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The Clone Army and U.S. Immigration Paranoia

The Clone Army and U.S. Immigration Paranoia

The clone army in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) reinforces the thought that thousands of clones could take over the galaxy and to another extent symbolizes Mexicans “taking over” the United States.  Lucas is often accused of reinforcing racial stereotypes with his movies.  Latino critics especially charge this film suggesting that Lucas provokes American paranoia about Mexican immigration through its cloned army of dark-complexioned clones that march in harmony by the thousands, and ultimately end up operating as Darth Vader’s white-suited soldiers (Hodges).  The numerous clones represent Latino immigrants, working for minimal wages, little freedom, and little individuality; some people see these qualities in immigrant workers.  Several critics have commented on the significance of outer space creatures in science fiction films (Harris).  As Charles Ramirez Berg argues in his book, Latino Images in Film, aliens in such films often signify Hispanic immigrants.  He notes the split in the symbology of the alien in science fiction films, where the outer space creature can be either a traditional destructive monster or a newer sympathetic alien.  The destructive monster’s sole purpose seems to be the eradication of human civilization like in Predator (1987) and Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983).  The sympathetic alien is the understanding extraterrestrial like in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).  In his chapter on extraterrestrials, Ramirez Berg examines the significance of the alien and proposes that the films provide a cinematic field for the unconscious reflection on the immigrant “questions” (Ramirez Berg).  I would like to expand his claim to include clones.  Group members are not portrayed simply as one-dimensional characters, but as nonhuman aliens and nonhuman clones.  In this essay, I argue, that the representations of clones in this film show an association with anti-immigrant paranoia in the United States at its time of release, in 2002, contextually through formal and ideological elements such as camera position and music.

Creatures in science fiction films represent many things relating to what was going on at the time of the movie’s production.  In the 1950s, science fiction films used alien invaders as personifications of the Atomic Bomb.  They signify the shared nuclear fear and concern about the uses of atomic energy.  Furthermore, Vivian Sobchack, in her book Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film, said that the alien Creature is symbolic of repressed sexual urges that threatens domestic tranquility.  For example, in films like The Thing (1982) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), creatures, Sobchack says, are the embodiment of sexual animals and relate to Freud’s work on dreams structurally (Sobchack).  During this time, aliens have also been seen as representations of the Red Menace, or Communists imposed on the American people.  Others believe a broader possibility; aliens signify everything that American culture is not.  They represent “anything un-American unfamiliar, alien” (Ramirez Berg).  As Charles Ramirez Berg compares in his book, Latino Images in Film, these theories find commonality in their recognition of a “narrative pattern that identifies foreign intruders as threats to national order and socio-ideological coherence” (Ramirez Berg).  Additionally, aliens in science fiction films could be regarded as figures for real-life Latin American immigrants to the United States due to the term alien, which means belonging to a foreign country or nation.  The word could refer to a foreigner, who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living or a hypothetical or fictional being from another planet.

By historical standards, the 33.1 million immigrants living in the United States is unprecedented.  According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Immigration has become the determining factor in population growth.  The arrival of 1.5 million immigrants each year, together with 750,000 births to immigrant women annually, means that immigration policy is adding over two million people to the U.S. population each year, accounting for at least two-thirds of U.S. population growth (Camarota).  Immigration from Mexico was the top source country (Wasem).  Around the time that Attack of the Clones was released, May 16, 2002, Lucas, as well as his audience, was surrounded with paranoia about Mexican immigration.  A survey of 756 individuals conducted in two counties along the Texas-Mexico border reveals negative attitudes toward immigration (Binder, Polinard and Wrinkle).  Border counties are among the poorest in the nation, with high unemployment rates.  Their proximity to the border means that there is a constant immigration stream.  The data shows that Anglo Americans tend to support more restrictive immigration policies, but the data also points to the complexity of attitudes toward immigration issues.

In Star Wars, the bounty hunter, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) created much debate for being a stereotypical representation of Latinos.  In 2002, Lucas directed the second of the prequels to the Star Wars saga.  In this episode, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi inspects an assassination attempt and discovers a secret clone army crafted for the Republic.  Jango Fett is a renowned bounty hunter, assassin, and mercenary.  Mandalorian warriors adopted him after the murder of his parents and the disappearance of his older sister.  Then Fett agreed to serve as the genetic template for the clones that would form the Grand Army of the Republic during the Clone Wars. When Obi-Wan located Fett, he fled to join Count Dooku.  Then Obi-Wan learns that Count Dooku authorized the initial assassination attempt and that the Separatists are developing a droid robot army.  When Dooku learns of Obi-Wan’s suspicions, he unsuccessfully attempts to ally with him, revealing that a Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, is secretly controlling the Republic.  While Padawan Anakin and Senator Padmé head to rescue Obi-Wan, Senator Palpatine organizes the clone army and sends them into battle.  However, Anakin and Padmé are captured by Jango Fett and condemned to be publicly executed along with Obi-Wan.  Two hundred Jedi arrive and fight the initial beasts that enter the arena.  Jedi Mace Windu kills Jango Fett, but the droid army outnumbers the Jedi.  As Dooku requests their surrender, Yoda arrives with the clone army.  As the Jedi recognize the start of the Clone Wars, Senator Palpatine supervises the launching of several battalions of clone troopers.

