No spoilers ahead, so no spoiler warnings.
After the results of the 2016 Presidential election, liberals, progressives, radicals, and reasonable (anti-Trump) conservatives alike were searching for symbols to invoke their outrage and disappointment. It was a bit of a coincidence that less than a month later a stand-alone film from the Star Wars franchise would debut. The story of Star Wars has always been political, and in these partisan times, even more so. The idea behind Rogue One was to tell the backstory about how the Rebel Alliance were able to steal away the blueprint for the Death Star, and therefore know of its weakness in the final battle of Episode IV: A New Hope. It was a prequel that takes place in between the prequel trilogy, after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope.
In a funny way, members on the right and the left can identify with “The” resistance, seeing themselves in a story about a great struggle against the evil empire. The “white working class ” (according to the media’s narrative) is The Resistance having had to defeated the proponents of internationalism, the North Atlantic Treat Organization, and NAFTA. Disaffected democratic socialists and angry Hillary Clinton voters are now teaming up as the new “Resistance” against Orange Mussolini’s regime. Like the Rebel Alliance that is portrayed in the Star Wars canon, this alliance (the one of radicals and mainstream liberals) historically has been fragile in nature.
Rogue One provided a very helpful image of this relationship. It took place during a discussion between Jyn Urso, the strong white feminist protagonist of the story and Saw Guerrera, the radical black freedom fighter. Saw is angry because he has witnessed the transformation of the Republic into an evil Empire. Saw (played by an African American man) tells Jyn of how disgusted he is with having to look at the empire’s flag everyday he wakes up. Jyn (played by a white British woman) provides some simple advice, “Do not raise your head up.” The message is: keep your head down, keep quiet, and you won’t get into any trouble with your oppressors. For Saw Guerrera, that obviously would not suffice. Jyn’s words ring eerily similar to the current controversy surrounding #theResistance to organizations like the Women’s March in Portland which said that signs mentioning #BlackLivesMatter were “too political.” If you’re black, step back. Blackness, having black skin, participating in black culture and black institutions, is always seen as something Other, that any mention of Blackness as seen as going too far, too radical.
Was Rogue One a good movie? Of course, there’s no doubt that it’s a fine addition to the Star Wars canon, and in comparison to the other prequels, it was very well received. The feminist spirit of Rogue One was also comparable to the Hunger Games and its dystopian world. I found the movie enjoyable, but going back to the issue of blackness. The heroic tale of a loose band of goody-two shoe rebels adorned in white against a powerful group of dark-hooded men and women in black reads like a recapitulation of the American revolution. Space fantasies and science fictions are never too off from historical events from which they find their inspirations. Good guys wear white, bad guys wear black. Good guys are intuitive and make their decisions in the spur of the moment. The Bad guys are well organized, they have a plan, and often times they have a strict hierarchy. There was a point in my life when I found the Star Wars world to be uninteresting, but ever since I decided that what appealed to me were the Sith, it became much more intriguing. If one thinks about the Sith Code as opposed to the Jedi, it’s actually the Sith values that save the world in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. It is a blend of passion and the deep knowledge of the powers that be that helps the Rebels to triumph. Stoicism and objectivity have no place in the Emperor’s fall.
The other part of the problem with Star Wars as a whole is its reception by the average fan. Everyone wants to be a Jedi sort of like every three year old child wants to be a police officer when they grow up. The very weapons that the Jedi forge (lightsabers) are powered by the same crystal responsible for powering the Death Star: the kyber crytals. The Jedi police the galaxy with the power of the Death Star in their hands. Think about it. The Star Wars Animated Universe (Clone Wars, Rebels) is particularly adept at showing just how the Jedi and the Sith, the Dark Side and the Light Side are but two sides of the same coin. Of course there is such thing as right and wrong, but these labels are not due to which ever side of the Force one chooses, Jedi or Sith, but rather what one chooses to do with the Force, or in the case of “The Resistance,” our choices as it relates to power and power differential. Many aspiring Rebels in today’s politics want us to follow the way of “Occupy” (a term that rests on settler colonialist assumptions), marching for the sake of marching, demonstration to DEMONSTRATE that someone doesn’t like what’s going on, politicking on our intuitions and feelings in the moment. Yet this is EXACTLY how the opponents keep winning. They are counting on the Resistance remain deluded with their Rebel logos and Safety Pin [TM] entrepreneurial endeavors as distractions.
The Alt Right, like the conservative movements before it, the Moral Majority, the Reagan Revolution, Nixon’s Southern Strategy, knows that in order for them to remain in power they need to divide and conquer (in this case, the poor, liberals, progressives, radical academics, People of Color, moderates) and so far, so good. The Alt Right white supremacists have a plan, they have specific policy goals, and they have both well-oiled corporate media outlets as well as popular independent fake news sites to get their message out there. In other words, they have a Death Star. The major challenge for Rebels in 2017 isn’t knowing what we are up against or what’s the best way to resist; the major challenge is planning what type of country/ Death Star are we going to replace Orange Mussolini’s regime with.
(Photo: The picture is of the Death Star from Star Wars. It is a space ship shaped like the moon. The sky is black. Found on Flickr. Taken by Mirek and Coop)