Rogue One is the Film America Deserves
We love underdog stories. The problem: we’re the Empire.
People have long been drawing parallels between Star Wars and the United States (including Yours Truly), pointing out the disturbing irony of our resemblance to the Empire, rather than the scrappy— if not religiously fanatic— underdog Jedi. Among Star Wars films, Rogue One has brought this parallel into the clearest focus yet. It’s a fitting message for a time in which we’ve become increasingly oblivious and perhaps willfully ignorant of our own place in international politics.
I mean, we all know that the Empire is quite overtly modeled off the Third Reich, so let’s not confuse the political metaphors here. But Rogue One has taken steps away from the dictatorship narrative, instead focusing on its burgeoning omnipresence in the Galaxy, and its near-unlimited military might. There’s little mistaking the parallels to our current political climate when stormtroopers harass an increasingly angry and resistant citizenry, who respond with guerrilla and suicide tactics. After all, the film’s arc follows the transformation— or radicalization, if you will—of Jyn Erso, who begins as an apathetic criminal, eventually leading a suicide mission.
Before I go on, it’s important to point out that the USA is not the Empire, by a long shot. While it’s true that we have military bases and personnel in almost every major country on the planet, and that our reasons for occupying countries like Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly be defended as selfless, we don’t systematically oppress populations or use acts of terror whimsically.
Not everyone is aware that the US has invested billions in infrastructure in both Afghanistan and Iraq, so it’s not all bombs and guns. But the fact that these projects were done in order to foster good will from the population says volumes: that we’ve generated a lot of bad will.
What I’m examining between the Galaxy far, far away and this very, very close home country of ours are the parallels in attitudes. Our obsession with underdog stories has automatically aligned us with the Rebellion, but what part of our modern context, exactly, has anything in common? If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not x-wings we pilot but TIE fighters and Death Stars. We’re not the ones scrapping together illegal AK-47s and improvising ingredients in dirty bombs. We are the omnipresent, high-tech military giant of the world. We don’t erase our enemies from the face of the planet because it could be inconvenient on the international stage; but we could.
What Rogue One does really well is reflect the gnawing realization that something is off about our political and cultural alignment. Imwe Chirrut and Raze get glorified deaths in battle, but the piles and piles of stormtroopers? They get unceremoniously blaster’d, stabbed, and/or beaten to death. We’ve decided, just because we’re on the side of the Rebellion, that some lives are more valuable than others. When the suicide bomber blows up a dozen stormtroopers on Jehda, part of us wanted to fist pump for that juicy kill-to-death ratio, but the other part of us saw a grisly reflection of the Middle East: all of a sudden, we were cheering for the suicide bombers.
The counterargument is, of course, that war brings about an incredibly wide gray area on the morality spectrum. Prior to the final mission, a rag-tag team of Rebels stand behind Cassian as he preaches just this. But more alarmingly, he points out that all these immoral and terrible acts that they’ve done for the cause would be even more meaningless if they didn’t commit fully. It’s an inspiring speech, if you ignore the part where they all just got ideologically baptized as full-time zealots.
And of course, the mission ends with a bloodied Jyn and Cassian, crying, and in tight embrace, as the expanding explosion engulfs them. If this left a bad taste in your mouth, good. Thousands of people died painful deaths for the sake of transmitting a set of plans, which, incidentally, would be the key for killing thousands more. I doubt all the dead people on Scarif, Jehda, or Alderaan were willing to die fiery deaths for one ideological cause or another; that billions of innocent have to die because Anakin couldn’t keep a lid on it is the sort of insane thing that simply happens with war.
There’s little high ground to be had while any sort of war is in place. As if to suggest otherwise, Jyn Erso leaps out during a firefight on Jehda to rescue a screaming and traumatized child. Yet, these children are being produced on a daily basis, and most of them don’t have a Jyn Erso to save them. Most Jyns die, or eventually become disillusioned. Fighting can’t save lives. If anything, it’s a last resort to prevent more fighting. If there’s to be any cheering when the Death Star eventually goes down in Episode IV, it should be with the deep hope that there might finally be peace, and an end to the senseless killing.
Plenty of Americans are more than eager to teach our enemies a lesson by forcing them into submission with our military might, reflecting our deep misunderstanding about what war actually does. Maybe Rogue One is just one conscience-raising step to helping us no longer be enamored by war. But then again, no one’s going to the theaters to watch Star Peace.