Cass Sunstein was a White House official — sometimes called the “regulatory scar” — before returning to the life of a law professor.
But he’s also written a new book, “The World According to Star Wars,” that combines his fandom of the franchise with scholarly instinct, as he tries to answer the question of why the movie series has endured so long and by so many.
On Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM, Sunstein explains how the sensation of “Star Wars” sheds light on what makes for a a movie or TV hit, a music superstar or even a presidential candidate and what does not.
He doesn’t put too much stock in the idea of perfect timing.
“Whether it is ‘Star Wars’ or Donald Trump or Taylor Swift or ‘Game of Thrones’ or the environmental movement or the women’s movement — we often overrate explanations that say, ‘The time was right for it.” Those are pleasing explanations, but they are often evidence free. They are extremely speculative and they often have the feature of a fairy tale. That is, we like to say that some book or some movie, it just hit the culture at exactly the right time. That may sound good, but there is no particular reason to believe that it is true.”
Instead, he said that “what tends to be underrated is the role of cascade effects and early serendipity, which marks someone or some thing as a winner, when with a small twist of fate, they could have been big losers.” In other words, the presidential primary process, starting in smaller states and building to larger contests, is conducive to building a “cascade” for a candidate.
He also says that “Star Wars” lore says something about how authoritarian regimes gain appeal in the face of threat.
“I do think it is so, whenever the country faces risks, either internal or external, the idea of allowing the executive to have emperor-like authority has some appeal,” he says. “So whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, if you like the guy who is in charge, there’s just too much squabbling in the legislature, we have to let the commander in chief command. And that can be right under some circumstances. But as George Lucas, and Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison all agree, there’s also some real danger here.”