****Warning – Spoilers ahead*****
Being a life-long Star Wars fan, I was greatly anticipating The Force Awakens. Even more so because I am a fan of Disney, and have great respect for their work in the entertainment industry; I was looking forward to where the plot would be taken, and what would be done with the full force of Disney entertainment behind the movie. So I went last weekend to see the movie, and was blown away! The storyline fit better than I thought it would. As my brother pointed out, watchers usually were not concerned with the governing system at the end of Return of the Jedi. But it makes sense that something like the First Order would have risen from the ashes of the former Empire. And of course, the visual effects were outstanding, as was to be expected!
But what really caught my attention is that, for the first time in the Star Wars series, we are introduced to a hero and anti-hero, rather than a hero and a villain. Star Wars fans are not new to a character undergoing massive shifts in their allegiance towards the end of a film, particularly when it comes to Anakin. But never have we seen an antagonist as conflicted from the beginning; certainly operating against the motives of the hero, but not necessarily as a villain. Kylo Ren is that character. Taking the place of Darth Vader in the Sith structure, Ren is supposedly the embodiment of the First Order’s evil. Except that he isn’t all the time. And in a particularly unique scene, he is actually shown being conflicted between the Light and Dark Side.
Though Ren is a departure from the mold, he reflects the world of Millennials. Millennials are much more likely than their predecessors to see the world as shades of gray, rather than black-and-white. I remember watching Star Wars Episodes IV – VI as a child and feeling that Darth Vader wasn’t realistic, because he was so one-sided. Ren is much more real, because no one is entirely light or dark. This isn’t something that has changed with time; rather, Millennials are the first cohort overwhelmingly comfortable with that reality. Millennials will take the whole and judge the parts individually, rather than as a net positive/negative.
There are huge political implications of this, which neither party has quite been able to tap into yet. First and foremost, candidates should realize that they don’t need to put up a front of being the ‘perfect candidate’. The plastic mask provided by the political machine only serves to turn Millennials off, rather than give confidence. The implication of this, though, is that a candidate HAS to be transparent, and not just honest. Honesty implies everything one says is true; transparency implies everything which is true, one says. Millennials are far more accepting of transparency than honesty. Hillary Clinton would never have received the flak she did over the e-mail controversy if she talked about it before it was uncovered.
Both Trump and Sanders are trying very hard (likely without realizing it) to tap into this vein. These are two of the most inflammatory, insulting, and brusque major candidates since the advent of mass communications. Political analysts and reporters often comment how this approach should hurt them, how voters will be turned off by the aggressive candor. And yet, they are doing fairly well in the polls, particularly when compared to the groomed political elite of Bush and Clinton. That’s the influence of the Millennials, over half of whom are now eligible to vote, and who are tired of being lied to by politicians who are pandering for votes. And remember, the Millennials outnumber the Baby Boomers (roughly 90 million to roughly 80 million). By the next election, over three quarters of Millennials will be eligible to vote. Depending on death rates, 2016 may very well be the last year in which the Boomers have political majority; and if not 2016, then definitely 2020.
No doubt, Sanders and Trump are going too far, and being inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory (which is NOT something Millennials like). But the numbers don’t lie – they certainly have tapped into something.