Colonialism and a Hopi princess: Why Star Wars resonates with Indigenous audiences

Star Wars is a franchise beloved by many, but it's especially loved by Indigenous fans who see parallels between Star Wars and the stories of their own communities. 
Cultural studies scholar Darren Lone Fight is such a big fan of Star Wars, it has appeared in his writing. (Submitted by Darren Lone Fight)

This segment originally aired January 12, 2020.

Star Wars is a franchise beloved by many, but it's especially loved by Indigenous fans who see parallels between the movies and the stories of their own communities. 

Darren Lone Fight is a cultural studies scholar and member of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota. As a fan of the franchise, he said there are lots of Indigenous influences that appear in the Star Wars universe.

"The idea of hokey religions, with ancient weapons attempting to resist an overwhelming imperial force has a kind of natural resonance for Indigenous people and our history with colonialism," said Lone Fight.
The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell inspired Star Wars. (New World Library Publisher)

When George Lucas was creating the original script for Star Wars, he was influenced by The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book by Joseph Campbell that explores the journey of the archetypal hero found in mythologies from around the world.

In particular, Campbell was fascinated by Indigenous cultures, and drew from their stories when writing his book.

"As [Lucas] was drafting the Star Wars trilogy … he was having trouble getting everything together and figuring out the direction that he wanted to take the movie," said Lone Fight.

"He returned to The Hero with a Thousand Faces right as he was struggling with the broader planning part, and he used the tropes and structure that Joseph Campbell presents in his work." 

Story of colonialism 

Many Indigenous fans of Star Wars see the film as being about colonialism, where a "spunky rebellion group is fighting against this large empire," Lone Fight said.

"Creating an alliance and salvaging what you need … in order to resist something that seems completely unbeatable — like the Death Star for instance — is a deeply resonant story [for Indigenous people]," he explained. 

"It's a story a lot of our people [can relate to] as they've resisted colonial forces through history since contact." 

For Lone Fight, the resistance to colonial forces is not a thing of the past, but something Indigenous people are still doing today. 

"The empire that's being constructed here is not the one that you've sort of historically imagined, but in fact is one that's currently existing ... this fight, this resistance, exists for us right now, not 200 years ago," he said.

Leia the Hopi princess  

The iconic double bun that Princess Leia dons in the original Star Wars trilogy has prompted many Indigenous people to ask — is Princess Leia Indigenous?

"It's a Hopi hairstyle, it was worn by women during the Mexican Revolution," said Lone Fight, who points out that this is a theme that has popped up in modern Indigenous art.

Princess Leia's double bun hairstyle Hopi women wore during the Mexican revolution. (Edward S. Curtis/Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox)

One artist that explores this idea is Stephen Paul Judd, who has a print called My Great Great Grandmother was a Hopi Indian Princess, in which Princess Leia is standing, holding a blaster, with two Hopi women peering over her shoulder.

"There's no reason for us not to interpret her as an Indigenous person in the future, she's doing all the stuff that you'd think that we'd be doing in that kind of environment," said Lone Fight. 

"She has to go through the profound experience of watching her home be destroyed, and then picking up and moving on … to endure and to continue to resist. And I think that's a really powerful statement if there was ever a reason to think she might be Indigenous." 

Star Wars has appeared as the backdrop in Indigenous art for years, which Lone Fight said speaks to the unique temporality of the film itself.

"It's very common to kind of lock Native American representation only in the past, so when we see ourselves on screen … it's often in the past tense," said Lone Fight. 

But in the Star Wars universe, Indigenous people can be seen as existing both in the past, and also far into the future.

"This film kind of manages to allow you to do both because, of course, it is a historical film, I mean it's a 'long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,'" said Lone Fight.

"It has this kind of odd temporal register that is both backwards looking … but it's also — of course — very future looking in terms of its composition, and space flight and intergalactic travel."