After seeing the film, the Detroit News reported that Latino critics said the film “toys with American paranoia about Mexican immigration” in reference to Jango Fett and the clone army (Hodges).  Jango Fett the Mandalorian warrior, bounty hunter, and assassin along with his clones stand for new immigrants as a polysemic image of the un-American Other.  Despite the fact that Temuera Morrison is a New Zealander, his close resemblance to a Latino was good enough for reviewers to comment.  “He totally looked Latino,” said Martina Guzman, one of the eight reviewers of The Detroit News panel (Hodges).  The clone army reinforces the thought that thousands of clones could take over the galaxy and symbolizes Mexicans taking over the United States.  Lucasfilm spokesperson, Jeanne Cole, says, “This is the first we’ve heard of this. Star Wars is a fantasy movie filled with creatures and aliens from all different planets and universes and galaxies. There is no basis for this” (Hodges).  However, Ramirez Berg contends that these “extraterrestrial films are a culturally unconscious means of working out the whole question of immigration” (Ramirez Berg 155).  There are also many reviewers contesting that the people of the panel are “morons” (Jelsoft Enterprises Limited).  In an online thread on TiVo Community Forum, commenters insist that The Detroit News panel’s assertions are silly and they should not take the fictional story so politically.  However, recognizing stereotyping is useful because everyone creates them from early infanthood (Ramirez Berg 165).  It is important to remember that whether negative or positive; stereotypes are oversimplified representations of a group.  The commenters on the TiVo Community Forum are influenced by their own standpoint while they assess the validity of The Detroit News Panel.

On one level, Attack of the Clones is a film about Padmé’s symbiotic relationship with Anakin.  She takes pride in her role as senator and throughout the narrative, she survives a battle that kills many Jedi and trained clone troopers.  And so on the one hand the film is to be commended for its feminist narrative.  Nevertheless, on the other, from the viewpoint of how the clones are portrayed, how they function in the narrative, and the manner in which they are dehumanized, there are several disturbing elements to the film.  If Star Wars is participating in culturally working out the immigrant question, then the clone army is a symbol for immigrants.  Since Hispanics make up the majority of all alien groups, it follows that science fiction clones present a radically new image of the Hispanic in Hollywood cinema.  An image of massive production in an increasing population with few positive attributes along with robotic qualities that dehumanize them.

In order to demonstrate Lucas’s stereotyping of Latinos and the underlying threat of immigration, I analyze a scene.  Arriving on the planet of Kamino, Obi-Wan is presented to the prime minister, who assumes his visit is to inspect the clone units.  Obi-Wan agrees, not wanting to reveal the real reason for his stay and the tour commences.  Obi-Wan is played by Ewan McGregor, an Academy Award-winning actor who receives top billing.  In this scene, he is representing the Republic and other Jedi.  The prime minister, Lama Su, is a seven and a half foot tall Kaminoan with bluish white skin and gray eyes.  Taun We, a female Kaminoan, who serves as Lama Su’s administrative aide, accompanies them as they exhibit the clones.  The clones’ first appearance in the film happens at the beginning of the movie with a high-angle shot.  Initially, the mise-en-scène and set design establish a dramatic effect with an amazing amount of clones.  There are thousands of them growing in tubes at the end of a machine-powered assembly line.  The camera’s movement gives multiple perspectives on the clones.  In most of the shots in this sequence, the camera regards the clones not from a character’s perspective, but from an omniscient point of view, far above.  In these shots, the camera is panning the gigantic building, mirroring the vastness of the clone groups.  Then the framing changes to reveal Obi-Wan touring the center of the factory in a glass-enclosed walkway.  The camera position changes throughout the conversation to show the expansiveness of the factory.

The action takes place as the main character walks throughout the factory, he observes different troops of clones in a progression, growing like a fetus in large test tubes, at ten years old learning in training programs, grown up obediently having a meal, and receiving helmets.  Showing the clones in this evolution, the camera emphasizes the endlessness of the production of clones.  They are growing in a structured way that allows more batches to be produced over time.  The audience sees the clones through the glass of the walkway, so the clones look like animals in a zoo exhibit.  This connotes power; Obi-Wan is looking down on the exhibit of clones that he is inspecting.  With a dramatic crescendo in the music, Obi-Wan and his escorts walk to an overseeing ledge.  As the audience gains the protagonist’s visual point of view, Lucas presents the awaited reveal of the massive clone army.  The tens of thousands of clones march in perfect synchronization.


Figure 1 Seeing the immense clone army for the first time.  In addition, camera angles serve to indicate vastness.  From the level of the protagonist on a high ledge, the camera looks down on the gigantic clone army giving them anonymity and automatization.

