On today’s episode, Stephen Kent, host of the podcast “Beltway Banthas” joins Connor and Brittany to talk about Star Wars and what this classic story can teach us about liberty.
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Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So today I am very, very excited because I get to talk about one of my favorite things, which is Star Wars. I think we’ve actually talked about Star Wars a few times before, just in passing. But today we have one of my really good friends who lives here in DC with me. he’s a spokesperson for Young Voices. He’s also the host of a really cool podcast called Beltway Banthas which talks about politics and Star Wars, which I mean, I don’t think it really gets cooler than that. So, very exciting. So today Steven joins us to talk about his new book, how The Forest Can Fix the World, and What Star Wars Can Teach us about Liberty. And another kind of fun fact about Steven is he’s also a dad, and I actually gave his daughter, some title twin books a year, a couple of years ago, I think it was years ago. So she is already a fan. She has read The Miraculous Pencil. So we are, of all in good company here. Welcome Steven it’s great to have you.
Steven: Hey, very nice to be here with you.
Brittany: Wonderful. Well, let’s dive into this. So tell us about this book, how the Force Can Fix the World.
Steven: Yeah, so the book is not existent yet. It’s going to be coming out in 2021 from Haste and Center Street Publishing. But the book is about how Star Wars is such a powerful, and universalist means to understand people’s sense of what is moral and what is right and good across the political spectrum. My, podcast was originally premised on the idea that you can talk to just about anybody from the right or from the left and get really the same sort of view of what Star Wars is saying we should aspire towards in our own politics and in our world. And I wanted to understand why that was. And so Beltway Banthas explores the politics of Star Wars in a new and fresh way to try to help understand why these principles are universal to us in Star Wars. But when we talk politics so much breaks down.
Brittany: So much, breakdown.
Connor: Quick question, Steven. Free. How old, so Brit said you have kids or at least one kid. How old are your kid or kids, plural?
Steven: My daughter is nine years old.
Connor: Perfect. So you got a nine-year-old daughter. I also have a nine-year-old daughter. And, you know, I imagine that a lot of kids, just like most adults, see Star Wars as a fun story. And, you know, you just used a few big words that I’m sure, the kids and maybe even some of the adults listening were like, wait, what? So help me break it down. Or pretend you’re talking to your daughter. How is it that these fun Star Wars movies have any connection to politics or the government or liberty? What’s kind of an example maybe just to make it more concrete in helping our listeners understand why there’s a connection between Star Wars as a story and liberty?
Steven: I love that question, and I think it comes down to one scene in Star Wars episode three. It’s when Anakin has had some bad dreams about his wife Padme potentially dying in childbirth, and he’s starting to become deeply, deeply afraid of the future and what it might hold. And he goes to master Yoda, and I’m not gonna quote it verbatim, but you know, he asks Master Yoda about these bad dreams and these dark visions he’s been having of losing someone he loves. And he goes, what am I to do? And Yoda says, train yourself to let go of all you fear to lose. And this is a moment where your hero is faced with the wisdom that there are some things that you’re not going to be able to control in your life. You can’t actually determine the outcome of every event and every possibility that might scare you. And you have to be ready to let some things go and just be the way that they’re going to be. And if you can learn to think that way and apply it not just to your private life, but to your, politics into the world and government, um, it will give you much, much better outcomes and acceptance that you can’t centrally control everything.
Brittany: So let’s dissect that a little bit. let’s talk about politics a little bit. You know, we just had an election and, there’s a lot of chaos and a lot of contention going around with that. So how can we take this premise? How can our listeners take this premise of let go and help, you know, have that help them as we kind of navigate this crazy political world that we’re in today?
