Over the winter break, I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This statement isn’t very unique. Lots of people saw this movie, the Regal theater I went to was packed full of Star Wars fans, both young and old. I wore a Star Wars hoodie, my sister wore a Princess Leia onesie, and my dad wore his new Rogue One T-shirt. We were all decked out and ready to go.
But I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Sure, I watched all the trailers and read a bunch of speculative articles, but I just wasn’t feeling it. For anyone that doesn’t know what I’m talking about, leave now. No, no, there are no fandom gatekeepers here, I’m just kidding. One of the great things about Star Wars is how accessible it is for newcomers. Whether your first Star Wars movie was A New Hope or The Force Awakens, it doesn’t matter. Star Wars is for everyone, and I will fight anyone that says otherwise.
So in case you don’t know, here’s a brief summary: Rogue One is a standalone Star Wars movie that explains how a group of rebels stole the Death Star plans. In Star Wars: A New Hope, these plans allow The Rebellion to destroy the Death Star, which, if you didn’t know, is a giant spherical weapon that can literally blow up planets. Rogue One is the story of these rebels, the ones that lay the foundation for the events of the first Star Wars film ever made, technically the fourth in the series, Star Wars: A New Hope.
Easy enough to understand, right?
My problem was I couldn’t understand how this story would be translated into a two-and-a-half-hour film. I thought, “How much is there to tell? It’s not that complicated. Some rebels stole some plans. That’s it.”
Boy, was I wrong.
There was a lot more to tell. More than I could imagine. And after I left the theater, I decided that Rogue One was my new favorite Star Wars movie. Like a good Star Wars fan, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back has always been my designated favorite. It’s inarguable, most people say. Episode V is the best Star Wars movie ever made. Maybe I’m losing my Star Wars cred by saying it, but I might like Rogue One even more than Episode V.
Why? Because it showed me the Rebellion I always wanted. It made the Rebellion more than a group of all-white, mostly male people fighting against another group of all-white, mostly-male people. It went so much deeper than any other Star Wars film, not afraid to show multiple sides of the Rebellion, to show blatant displays of violence, death, and sacrifice. This movie has just enough humor to save it from being an angst-fest, and just enough angst to save it from being a joke. The characters are memorable, from snarky droid, K-2SO, to anxious pilot, Bodhi Rook. Like past films, there are plenty of quotable lines. There’s Chirrut Imwe repeating, “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me,” and both Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso saying, “Rebellions are built on hope.”
The effects are a great blend of practical and CG. There are quite a few nods to the original franchise, including a frightfully rendered General Tarkin. The quality of Tarkin’s face is a whole other discussion for another time, though if you want to read essay-length complaints about the CGI, just google “General Tarkin” and there you go.
Rogue One is also diverse, like there-are-no-white-male-protagonists kind of diverse. Yes, the main lead is a white woman, which isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but since diversity is intersectional, I would say this is one of the most diverse Star Wars films to date. There are plenty of articles out there that would say otherwise, that bemoan the lack of women or equate the protagonist, Jyn Erso, to some sort of paradigm of White Feminism. But I say, let’s go for a little positivity, yeah?
Diversity should not be dichotomous. Thinking of diversity in binary terms, as black or white, male or female, straight or gay, is laughably ironic in my mind. Diversity is a tangled web of identities. Let me explain what I mean. I recently read a blog post on the micro-blogging website, Tumblr, complaining about the lack of women in Rogue One. They talk about the disproportionate ratio of men to women, the lack of female background characters, and the fact that all of the main characters, except the lead protagonist, are men. Oh boy, a movie with only one female lead? Time to sharpen those discourse claws and go in for the kill, right?
Wrong. At least, that’s what I think.
This blogger failed to recognize that yes, out of the five human characters that make up the main team, five may be men, but they are not the generic, boring white men Hollywood so often pushes into the spotlight. They are all men of color. So instead of bemoaning the lack of women, I think people like this blogger should acknowledge that positive, non-stereotypical roles for men of color are just as few and far between as for women. But diversity is intersectional, so when I say “women” I need to define who I’m talking about. Women of color are less represented than white women in Hollywood, and when you factor in other identities like sexual orientation and ability, you get a whole web of people that are either underrepresented or not represented at all.
It’s not just about putting a woman into a movie. You can’t just shove in a woman and claim to be diverse. You need to acknowledge that there are multiple facets to a person’s identity. And all of these facets come together in unique ways. Yeah, the main cast may be mostly men, but they are not white men, they do not have all these privileges to wave around in people’s faces. It is possible to have privilege in one way and be at a disadvantage in another.
This is true for the main character. She is a woman, yes, but she is also white. Would it be awesome if Star Wars cast a person of color as their main lead? Yes. Even better, they should cast a woman of color as the main lead in one of their films. That would be amazing. But even though a white lead is not diverse in any way, the fact that Jyn Erso is a woman that leads a group of men without being ridiculed, questioned, or patronized is pretty cool.
Rogue One, while not perfect, is a good example of a franchise recognizing it has a racial and ethnic diversity problem and seeking to remedy that problem in some way. Just the fact that actors spoke English in their native accents is wonderful to me. Mexican actor Diego Luna doesn’t put on a faux British or American accent to play Cassian Andor. He speaks English in his native accent, and the way he speaks is never the butt of some lame-ass joke. I’ve heard so many stereotypical and caricatured Latinx accents in movies and video games, it was great to hear this man speak boldly and unapologetically.
I’m not saying Rogue One is the pinnacle of inclusivity. Lucasfilm and Disney don’t deserve a parade for daring to cast people that aren’t white men. But this movie does deserve some praise, I think. While Star Wars has a long way to go in terms of making better, more inclusive films, they have come extremely far.
Just look at the original trilogy, at the extreme lack of diversity there. There’s this one scene in Rogue One where a group of Death Star engineers are all standing in a line. What’s amazing about this scene is how similar they look. They are all older white men. They’re standing there in the rain, a testament of the old ways, of what the Empire represents. And then you see our little group of rebels, who are not alike, who are nothing like these engineers.
Maybe I’m being naïve or too social-justicey or whatever, but I love this scene and the distinction made between the Empire and the Rebellion. And I love how inclusive Star Wars is becoming. It still has a long way to go, for example, there are still no canon LGBT characters, but it’s making more strides than some other notable (and magical) franchises that I won’t mention in this post…
Anyways, Rogue One is a great movie. I would see it five more times if I could. It’s a little grittier than past Star Wars films, a little more violent and hardcore. But its core message is simple: hope.
NPR writer Chris Klimek puts it best when he writes, “It’s (Rogue One’s) a tense, well-made spacefaring war movie about a desperate and demoralized band of insurgents standing up against a rising authoritarian regime.”1 A story about rebels standing up to fascism? Count me in.
Chris Klimek, “‘Rogue One’ Is ‘A Star Wars Story’ With Fewer Stars And A Lot More Wars,” NPR, December 15, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/12/15/504850324/rogue-one-is-a-star-wars-story-with-fewer-stars-and-a-lot-more-wars?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=movies
Fig. 1 From Irmonline.com. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53323bb4e4b0cebc6a28ffa2/t/57d85050bebafb0f01a16aad/1473794135431/
1 Chris Klimek, “‘Rogue One’ Is ‘A Star Wars Story’ With Fewer Stars And A Lot More Wars,” NPR, December 15, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/12/15/504850324/rogue-one-is-a-star-wars-story-with-fewer-stars-and-a-lot-more-wars?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=movies