Viewing ‘Star Wars’ as a modern cautionary tale

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Last year, souped-up versions of the special editions of the original “Star Wars” trilogy finally came out on DVD. In the shuffle of numerous special modifications, the actor who played the unmasked Darth Vader was replaced by a new guy who played him in the final two prequels. So long, Sebastian Shaw. Hello, Hayden Christensen.

Also, say hello to a whole lot of confusion for fanatics, over-analyzers, and scholars trying to untangle the m?lange of messages writer-director George Lucas embedded, then reconsidered, in his six-film saga.

Twisting scenes around in new and interesting ways using the magic of digital technology, Lucas has added new layers of meaning that alternately edify and perplex viewers.

The original 1977 film featured Han Solo blasting gun-for-hire Greedo. Lucas thought this made the hero look too “wicked,” so he had his minions add a misfired opening salvo from the hapless alien to provoke Solo, and presto, he now kills Greedo in self-defense.

Symbolic gestures such as this provide more ammunition for fans seeking to fill time between homework and sleep with philosophical discussions brimming with big words and the nature of evil. But the real world is also full of unhelpful hints about right and wrong.

In the Dewey Decimal System for organizing collections of library books, for instance, those texts dealing with Malcolm X are filed under 322.4. Oddly enough, practically everything to do with terrorists or Osama bin Laden is filed under 322.42. Want information on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement? Check out the lovely real estate at 323.4.

Sure, from a certain point of view, these three individuals are not totally dissimilar. They each opposed the establishment and sought to upset the status quo. Their agendas and massively different methodology are the only things separating them ideologically.

Kindling the arguments this time around will be Anakin Skywalker’s apparent transition into Vader as a means to an end — the only way to stop the complete and total annihilation of the forces of good is to join with evil and sabotage it from within.

Even the way the soon-to-be-Emperor Palpatine parades around two-faced while still an elected ruler should strike a chord with audiences today. He proclaims that he just wants peace and justice throughout the galaxy, even as he meekly insists that more power is the only way to accomplish this task.

Vast multitudes of secretly cloned soldiers are at his beck and call, given at least a decade to mature before Palpatine can even use them. He then takes one side in the coming conflict, while his secret ally (Count Dooku) plays the anti-establishment rebel. In the crudest of shorthand analogies, Dooku is a Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden-type character, with Palpatine as President George W. Bush, or whomever you want to blame for the mess in Iraq. A lot of people seem to think Bush is incapable of such masterful behind-the-scenes strategy. I don’t care. Not enough of them have seen John Heard’s wonderful role in “My Fellow Americans.”

Palpatine is a master puppeteer. (And here everyone thought Frank Oz was “the man” in that department in his bringing Yoda to life.) Then again, Lucas is the one responsible for pulling so many of his strings and getting all those rears into theater seats, and his comrades’ wallets consistently grow fatter because of it. Not even “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” had such a wide array of ancillary merchandising, a veritable barrage of goods emblazoned with the words “Star Wars.” “Star Wars” lottery tickets? I never thought I’d see the day.

Let the eve of yet another global cinematic takeover by one of the world’s single most successful entrepreneur be a time to ponder whether there really is such a thing as good and evil. And if so, is Mel Brooks right? Does evil always win because good is dumb?

In a world as crazy as ours, a cautionary tale as entertaining as “Star Wars” is a much-needed blessing in disguise. Enjoy it while you can.

Kris Boldis is a graduate student studying mass communication.