Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
There’s an alternate universemany alternate universes, probablywhere Hillary Clinton’s lead of nearly 3 million in the popular vote was enough to win her the electoral college, and thus, the election. In this universe next door, that Death Star of our nightmares, Donald Trump, does not continue to pose a threat; he vanished in an explosion of indignation.
Over there, Alternate Universe Me is writing an op-ed right now about female leadership in Rogue One. How fitting that Senator Mon Mothmain a white gown reminiscent of suffragette fashionsleads the Rebellion! That Jyn Erso leads the team stealing the Death Star plans. The movie passes the Bechdel test in the first ten minutes, and a woman has the last word. In the Madam President universe, this is the new normal.
But over here in the darkest timeline, the new normal is that normal doesn’t exist, anymore. Millions of Americans will watch Rogue One this weekend feeling physically ill about their vindictive president-elect. His ties to Russia, and his apparent desire to treat the United States like a kleptocracy, or an autocracy, or a Goldman-Sachs-and-Big-Oil-ocracy, have offered no relief for the fearful.
Right now, it’s hard to avoid fearing the future, even in the dark of the theater. It takes a movie with the sunny, romantic quality of La La Landto drive it away. Despite taking place in another galaxy, Rogue One reflects our present fears, manifest in its story to an eerie degree.
We feel encroaching darkness whenever we see the Death Starthat unimaginably vast, planet-destroying space stationunder construction. This out-of-control government project, the space equivalent of a border wall, is designed to make people afraid and suppress dissent. Sound familiar?
Our hearts sink when old rebel Saw Gererra (Forest Whitaker) clanks around in the dark like the ghost of Christmas Future, grasping for his oxygen mask, telling us that “the world is collapsing” as “Imperial flags fly across the galaxy.”
We see brutal white-clad Stormtroopers go person-to-person in a marketplace, demanding to see everyone’s IDs. We see the self-protective “lol nothing matters” nihilism of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) at the beginning of her arc, her lip in a constant curl, sullen and cynical towards everyoneeven her mentor, Saw. Even Mon Mothma.
And no wonder: When the Rebel Alliance, overmatched and afraid, confirms our fears and resolves to avoid a fight at a time when one’s most necessary, we wince, and recognize the weaksauce Democrats we watched get pilloried over the last year.
In the past, we might have been thrilled to such a classic good vs. evil setup, taking for granted that this was, in fact, fantasy. We might’ve easily lifted the veil of traditional story dressing, and enjoyed the movie for its technical and casting achievements.
Now the veil’s almost too heavy to lift. This fantasy feels too real. And we’re trapped inside it.
In the Star Wars timeline, Rogue One is set 19 years after the ending of George Lucas’ last prequel movie Revenge of the Sith, when the leader of the Republic declared himself an Emperor. “So this is how democracy dies,” sighed Senator Padme Amidala, as the Senate applauded the shredding of the Galactic Constitution.
There’s no dialogue in Rogue One that approaches that kind of arch political rhetoric. It’s much more subtle, and the piece of fake news behind a boycott of the movie organized by Trump fans on Twitterthat the ending was reshot to include anti-Trump dialoguecouldn’t be further from the truth.
Still, Star Wars fans know what’s up here: We’re two decades into a dictatorship, shortly before the Emperor dissolves the Galactic Senate (which you may remember Governor Tarkin casually announcing in the original Star Wars: “the last vestiges of the old Republic have been swept away.”)
What’s happened in the galaxyand consequently what might happen to America, if it started down a similar dark path? Rogue One shows more than it tells, but it’s all we need to know. Everything looks dirtier and shoddier than it did in the prequels.
Stuff is broken, and patched up. This is in line with George Lucas’ intent: that Imperial rule, led by what he once called “Nixon-like gangsters,” hasn’t been great for the galactic economy.
Those fearing what Trump will do to the EPA will find their worst nightmares reflected in Rogue One, too: planets’ environments simply destroyed, without rhyme or reason. We meet Jyn on a world that appears to be in the process of being strip-mined for resources by prisoners. She then travels to Jedha, where the Empire’s brutally ransacking a temple for its kyber crystals.
Once used by the Jedi to power lightsabers, kybers are now being shipped off to power the Death Star. Ploughshares are being beaten into swords. Reasons for war are being manufactured. The attack on Alderaan isn’t far off.
And as I mentioned in my review, it’s hard to watch the overwhelming devastation the Empire wreaks on Jedha without thinking of this week’s murderous attack on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces.
We have hope
But if we’re in a Rogue One situation, it means we also have hopeand Rebellions are built on hope.
Just as the movie opened, a group of former Congressional staffers went public with an impressively comprehensive document outlining best practices to resist the Trump administration via Congress.
Consider this your equivalent to the Death Star plans. Like that space station, the Trump administration has a built-in weakness: historic unpopularity. Anything it tries to push through the legislature can still be stopped by legislators, and legislators can still be swayed by the kind of collective action on display in Rogue One.
Jyn is brought out of her “nothing matters” cynicism by Saw Gererra, who implores her: “Save the dream.” We have a dream to save toothe dream of Martin Luther King Jr., which in an age of white nationalists in the White House and Jeff Sessions likely to be a Voting Rights Act-gutting Attorney General, faces its greatest test in decades.
But don’t worry. We have an excellent team, and you’re part of it. The Force of Others compels you.