Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

By Kevin S. Decker; Jason T. Eberl | Go to book overview

15
Humanizing Technology:
Flesh and Machine in
Aristotle and The Empire Strikes Back

JEROME DONNELLY

The philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) once remarked that in an age of technology the copy takes on greater importance than the original. The Sony Corporation's mechanical dog created a sensation that illustrates Benjamin's insight.

George Lucas's The Empire Strikes Back achieves its powerful effect in a very special way, by making the mechanical and bionic world of science fiction preferable to nature's flesh and blood. Lucas captivates his audience by combining ultra-realism and familiarity with the content of its predecessor, A New Hope. Together, these provide The Empire Strikes Back with an unusually powerful appeal in drawing the viewer into Lucas's strange new world. This compelling verisimilitude lends plausibility not only to the film's action but also to its underlying themes, especially the theme of humanizing technology, that is, treating the mechanical products of technology as if they possessed life, a capacity for thought and feeling, and rational and emotional interaction with people. In the course of celebrating technology, Lucas develops an opposition between technology and nature and, at crucial moments, ennobles technology at the expense of nature. Because the theme operates so subtly in a film of otherwise forceful, gripping plot and effects, analysis requires bringing the theme to the surface in order to realize fully its meaning and implications.

The attitude expressed in The Empire Strikes Back represents a break with the dominant philosophical tradition of Western culture, one with roots in Aristotle and usually referred to as

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