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Ronald Reagan and Star Wars

Peter Kramer tells how the popularity of the sci-fi epic proved timely for Ronald Reagan and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

President Reagan Addressing the Nation on National Security (SDI Speech), 23 March 1983. National Archives and Records Administration.

When the special edition of George Lucas's film Star Wars was released in January 1997, the distributor's press book proclaimed:

While Star Wars was a defining event for one generation, it has been embraced by new generations, assuring its place as a timeless epic of grand design and boundless fun.

This claim was confirmed by articles in Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker and the New York Times which stated that the film was'part of the culture' and its 'lessons' about good and evil, humanity and technology, hubris and redemption were 'a very powerful force indeed'. These publications noted that contemporary mass media are full of references to the film and that many words and phrases from it have entered into everyday language, but they mentioned Ronald Reagan's appropriation of the Star Wars term 'evil empire' only in passing, and none of them pointed out that for several years in the mid-1980s the film's title had been identified with the former President's missile defence programme. When other publications did discuss this connection, they incorrectly assumed that it was Reagan himself who had attached the term 'Star Wars' to the programme. With popular memory so unreliable, it is timely to look back at the origins of Reagan's missile defence programme and its association with Star Wars.

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