From this and many other examples in the Star Wars saga, we can draw a stereotyping corollary to the way the clones are shown in mass synchronization.  The numerous copies with no variation or change are reminiscent of a line from Lawless (1950); Jan Dawson says of Mexican townspeople, “They all look the same to me.”  This scene illustrates how the basic component of cloning contributes to stereotyping.  In addition to this, the numerous high-angle shots generally reduce characters importance, making them less dominant and more vulnerable.  In the scene, Obi-Wan and his escorts are walking on an elevated walkway through the center of the clone troops.  Since cameras usually record action from the protagonist’s point of view, the camera shoots down on the clones, quickly proclaiming the Anglo character’s importance, power, and dominance and the clones’ lack of it.


Figure 2 Obi-Wan sees the clones at an adult stage.  Notice their skin color is dark in comparison.  Skin color provides another common narrative cue.  The most familiar example of this is protagonists are usually white, antagonists often dark.

The Star Wars saga is a space opera with lots of interwoven stories and many fantasy elements.  Science fiction films, such as these often employ alien Other characters.  It is a good example of the traditional depiction of the Other with characters.  For example, the Sith Lords, their sole purpose is to be the destructive monster as the annihilation of human civilization.  However, Lucas creates a vast array of science fiction creatures.  He plays on the increasingly popular Other, who is the rival to the “traditional destructive monster for primacy as outer space Other: the sympathetic alien” (Ramirez Berg 159).  This extraterrestrial is wise and understanding like the wise Yoda and the friendly Wookie, Chewbacca, and several other approachable alien allies in the Star Wars series.  Jango Fett’s clones serve a much more complicated purpose that is important in the cinematic arena.  Lucas complicates Ramirez Berg’s binary approach to the science fiction alien by using variations such as clones and droids.  He adds complexity by making a silent and gigantic clone army neither sympathetic nor destructive.  The clones are not sympathetic for the audience because Lucas dehumanizes them by altering their personalities to be less independent and they are not destructive because they fight for the protagonist.

George Philip Krapp’s writing in the 1920s indicated that intellectual literacy involving dialect separated classes.  Backward, primitive, and inferior classes are distinguishable by their dialect (Asher).  Viewers hear that the Gungan species speaks in broken pidgin dialect with a Caribbean accent.  The Naboo and Jedi counsel speak the language Basic that is Standard English with an American accent.  The clones do not speak at all.  While many species in the saga dismiss the Gungans, they do not even acknowledge the clones as beings.  The clones are equivalent to machines with no individual personality, accelerated growth, and no observed speech or language.  The saga contests that those with interesting characteristics such as accented dialects are subversive with historical customs and complex stories.  The clone’s contrasting lack of speech and individuality are dehumanized and downplayed showing that the group does not have a rich history as other species do.   Lucas portrays the clones in this way to discount the value of immigrants.  He shows a lack of appreciation for bringing culture through migration.  The clones have no point of view in the film, Lucas could have given them a unique outsider perspective on the galaxy, but instead they are essentially mindless.  In the Star Wars saga, dialect satirically points out the hierarchy that is associated with standard English.  The movie teaches viewers that a range of varieties of speech play critical roles in misinterpretations of diverse cultures.  Not having any speech sets you at the very bottom of the hierarchy.

New immigrants and policy makers seek answers to questions of the immigrant’s place in the United States.  The scene I described and plot of the film shows a difference between humans, represented by Obi-Wan, and the clones, is significant suggesting that one group has power and control over the other.  My purpose here is to expose the production of images of the Other in Star Wars.  The clone distortion is merely one more creation of the Latino immigrant as an alien Other.  Stereotyping, in this way, does its work by generalizing and repetition a simplified, but comprehensive and “natural” worldview.  What is important to remember is that in constructing the Other in film can reveal a wide range of tendencies; the science fiction clone as mass Hispanic immigration shows a significant amount of stress within cultural tensions concerning immigrants.  Psychological guilt and fear create doubts about national identity, of which we need to be aware.








Works Cited

Asher, R. E. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Web.

Binder, N, J Polinard and R Wrinkle. Mexican American and Anglo Attitudes Toward Immigration Reform. Survey. Hoboken: Wiley, 1968. Web.

Camarota, Steve A. “Immigrants in the United States – 2002.” Center for Immigration Studies (2002). Web.

Dibbern, Doug. “The Violent Poetry of the Times.” Spucer, Andrew and Helen Hanson. A Companion to Film Noir. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 97-112. PDF ebook.

Harris, Mark H. “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream: Outer Space Horror Movies.” Horror Movies – Sci Fi Horror Movies in Outer Space (2013). Web.

Hodges, Michael H. Detroit Racist Panel Struggles, Comes up with Ridiculous Allegations that Star Wars Attack of the Clones is Racist. 2007. Web. 5 October 2013.

Jelsoft Enterprises Limited. “Ignorant morons say Attack of the Clones is Racist.” vBulletin 19 May 2002. Web.

Ramirez Berg, Charles. Latino Images in Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002. Kindle edition.

Sobchack, Vivian Carol. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. New York: Rutgers University Press, 1987 . Web.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Dir. George Lucas. 2002. DVD.

Wasem, Ruth Ellen. “Asylum and “Credible Fear” Issues in U.S. Immigration Policy.” Congressional Research Service 29 June 2011. Web.