Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Cryptic Frame

Derek Sweet

Luther College


Building on Brian Ott’s work interrogating Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) and the ambivalent frame, a mediated frame that encourages audiences to question binary thinking by simultaneously resisting and reinforcing public understandings of geopolitical problematics (e.g. torture in wartime, nation building, drone warfare), this essay explores the way Star Wars: The Force Awakens calls viewers to inhabit their world as viewed through a cryptic frame. Rather than calling audiences to self-reflexively question the social boundaries delineated by an ambivalent frame, a cryptic frame encourages audiences to accept geopolitical problematics as mysterious, enigmatic, and unknowable. Infused with a number of significant mysteries—Rey’s parentage, Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, and the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke—I contend that The Force Awakens equips audience members to accept the known unknowns of U.S. post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies. My efforts to support this argument proceed in the following manner. First, I establish the relationship between speculative fiction, rhetoric, and the cryptic frame. Specifically, I investigate the way science fiction—particularly texts centered around war and conflict—offers the potential for critical reflection concerning contemporary geopolitics. Next, I turn my attention to developing the notion of the cryptic frame by illustrating the parallels between the mysteries of The Force Awakens and the enigmatic unknowability of U.S. post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies. Finally, I illustrate how the cryptic frame situates viewers as both passive and active participants in U.S. foreign policy discourses and practices.

2018 National Conference
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