This week, Margaret Atwood spoke to Variety about the return of The Handmaid’s Tale, premiering on Hulu April 26. However, the interview soon went viral — but not because of the buzz around the show. Rather, the focus was on some Margaret Atwood Star Wars comments. Namely, she said the film inspired 9/11.
The Margaret Atwood Star Wars comments came up when she was talking about the current wave of activism. Atwood described a 2000 Danish opera adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which started with a film of various things blowing up, including the Twin Towers. She mentioned that when they staged the opera again post-9/11, they edited that clip out. In reference to the edit, she jokes “They didn’t get that idea from my opera, don’t worry. They got the idea from Star Wars.”
The interviewer, Ramin Setoodeh, follows up with “Do you really believe that?” Atwood replies:
Remember the first one? Two guys fly a plane in the middle of something and blow that up? The only difference is, in Star Wars, they get away. Right after 9/11, they hired a bunch of Hollywood screenwriters to tell them how the story might go next. Sci-fi writers are very good at this stuff, anticipating future events. They don’t all come true, but there are interesting “what if” scenarios.
— Variety (@Variety) April 13, 2018
Though in the original article, Setoodeh doesn’t ask a follow-up question, on Friday, a Variety reporter asked for clarification. Atwood explained:
So, flying a vehicle into a target to blow it up, okay? Star Wars is fiction so he gets out, but Japanese World War II kamikaze pilots did the same thing, so it’s not a new thing and it’s not an original thought with me. I just thought people already knew that, but I guess some people are so young that they forgot about that.
While the Margaret Atwood Star Wars comments are a little muddled, there’s a germ of truth. Al-Qaeda didn’t literally hire screenwriters — but we’re pretty sure she meant that metaphorically anyway. And, people are sure to point out that in Star Wars, Luke blew up the Death Star with a shot rather than literally flying his X-Wing into it, kamikaze-style. But is it that absurd to ask if the narratives we learn from film shape our lives?
Did the 9/11 attackers sit down and watch Star Wars and take notes? No, of course not. But we’d be shocked if they didn’t watch Star Wars and identify with the rebels. After all, one of the great joys of fiction, and film in particular, is identifying with the protagonists. We bet you identify with the rebels, too. (How many of you have a rebel insignia tattoo?)
And there have been cases where films have directly inspired real-life tragedies. The man who shot moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, at The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by The Joker. In 2009, a 17-year-old Fight Club fan wanted to start his own “Project Mayhem” and set off a bomb outside a New York Starbucks.
Of course, we’re not calling for censorship. After all, we like the Joker too. But we should admit that many of us have been influenced by films. People model themselves on their favorite characters — usually in subtle ways, but we learn from them. And most people view their lives as a story or a movie — even though there is no overarching narrative in life. That’s why biopics take so many liberties with the facts. They have to. If you saw a movie where a character drops dead for no reason out of nowhere, that’d be bad storytelling. But that happens all the time in real life.
This is what the Margaret Atwood Star Wars comments were getting at. Did she choose her words carefully? No, she didn’t. But by doing so, she gave everyone an opportunity to latch onto the specific, weird and inaccurate example. The story became about Star Wars, but by focusing on that, we’re ignoring the important uncomfortable truth: The 9/11 attackers probably were influenced by films like Star Wars — because they were human. Like us. And that’s the most disturbing thing of all.