What Barbie and Star Wars Resistance got right about radicalization

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12: Ryan Gosling attends the "Barbie" European Premiere at Cineworld Leicester Square on July 12, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12: Ryan Gosling attends the "Barbie" European Premiere at Cineworld Leicester Square on July 12, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage) /

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Barbie and Star Wars Resistance wouldn’t exist.

This post has major spoilers for Barbie and Star Wars Resistance

Just like millions over the weekend, I donned my pinkest cardigan and went to the theater to watch Barbie. Through the laughs and the admiring of the fantastic set and costume design, one thing began to scratch that Star Wars itch in my brain.

Final spoiler warning for Barbie.

One of the major plotlines of the movie is focused on Ken discovering what patriarchy is. He uses this knowledge so all the Kens can take over Barbieland to rule in place of the Barbies. On the surface, it’s a simple plot, but what the movie does so well is focus on the why and how it happens.

Ken doesn’t actually want to rule Barbieland. He’s hurt because he feels ignored by his Barbie, someone he loves and trusts. She does not recognize her actions of ignoring his feelings, ideas, and companionship is making him suffer. Yes, it’s okay if she doesn’t like him romantically, but she doesn’t even recognize Ken as an equal person.

When he comes to the real world, Ken sees male-dominated industries and misunderstands these power structures as respect and self-worth. He buries himself in these concepts because he feels like he is being listened to for the first time in his life. The idea of the patriarchy becomes his entire identity; just like that, he is radicalized by this concept.

Which is precisely how radicalization works in Star Wars Resistance.

Resistance does an excellent job of spending the first season sewing in how and why people are radicalized into fascist systems. Barbie does the same story with Ken in less than two hours. Whether it’s fascists, cults, far-wing religious groups, political identities, or terrorist organizations, one common tactic to recruit people is to specifically prey on hurt people. When people feel betrayed or like they don’t fit into their system anymore, these groups swoop in to scoop them up. Hurt people are ideal targets.

This is the story of Tam Ryvora in Resistance. The first season slowly shows step by step how she loses faith and gets preyed upon.

Her father figure, Yeager, starts keeping secrets from her. He gives her ship to some newcomer named Kaz. Yeager promised Tam that ship which she had repaired from scratch with her own money, to help her dream of becoming an Ace Pilot. Constantly, Kaz returns Tam’s ships to her, and it’s damaged for her to fix. There are no consequences to Kaz’s actions, and Tam is forced to clean up his messes. When she brings this all up to Yeager, he shuts down her questions. He refuses to explain why the Empire was bad when Tam mentions her grandfather was forced to work in Imperial factories, which doesn’t make him evil. Yeager won’t even hear her out.

Yeager treats Tam similarly to how Barbie treats Ken.

Of course, the audience knows why Yeager is doing all of this. Kaz is a spy for the Resistance, so he has a critical mission not to be exposed. Yeager and Kaz are forced to lie to Tam, but when she discovers the truth, she’s crushed that they didn’t trust her. She feels hurt and used that her father figure did this to her.

It’s at this moment that Agent Tierny from the First Order snags Tam in her net and sinks her claws into the suffering teenager. Like Ken realizing in the real world patriarchy that he could have worth, Tierny spins the same lies to Tam. She tells Tam that the First Order could help her achieve her pilot dream. They would value her as an essential member to bring order to the galaxy. Tam would have a place to belong with them.

These lies are precisely what Tam and Ken feel like they need to hear. They don’t really care about any of the nonsense. The two just want to stop hurting and know that someone gives a damn about them. In both cases, Tam and Ken take these lies and mistake them for self-worth and belonging. If the people in their lives realized how much they were isolated and in pain, then these bigger, harmful systems would have had a harder time ensnaring them.

It was an exciting surprise to see such a strong Star Wars similarity while watching Ryan Gosling’s character discover that he is “Kenough.” In a way, Barbie is very much a Star Wars story showing the importance of dismantling harmful positions of power.