. These raids often result in civilian casualties, leading many to question their effectiveness. The raids have limited accountability, further harming their credibility. These circumstances mirror Crosshair’s night raid, which is an operation undertaken to root out what the Empire defines as terrorism, results in high civilian casualties. Neither Crosshair’s mission or The Bad Batch’s received approval from the Imperial Senate, and neither mission was scrutinised afterwards, pointing to a similar lack of accountability.

A final point to consider is Saw’s own relationship to terrorism. As previously discussed, Saw and his Partisans parallel the Afghan rebels of the 1980s, but he also parallels their fate. Radicalisation occurs in both in cases, with the death of Steela being the cause for Saw. When fighting the Empire, Saw frequently turns to extremist tactics. In the book Rebel Rising, Saw and the Partisans have no problem in wiping out a festival, resulting in the deaths of both civilians and Imperials. Both in Rogue One and Star Wars: Rebels, Saw shows a willingness to torture, and in Rebels in particular he shows a disregard for human life and the rules of war.

Saw recruits child soldiers – Jyn was only young when Saw took her, and at 16 she was his best soldier – and his disregard for the rules of war is shown. International human law dictates that militaries must wear uniforms in order to distinguish themselves from civilians. However, when attacking an Imperial convoy in Jedha (in a populated square), Saw and the Partisans don’t wear uniforms, instead hiding among the civilian population. Even the Empire wears a uniform. While these tactics are emblematic of many terrorist groups, Saw’s prior relationship to the Republic and his chosen enemy of the Empire would lead to a natural parallel to Al-Qaeda. This makes more sense when considering the Empire is typically thought of as a criticism of America.

While this exploration isn’t perfect, there is enough to see parallels. Star Wars was originally inspired by the Vietnam conflict, so it makes sense that later Star Wars properties would explore further conflicts. There isn’t a stated intention to explore what happened in Afghanistan in Star Wars, however the creators have stated a willingness to explore the real world through Star Wars. In an interview about the Clone Wars, Dave Filoni said “the Clone Wars seems to be touching upon what’s in the now”. Jennifer Corbett, head writer for The Bad Batch, explained “if you can’t relate what you’re saying in this episode to the real world, then you shouldn’t be telling this story”.

Saw Gerrera’s story will be continued in the upcoming Andor show, where his extremism is bound to be explored further.

Next. Why every Star Wars show is forcing us to relive Order 66. dark

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