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Law Professor Describes ‘The World According to Star Wars’

By William C. Belfiore, Contributing Writer

The force was strong at Harvard Law School on Tuesday during a talk by professor Cass R. Sunstein ’75, who discussed his upcoming book, “The World According to Star Wars.”

The talk drew more than 200 people, filling a conference room decorated in honor of “Star Wars.” Sunstein presented from in front of a podium alongside life-sized cardboard cutouts of characters, including General Leia Organa and Finn from the upcoming movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Sunstein began by joking about how his lifelong love of “Star Wars” has helped shape his decision-making—first as an academic, then while working as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under the Obama administration, and lastly as a father.

He offered a range of theories as to the secrets behind popularity and financial success “Star Wars.”

“One hypothesis is that it’s just too awesome not to [have become popular],” he said. “It fit with the temper of the times, or the Zeitgeist.”

He went on to posit that the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 to an American public still reeling from the Vietnam War and looking for “something a little like July 4th...a national celebration.”

Sunstein later moved abruptly from fan theories to constitutional law, often drawing laughter from the crowd for weaving concepts from “Star Wars” into the discussion.

Sunstein compared several critical points in U.S. judicial history to what he called “I am your father moments,” a reference to a famous plot twist in the trilogy in which Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke Skywalker’s father. Sunstein defined each of these moments as “a switch that the court pulled on longstanding doctrine,” providing examples such as when the court “constitutionalized commercial speech as a free speech entity” in the 1970s among others.

Near the end of the event, audience members engaged in a question-and-answer session with Sunstein, surrounded by tables adorned with blue and red TIE Fighter-emblazed balloons and X-wing starfighter confetti.

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