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Rogue One and the Other Face of the Rebellion

December 18, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: A New Hope are two adjacent tales, told forty years apart. The graphical wizardry that creates some of the important connective tissue is breathtaking. But even more stunning is how the modern Rogue One reinterprets A New Hope even as it expands on it. It’s like learning the more complicated, adult underpinnings of a family history you’ve known since childhood. In that way, Rogue One feels like a film speaking directly to my generation of fans. And it has a lot to say about the concept of rebellion.

The Rebels in A New Hope were easy for Americans to identify with. Americans were once rebels, after all, and we were (per our own mythology) plucky and righteous, with the idealistic goal to found a new nation on liberty and self-determination. In 1977, despite withdrawing from Vietnam in disgrace, the Cold War narrative of freedom-loving underdogs resisting the oppressive militarized might of an Evil Empire was strong. There were complications, and there was ugliness, but on principle, America stood with the Rebels.

In Rogue One, we are still with the Rebels — their cause is righteous — but they look less like the mythologized “us” and more like the fighters we see on the news: urban guerillas ambushing tank patrols in town, spies who will coldly kill an ally in order to escape, or paranoid, cave-dwelling militants who share traits with Star Wars’ most iconic villain. Children get caught in the crossfire, and soldiers are haunted by things they’ve done in the name of the cause that they still believe in, despite everything. They are willing to die for their cause, and that is exactly what they do. These hardened, violent rebels are recognizable to Americans, but most often as the “other” in our geopolitics. Sometimes, this kind of rebel in the real world is our enemy.

In the universe of Rogue One, the Rebel Alliance — the one we know with Mon Mothma and Bail Organa — is a splintered and toothless confederacy that dithers and leans toward Imperial appeasement. It’s significant that they are mobilized to war by their radical fringe. A faction of rebels who admit to doing terrible things — and will sacrifice themselves to ensure it was worth it — go rogue (ta-DA!) and draw the entire Rebellion into a desperate play that leads directly into A New Hope. We know now that the destruction of the Death Star and the rise of Luke Skywalker only happened because a few days before, a motley bunch of doomed radicals called for unity in violent revolution.

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