I, like a lot of people, saw Star Wars: Rogue One. And like a smaller subset of a lot of people, but still probably a whole lot of people, I have some thoughts about it that I want to write down.
I guess I’ll start with a big rhetorical question: What do we want from our new Star Wars movies? What did we ever want from them? Cause we’re about to have a lot more of them.
I was born in 1976, which means I’m right in the gravity well of original trilogy super-fandom — young enough to have seen them during formative years; old enough to have not been raised with stuff that was inspired by them.
In looking back, the 3rd movie didn’t come out until I was seven-years-old. I don’t remember, but I can’t imagine I saw the first two until after the 3rd one, and it must have only been the 3rd one that I saw in theaters.
I do remember that I used to constantly dress up as both Han Solo (and Indiana Jones), though. There’s photo evidence, at least. And then there’s the story that my mom still likes to tell, that when she asked me why I wouldn’t wear any underwear with my outfit, I told her that, “Han Solo doesn’t have a drawer full of underwear.” I think we can all agree that I was probably right about that, and that I had an advanced early understanding of character research.
But without any exaggeration, I can say that the storytelling and spirituality of the original series had a huge impact on me as a child, likely forming structural ideas in my psyche about right and wrong, good and evil, and the overarching benevolence of a universal energy. I would be lying if I said I never in my life believed in the actual existence of “the force,” or didn’t try for maybe-kind-of-a-lot-of-time to use it myself.
My parents raised my brother and I secularly, but my dad taught me early how to use creative visualization and that self belief was tied to actual material outcomes. My mom taught me that there was more good than bad in the world, and that I should be good.
By the time I read ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ at age twelve, I had already understood some of its philosophical underpinnings. When I later read the Tao Te Ching, I realized I had already believed it was true. Though it’s backwards, I bet that was the only sequence of coming to these ideas that would have resonated so thoroughly for me.
The original series is a very black and white story about an oppressed population with God on its side rising up against a totalitarian fascist galactic power. It was told from the point of view of someone who had their formative experiences in America in the 50’s and early 60’s, and who was raised by a generation that had been victorious in World War II against a totalitarian fascist axis of nations. The bad guys use red and black colors. Their soldiers are called stormtroopers. It’s all right there on the surface to see.
There’s nothing complicated about the victory of the Alliance against the Empire. In the mind of its creator, this story already happened. So we hear it told with the assurance of a victor. The goodness of the protagonists is beyond-beyond reproach — it is archetypal.
Like, as if it were a story about the end of slavery in America being a good thing. Because no one is around saying, “I don’t know, it was really good for the economy! Maybe we should bring it back!” Or, a Revolutionary War story telling us how brave and just the colonials were. Because no one is around saying, “I don’t know, maybe we should give a foreign hereditary monarchy a chance! It might be better now!”
In 1977, we all understood that fascist totalitarianism was the embodiment of evil. That’s not really what’s happening in Star Wars: Rogue One, or in today’s America.
So what do we want from these stories? This film had a surprising amount of ambivalence about the effectiveness of a rebellion made up of groups with slightly different agendas. The heroes were finally allowed to be dark and actually conflicted — especially when George Lucas wants me to believe that Greedo shot first, when I know Han did.
Do we just want to see another Death Star be destroyed? Is there an enemy in this universe besides institutionalized evil? If we’re no longer so sure of our society’s understanding of what is the light side, and what is the dark side, will these be stories of a new rebellion? Will the dark side be shown as maybe not that bad after all?
In the last scenes of Rogue One, when I saw Darth Vader striding through that Alliance command ship, force-choking and flinging around anonymous rebel soldiers — lightsaber-stabbing people through metal sliding doors — he seemed plenty terrifying. As the embodiment of an irresistible force that must be opposed despite all odds — even knowing what happens to him in the subsequent movies — I think it was the first time I was actually afraid of him.