Steven: Well, there’s just a sense that in politics and, particularly with politicians, they all promise to solve every single problem. They all tell you that there is a solution to every single, ill of the world. Joe Biden, a politician. I, like in general. But you know, something that he’s been saying more recently about President Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus is that we’ve had 200,000, people die in America, and not a single one needed to. That is just not true. There is nothing that you can do, with the power of government and in Washington to stop a disease from killing people. That’s what diseases do. It’s, just part of living in the real world. And it’s sad. And politicians have a tendency with issues such as this, and issues that are more complicated to promise the sun and the stars to people because that’s what they want to hear. It’s not very popular to go out and tell people, you know what? There’s actually not silver bullet for this problem. You know what, it’s actually not possible to stop all acts of terror from happening in the world. that’s not politically popular, but it would be. Right. And it would also give us a society that does not live in constant fear and looking to politicians to solve every fear that we have.
Connor: Okay, so that’s a perfect segue, Steven. I want to get your take on, this. As I think back to watching Star Wars and, what connections there are to political or liberty-related things, there is always one scene that stands out in my mind among the rest, and it’s when they’re in the Republic, they’re all in their little floating discs that are attached in the little, you know, auditorium thing. And what was he called? The Chancellor is there, right? And, because of a threat, he then changes, unilaterally or not even that, right? He has the consent of the Republic Yes. To change the Republic into the first Galactic empire. So he changes from the kind of elected chancellor he becomes, now he becomes this dictator, basically the emperor. He guts the republic and Padma is, sitting next to her, you know, associate. I can’t remember the guy’s name from her home planet or whatever, but, I’m not enough of a geek to remember all the names, but this scene is etched in my brain, right? Because what does Padme says, she turns to him and she says, so that is how Liberty dies with thundering applause. And, it’s so interesting, right? Because here was a real threat. Of course, star Wars is so applicable because, the story itself is part of the human story. These, things in the movie are kind of echoes of human nature, and it’s what has happened in governments in history around the world where you have had democracies or republics right, turned into empires and dictatorships. And, this is part of the human desire, as you were just pointing out, right? The fear that can be used to get people to change. So help me understand, what, is it, why, does that seem, why is that scene so applicable to our day when it seems also like the surrendering of our freedoms, the giving the government even more power is not being done over protests. We don’t have another Boston Tea Party. We don’t have tons of liberty out there, you know, throwing tea in the harbor, quite the opposite. In fact, like Padme may observe and heard little fictional time. We have everyone applauding the government getting more power and taking more freedoms away. Why, is that that, you know, is that human nature or why is that scene so relevant to politics and our world?
Steven: Well, you know, there’s this kind of timely, or timeless clash between the ideas of, John Locke. and who, was it who Pendle of I and I’m just blanking Hobbs, right? the idea that we accepted government into our lives to escape the state of nature. We accept government into our lives and we consent to be governed because we don’t want to live in an uncertain and wild world. And government and society, in general, gives us the framework to succeed and live, and prosper. And what you have happen all too often is that a new threat emerges. People get scared, and they are more than willing to give government more leash to take care of those problems. Star Wars, episode three is not born in a vacuum. This is something that’s very common throughout human history. but this was coming around the time of the War on Terror. And the Patriot Act nine 11 had just happened a couple of years prior, and the United States and, kids like me growing up in that time were very afraid. And the idea of George W. Bush declaring a war on terror that would give the government more power to make sure that we never had to be afraid like that again, sounded reasonable at the time. People were very excited and it was a, pretty unanimous and clear vote in favor of the Patriot Act. today It is almost unanimous across the political aisle that it was a mistake. But they’re not actually willing to undo what was given away in the Patriot Act. It was done with thunder, applause, and popular consent. And that’s what people who grab power tend to do the most, is get people to be excited and support that idea. But the problem is that you never get those freedoms back once they’re given away.
Brittany: I’m so glad you brought that up. Cause that is something we’ve talked about with our listeners over and over again. You know, this idea of liberty versus security. So I think that is, especially during the time of, you know, Corona coronavirus, that this is very applicable. I wanna switch gears a little bit. One of my favorite aspects of Star Wars is this concept of balance, right? You hear a lot about, we’ve got to bring balance to the force. So we live in a really polarized world, meaning we’ve got people that who are very far and, you know, end of the political spectrum on one side or the other side, and they are just at war with each other constantly. We see it on the internet, we see it on the news, it’s everywhere. So how does this idea of bringing balance to the force, how can that help us in a world that is So polite?
