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Harvard professor uses ‘Star Wars’ to talk world issues, fatherhood

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Cass Sunstein says his book will mix discussions of economic policy and Supreme Court decisions with story lines from the “Star Wars” franchise.
Cass Sunstein says his book will mix discussions of economic policy and Supreme Court decisions with story lines from the “Star Wars” franchise.

When a publishing company asked Cass Sunstein if he'd like to forge ahead with his plan to write a book that mixed discussions of economic policy and Supreme Court decisions with story lines from the "Star Wars" franchise, he didn't hesitate to say yes.

"I was faster than the Millennium Falcon," he said. "And I have never had as much fun writing anything."

On Wednesday, more than eight months after the idea first clicked in Sunstein's head to write the book, titled "The World According to Star Wars," the cover was finally revealed.

It shows a "Star Wars" stormtrooper, clad in an iconic white helmet and armor, bending over with open arms. A smaller LEGO-figure stormtrooper is running toward him. The book's title is written in bold, black letters that float above the fatherly image.

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Sunstein, a Harvard University professor and former head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Obama, said the cover of the book, due out in May, was inspired by both the pivotal "I am your father" moment in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," and his 6-year-old son Declan's fascination with the films.

"Without him, there's no way I would have written it," he said, adding that he himself is a "'Star Wars' nerd."

Fatherhood and the way children can redeem their parents are key topics weaved into the book, he said.

But Sunstein goes farther than that in his quest to use themes from the films to explain the state of current affairs.

In his book, Sunstein looks at the arc of history, rebellion, politics, and law as they relate to a galaxy far, far away.

"It was actually really easy to find themes that worked," he said. "It's all right in there."

One chapter explores the differences between destiny and freedom of choice, using decisions made by key characters like Rey, Han Solo,and Kylo Ren to illustrate the point.

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The book also includes what Sunstein calls the "authoritative ranking" of all seven movies.

Sunstein's No. 1 pick? "The Empire Strikes Back."

Sunstein said the film earned that designation because of the Battle of Hoth and Darth Vader's admission that he was Luke Skywalker's father.

"It has the most depth," he said. "And it's got hardly any downtime."

Sunstein has written a number of books with heftier titles — “After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State” and “Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict” are two of them. His attempt at injecting references to one of pop culture’s most cherished movie franchises into discussions about world issues was a first for him.

"I tried to make it something funny," he said. "So if you love 'Star Wars,' the book has a lot of stuff that you're going to like."

He said people's reactions to his book concept solidified his drive to pursue the project.

Sunstein said he was talking with a "high-level Russian official" once and "Star Wars" came up. Instantly, the Russian official's face became joyful and excited, he said.

“There was an acknowledgment of common humanity,” Sunstein said, saying that “Star Wars” brings people together. “The way it unifies people across space and time seems to me intriguing, and there’s nothing else that really does that.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.