'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Is Still About Nazis, Says Director J.J. Abrams

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is still about Nazis, J.J. Abrams told Vanity Fair in an interview published Wednesday, describing Episode IX with a twist on the same metaphor that has long been read into the series.

Since the death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi and the rise of a New Republic, based on the principles of the galactic government Emperor Palpatine tore down, evil in the galaxy has been forced underground. The First Order, under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke, gathered strength in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, recruiting former Imperial officers and building a fleet. They would wait thirty years before destroying the Galactic Senate with Starkiller Base, revealing their true power.

Where the stormtroopers and machinery of empire represented an obvious fascist threat in the Star Wars Original Trilogy, Abrams saw the First Order as analogous to a hidden, and gestating, Nazism. "It was almost like if the Argentine Nazis had sort of got together and actually started to bring that back in some real form," Abrams told Vanity Fair.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy echoed Abrams, going into further detail about the space Nazis of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. "Evil needs to feel and look very real," Kennedy told Vanity Fair. "What that means today may not be as black and white as it might have been in 1977, coming off a kind of World War II sensibility."

But while The Rise of Skywalker director and executive producer may have had Nazis in mind, Star Wars was originally about the Vietnam War. In 1973, Columbia Pictures turned down Apocalypse Now, which George Lucas had spent years developing with screenwriter John Milius. While its producer, Francis Ford Coppola, would eventually shoot the movie himself, Lucas moved on to Star Wars.

"A lot of my interest in Apocalypse Now was carried over into Star Wars," Lucas told J.W. Rinzler in The Making of Star Wars. "I figured that I couldn't make that film because it was about the Vietnam War, so I would essentially deal with some of the same interesting concepts that I was going to use and convert them into space fantasy, so you'd have essentially a large, technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters." Lucas would later confirm that Emperor Palpatine represented President Richard Nixon.

In this configuration, the Stormtroopers are American soldiers, while the Rebel Alliance are the Vietcong, waging a guerrilla war, from a jungle moon of Yavin, against an all-powerful empire.

While the Vietnam War may have inspired narrative and thematic elements throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy, there's little evidence Lucas intended the movies to be polemics. Instead, Lucas chased an allegorical purity, looking for narrative universality in Joseph Campbell and other movie genres. But he might have done too good a job, if he had hoped the Vietnam War parallels would come through at all. While the American invasion and indiscriminate slaughter in Vietnam may have looked morally stark to much of the rest of the world, its portrayal in American media, even in resolutely hippie-ish shows like the original Star Trek, often focused on the ambiguity of the conflict, portraying the U.S. invasion as a sad necessity of the geopolitical landscape.

It's easy to imagine why the Vietnam War reading of Star Wars was supplanted by a World War II metaphor when the movie was first released in 1977. American audiences weren't likely to identify with the faceless Darth Vader or British-accented Imperial officers, so the Rebel Alliance became the United States, as ill-fitting as the metaphor may be. Nor were they likely to see the Vietnam War—which had just ended in 1975, two years after the American military withdrawal—as a pitched conflict between the forces of good and evil. So viewers reached back into the national mythology surrounding World War II when looking for parallels in Star Wars.

Now the moviegoers who grew up watching Star Wars are creating it, remaking the series in the image of how it was once erroneously imagined: a condemnation of facism—somewhere, out there—but certainly not our own.