Steven: Well, the issue of balance is, definitely a, really poetic one. I am just watching right now the avatar, the last Airbender series, and they, touch very strongly the issue of balance. And, kids should go watch that on Netflix as well for a great time. But Star Wars, this is at the very center of the Star Wars story, balancing between light and the dark. And in the rise of Skywalker, or actually, I believe it’s in the Force Awakens, one of the characters says, uh, darkness rises and light to meet it. And that basically is to say that when one side is accumulating too much power, there’s too much darkness in the world, light will begin to peak out to balance that. And in the original prequel trilogy, that’s not the original, but the prequel star was a trilogy, episode one through three, you have the Jedi order very invested in the idea that the sith must be destroyed, right? And you go, okay, well that’s good. They’re the bad guys. You wanna get rid of the sith. But you then you have to ask yourself, why is it that they feel that the stiff and practitioners of the dark side, shouldn’t be around, that they shouldn’t exist, and that there shouldn’t be people who practice the dark? And it’s a tricky question because you don’t wanna root for the bad guys. but it’s not in keeping with the actual idea of balance. And so what happens in the prequel trilogy, there is balance, but it is instituted against the Jedi. The Jedi are wiped out, the sith are resurgent, they take over the Republic and just two active sith, Darth Vader and Darth caedus in the form of Emperor Palpatine. They get rid of the entire Jedi order down to just two living Jedi, Obiwan Kanobi, and then the two Skywalker babies who will one day be practitioners of the Force two Jedi, two sith the force rebalanced, power in the universe by killing all the good guys. Now, what is the point of that? Right? We have a real big problem in our country today with making space for our political opponents and accepting the idea that it might not actually be good long term for state legislatures to be all Republican or for our national government to be completely united Republican Congress, Republican president, and then a conservative Supreme Court. Sure, that might lead to a couple of good outcomes. But what do we know Connor and Brittany to be true when this happens? Excesses oversteps of your mandate and oversteps of authority. Too much of one thing can lead to bad outcomes. And that’s why we believe in checking, those excesses with, you know, two-party government, and also with checks and balances between different branches of government.
Connor: Another question I’d like to focus on before we end is, you’ve talked about balance and, that’s, you know, all over the Star Wars story and, and the Jedi order. And one of the lessons that I kind of observed, or one of the things that I noticed as I watched is it seemed like the problem with, you know, Anakin, early on was pride, right? So if you’re talking the balance of the forest, there’s also like pride versus humility, right? Where it seemed like the good Jedi, like, you know, master Yoda was much more humble, recognizing almost like Spider-Man, right? With great, power comes great responsibility, like these Jedi would learn the ways of the force, but, it was the pride and the ego, thinking you’re great and thinking you’re powerful better than other people, that you shouldn’t be able to control people that would lead to the dark side. Whereas kind of the light side is, more that humility. Do you, see that as, well kind of in the Star Wars story? And if so, what, lessons should the families listening learn, that, relate to kind of politics and liberty from that kind of pride versus humility in Star Wars?
Steven: Sure. Well, there’s a lot of directions we could go in, but I might wanna point you towards a different character in the Star Wars universe who is the counterbalance of Anakin’s Pride, and it happens to be his wife, Padme Amidala in Star Wars episode one, Padme is able to diffuse and end an occupation of her planet by the Trade Federation, purely by leading her people with incredible humility. You might remember the scene of the movie where she goes to help, or seek help from the Gungans who are, you know, the fellow co-inhabitants of Nabu, but they really don’t like the humans who live above the water and the entire planet has been taken over. And the two people don’t get along well, but she actually goes to boss nass the Gungan takes a knee and says, I ask you to help us. No, I beg you to help us. We are your humble servants and our fate is in your hands. And if you remember, boss Nass laughs. He goes, USSA no thinking USSA greater than the Gungans. We like this. And it’s actually a really big masterclass moment in how humility can diffuse tension with your opponents and people who don’t like you, right? Or think that they can’t like you because they think you are better, or they think that you think you’re better than them. And that’s what keeps so many of us apart from meaningful friendships and relationships across the political aisles that we think the other side thinks they’re better than us. This is a really cool moment, and if you wanna unpack it, we certainly can, but I always go to Padme here, with how you can build new alliances just by reminding people that you’re on equal footing and that neither side is greater than the other.
