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Star Wars: Rogue One is not a simple story of the good Rebels versus the evil Empire.

Last year, the alt-right boycotted Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being "anti-white." Basically, a handful of people were whining about the presence of people of color and women in lead roles, melodramatically labeling the casting decisions as "white genocide." Leading up to the release of Star Wars: Rogue One, the alt-right called for yet another boycott, this time not only because of the diverse cast, but also because the a writer on the film had labelled the Empire a "white supremacist organization." So, conspiracy theorists, apparently disgusted that most people see white supremacists like them as villains, assumed that there must be anti-Trump scenes written into the movie.

Of course, movies aren't typically written a month before their release, and it would be a little silly to have specifically anti-Trump scenes in a blockbuster if he didn't end up winning the presidency. Even the film's pre-scheduled reshoots happened a month before Trump won the Republican nomination, and were written even earlier. It's almost impressive how little thought went into a conspiracy theory that some people put so much effort into.

In response to the alt-right's proposed boycott, Disney CEO Bob Iger asserted that Rogue One is "not, in any way, a political film." The patent absurdity of the conspiracy theories surrounding Rogue One, however, doesn't mean the film is not political. In response to Iger, David Sims of The Atlantic joked, "is the first truly apolitical film finally upon us?" While all works of fiction are political on some level, many have already noted how the film quite explicitly stands against totalitarianism. For example, Kate Aronoff of The Jacobin labeled the movie "a timely celebration of rebellion from below," praising its focus not on the Skywalker family but on the battle between the Rebels and the Empire.

However, this is not merely a film about the Rebel Alliance fighting against the totalitarian Galactic Empire, as critics of Iger's statement noted leading up to Rogue One's release. If we are to read Rogue One as a political film, then it has so much more to say than "empire bad, republic good."

The Empire and the Alliance alike are more complex entities in Rogue One than they are in the original trilogy, taking on a more political character rather than a lightside vs. darkside narrative. The Empire is not embodied by the Emperor here, but by prison camps, military occupations, and the violence used against those who resist. The Alliance, meanwhile, is a flawed organization that puts its own interests ahead of the galaxy's and its supporters.


For much of the film, the Rebel Alliance is almost as much of an antagonist as the Empire itself. The Alliance uses the threat of sending Jyn Erso back to the Empire to a fate worse than her prior imprisonment in order to coerce the protagonist into working for them. The Alliance also orders the death of Jyn's father (and almost kills her in the process), who, after devoting his life to creating a hidden weakness in the Death Star, was easily more central to the destruction of the superweapon than Luke Skywalker. Jyn herself notes that the Alliance has brought her nothing but grief throughout her life.

While sending Jyn away to meet Saw Gerrera, the Alliance explains that Gerrera's militancy has caused problems for them. In reality, however, Gerrera's forces seem to be the only ones involved in the struggle against the Empire's efforts to extract kyber crystals from Jedha in order to build the Death Star. When they ambush Imperial troops, Captain Cassian Andor, following orders from the Alliance, treats Gerrera's guerrillas as his enemies.

In the film's most pivotal moment, the Alliance feels defeated and resigns itself to, essentially, surrender. Mon Mothma tells Jyn that the Alliance must respect the decision of the council, so the mission to steal the Death Star plans will not happen.

It is a mish-mash of Gerrera's supposedly overly-militant soldiers and Alliance defectors who, against the wishes of the council, go off on their own the mission to retrieve the Death Star plans. This is one of the most moving moments of the film, and also one of the most political. This is not a World War II story of a united liberating army defeating an invading, genocidal empire. It is also not the anti-totalitarian underdog story of the Rebel Alliance defeating the Empire and restoring the Republic, as many have characterized the film's political statement. Rogue One is more than your typical fight-the-power plot, and shouldn't be reduced to the more general anti-totalitarian story it inherits from the rest of the Star Wars franchise.

By having its protagonists defy the Alliance in order to defeat the Empire, Rogue One tells the story of an insurrection of dissidents, who have refused to give up in the face of heightened dangers. The protagonists of Rogue One not only fought against the greater evil, but also refused to accept the shortcomings of its lesser evil opposition. By taking action into their own hands, the dissident rebels inspire others to join them, enabling the eventual destruction of the Death Star that had previously forced the rest of the Alliance into submission.

It's harder to definitively say what Rogue One might be saying about current events. Most of the movie was written in 2015 (and the film was first pitched over a decade ago) - it would be impossible to prove any specific, intended messages about current events. However, we might infer this: If Rogue One can be read as anti-Trump through it's anti-totalitarianism, then it would also be anti-Democrat through its embrace of dissident, grassroots politics (rather than unwavering support to a timid opposition movement trying to restore the status quo).

This is not the story of Hillary supporters who, upon Trump's victory, decided they must respect the results of the political process and just try harder in 2020. Rogue One is not calling for blind obedience to the system, to the decisions made by those in positions of power, or to the leadership of political parties. It is calling for standing up for what is right, standing up against violence, and planning actions from the grassroots, even when politicians aren't on our side. Rogue One not only tells us to question an authoritarian like Donald Trump, but also tells us to critically engage with our options for responding to him, and contribute directly to making change rather than assuming the powerful will do so for us with our best interests in mind.

Rogue One wasn't a movie belatedly made for election season, begging for our Democrat votes to prevent the arrival of what many consider to be fascism. It was a movie made for our era of protest, from Occupy to Black Lives Matter, where people are standing up to injustices even when our leaders refuse to.

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