Rogue One starts with all hope lost. Despair reigns in a galaxy ruled by strongmen who impose their will on all those beneath them, with those in the gutters the most in peril. It sounds familiar—almost redundant, even. Given the year we just had where all over the world, we were forced to submit (and suffer) to the decisions of the one. In the last few months alone we saw rise the rise of yet another strongman and the disapproval of a woman and her capabilities. Last November 8 alone, Hillary Clinton, who many called the most competent and experienced woman to ever run for the highest office of the United States lost to an inexperienced, erratic, and dangerously temperamental man who at every turn has shown he is unfit to lead. Much closer to home, we’ve seen degenerates (i.e. politicians) publicly shame women in an attempt to silence them. We’ve seen power in all levels abused to gratuitous levels. Lies and hate proliferate online, with each post more vulgar and crueler than the last.
This year did not leave us without our share of faults. If anything it reminded all of us just how human we are and how far we have to go. While Rogue One is about hope, it is also a story of redemption, of how we can all rise above our mistakes and become more than we ever thought we could.
Consider the protagonists of Rogue One. They are children of war, citizens of a broken world. They are damaged and fragile. Sinners with nothing to lose. They aren’t born of royalty or some pre-destined saviours. They are mortal, as flawed and as tragic as the rest of us. Led by Jyn Erso, an outlaw forced to live life by her own means, this band of outsiders have come together to accomplish something far greater than themselves.
One can’t help but see Rogue One as a story of our times. The fact that the film first began production years ago almost seems irrelevant in light of everything that happened this year. After what most would call one of the most disappointing years ever, it’s hard to miss Rogue One as anything but a parable for today. In an interview with IGN, director Gareth Edwards reiterates that the film was not intended to reflect the year that was but that it’s quite easy to predict the cyclical nature of human history, “These stories are sort of circular and George [Lucas] believed this, [that] they repeat themselves over and over and they’re kind of the same story.” Adding, “if you make a timeless story like Star Wars, then it’s always going to feel relevant. It’s always going to feel like it’s reflecting something of the moment.”
Star Wars has always been about hope and the struggle for it. At its core, it’s about how anyone can lead and fight against the toughest of odds. And perhaps that has never been more true for those actually making Star Wars.
With the new slate of movies also came a new kind of direction. Headed by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, there has been a swift and stern march towards diversity and progress. The company itself boasts of an executive team, over half of which is, to date, comprised of women, and the first two new films unapologetically feature a female lead with a multi-ethnic ensemble. This move has garnered hate from those too narrow-minded to see past their ignorance. It started with The Force Awakens and has grown far worse with Rogue One where neo-Nazis and white supremacists have started campaigns against the latest film for its “anti-white agenda” because of its multi-ethnic cast. Trump supporters meanwhile have accused the writers and filmmakers of shoehorning anti-Trump narratives into the movie even if in actuality the final production ended months before the elections. It is this same hate and abuse that makes it so vital for Kennedy and company to stay the course, to rebel against hate.
In the broader sense of current events this may seem inconsequential but these small steps are towards the greater goal. It’s one thing to preach a rebellion of hope, of a communal goal for everyone, but people need to truly see it. In a world where the glass ceiling is as concrete as ever, where fascism has risen from the ashes, it is up to fiction to stand on higher ground. We live in a time where so many still push back on progress and equality for all. And more than ever, it is up to our stories to not only remind us of what can be but to also inspire us to fight for it. Stories are what remind us to push back against those who want to keep us from moving forward. It tells us to trust in each other instead of cowering and bending to the wills of the one. It tells us that hope however slim is still stronger than despair.
This is what Rogue One teaches us the most, that in a world and time that seems too much to bear, hope will always remain as long as everyone stands together. Yes, the road is long and full of terrors and many might not make it to the end, but push forward and push harder nonetheless.
In this year where we saw campaigns of bigotry and sexism, continued acts of war and violence, and the proliferation of xenophobia and racism, hope has never been more at risk and vital. We can’t allow this tide of hate to drown us. Probably more than ever these last twenty years, it is clear than the future has to be forward. If the real world has told us wrong then it is up to us to tell a different story, a better story. Like all great ones before it, Rogue One tells us to not be silenced by fear and hatred, to fight against submission, and speak up. So that the stories we tell today can become reality tomorrow.