Connor: I think those are powerful lessons to, draw from. It’s so interesting because, you know, as I watched Star Wars as a kid and later as they came out to me, at first it was always just a story. It was just a fun story. And then as I would learn, as I would kind of have different experiences learn history, I started to see much like Brit, you and I have talked about on a previous episode
Brittany: just recently, yeah
Connor: The hero’s Journey. And, there’s so much in this story that relates not only to other stories but, real life. And that’s why I like stories like this. We’ve talked about, the importance of fiction, on a past episode and how it can teach us so much because it models, you know, ideals that we should try and, live, like, or aspire to. It also, helps us in visualize the bad, right? Like, look what happens when, you know, there is pride in the fall, that comes from that. And, we wanna stay away from that. So I really like that Star Wars, like so many things can teach us these lessons. Steven Kent, it’s been super fun to talk with you. tell us when your book comes out next year, we’ll make sure to share it with our audience, how the force can fix the world. You guys be on the lookout for that. Beltway Banthas, that podcast is available now. We’ll link to that on our show notes page. Yes, absolutely. As well as to Young Voices, a fantastic organization that Stephen is the spokesperson of. They’re doing a lot of great work.
Steven, thanks for joining us on the show.
Steven: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. And may the force be with you both.
Brittany: Thank you. Well, special thanks to Steven Kent for being here today. Again, he’s a really good old friend of mine, so it’s really fun to kind of sit and geek out about Star Wars with him. I don’t know, I don’t know what you Connor, but I’m a huge fan, so that was so much fun for me.
Connor: Yeah, I’m, looking forward to his book because, for all of his, you know, George Lucas is the guy who wrote the original Star Wars trilogy and then, what they call it? The prequels, right? what they’re called. And then he didn’t do the, newer movies that have come out, but a lot of people have criticized him for, you know, writing really goofy dialogue, like how the characters speak to one another, especially Jar Jar Binks Like, I don’t know what was going on with,
Brittany: Nobody likes Jar Jar Binks.
Connor: No one likes Jar Jar And so George Lucas had his problems and, you know, people have like criticized him for some of these things, but what George Lucas really did well is kind of that hero’s journey that we’ve talked about. Yeah. He really tapped into those human emotions and history and kind of weaving into this fictional story so much that we see in our own world. and so it’s, fun, you know, those of us who fight for freedom, we, we think of ourselves like the Rebels always, you know, fighting against the empire. I always use the story of like, you know, I’m, as you know, Britney, I think you share this with me, I’m very kind of anti-war. I think that we shouldn’t be involved in all these wars and we live in a culture where soldiers and the military are often praised, but at the end of the day, these people are really just following orders. Yeah. Like if they’re told to go kill some people, then they’ll go kill those people. Cuz that’s, you know, they’re convinced.
Brittany: Just following Orders.
Connor: Yep. Yeah. That’s what they need to do. And I think, well, that’s what Storm Troopers did. You know, like no one likes the storm droops. You gotta under, especially, I like in the recent movies where I can’t remember his name,
Brittany: I just Yes, Finn, where he actually stands up and says, no
Connor: Yeah. It’s like, oh wow. There, are some stormtroopers who kind of break that mold and, and think for themselves. So definitely, so much that we can learn from those stories. Guys, head to Tuttletwins.com/podcasts. You’ll be able to access, the show notes, some of the links that we talked about today, a lot of fun stuff there. Make sure you’re subscribed and we’ll see on the next episode. Until then, Brittany, I’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.