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the story behind the book

Cass Sunstein on ‘The World According to Star Wars’

david wilson for the boston globe

Former White House adviser on intelligence and communications technology, professor and founder of the program on behavioral economics and public policy at Harvard Law School, and author of many serious books, Cass Sunstein is “as surprised as anyone” about the topic of his latest. “If you’d told me a year ago that I’d write a book about ‘Star Wars,’ ” he said, “I’d say it’s more likely that I’d become an astronaut or a poet.”

The book — a wide-ranging and intimate look at the movies and their impact on society — came about after a friend suggested Sunstein introduce his son to the world of George Lucas. “He got completely hooked on the movies,” Sunstein said, “and I got entranced myself.” Enough so, he added, that he began researching them “with the same kind of, let’s say, obsessiveness, with which I had studied behavioral economics and cost-benefit analysis, and the thought of James Madison, and the founding of the US Constitution.”

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Initially captivated by the movies’ visual and visceral thrills, Sunstein said that on a deeper level, “what got to me were, and are, the themes of the movies, which have to do with freedom of choice, and fathers and sons, and the constant possibility of redemption.”

After multiple viewings of the films with his son (“he likes the original trilogy better than the prequels”), Sunstein sees some parallels between Lucas’s universe and modern American society.

“I think to see your political friends as the light side and your political opponents as the dark side is really un-American,” he said. “I think ‘Star Wars’ is actually pretty subtle about that,” adding that every character in the films possesses the capacity for good or evil.

Sunstein said he’s “eager to talk to and learn from fellow ‘Star Wars’ fans.” He’s hoping to attend Comic Con, where many attendees don elaborate character costumes; but he’s not worried about sticking out.

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“I do have a costume,” he said. “It consists of a dark suit, a white shirt, and a tie.”

Sunstein will read 6 p.m. Monday at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge ($5 tickets at Harvard Book Store or online).


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.