This site is envisioned as an explanation of the key points of Orientalism, and its effects through the lens of the Star Wars franchise. The site will also engage how the franchise was influenced by the Orientalist discourse, and finally how the films ultimately had effects on the perception of the Middle East.
I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University New York. This website is a work in progress which will serve as the capstone for my degree.
So what is Orientalism?
Orientalism (1978) is a book written by Edward Said (pronounced sigh-eed) which engages with an academic field previously labeled “Oriental Studies,” now referred to as “Area Studies,” “Islamic Studies,” or “Middle East Studies.” Said argues that Orientalism is a discourse, meaning it is a culturally imposed system of thought that controls what can be said, written and understood about the Orient from a Western perspective. It is important to keep in mind that by Orient, Said mainly intends what is currently referred to as the Middle East, which was previously labeled the Near Orient, though he does engage somewhat with India and other parts of Asia. Furthermore, Said argues that Orientalism as an academic field is tied to politics, and serves the political, economic and cultural interests that the West has in the region.
Orientalism is a complex text, which no paragraph long summary can do justice. My hope is that by presenting the main points of Orientalism using Star Wars, Edward Said’s arguments become more accessible, and reach a wider audience.
So why Star Wars?
I have chosen Star Wars as my medium because it is something that already has a wide audience. One of the hurdles to understanding Edward Said’s Orientalism is that he uses examples that have little meaning to a general audience. This can range from analysis of Renan’s “Philological Laboratory” to explaining the source of Lord Cromer’s attitude to the “subject race” in Egypt. Additionally, Star Wars has been under engaged from a Middle East Studies perspective. This is interesting because it is one of the top grossing film franchises, and happens to be filmed in the Middle East and North Africa. Because they were filmed “on location,” the films can be engaged as both a text that represents the Orient, and as a project that has effects on it.