Last week some serious existential thought was given to my current state of mind as a writer and where I want my laptop and swiftly tapping fingers to take the direction of my writing. My inability to definitively dislike a film without becoming awashed with guilt over criticizing someone else’s expression of art makes me feel kind of dirty. Someone has shared their craft with me, and I think I have the credentials to sit behind my keyboard and poke holes in their passion project. For a film to spark any kind of discussion means it’s accomplished a feat of relevance, but who am I to decide whether it is or isn’t worth your time? Even the worst movie I’ve ever seen is still worth the time, because someone cared enough to create it. So as I took time to ponder my path as a writer, I questioned both my desire and my place in the realm of film discussion and criticism.
I say this as I sit here, bursting with words I want to share about my recent experience with Rogue One and remember why I began this blog in the first place: I can write whatever, whenever I want. So bear with me as this space provides a cathartic place for my excitement and gushing and devastation all at once. The experience of watching Rogue One rocked me to my core, and I’m still trying to figure out why. I am, for the lack of a better description, a weird crier. I can remain stone-faced during The Notebook, and dry eyed through every ASPCA commercial, but I need the whole box of tissues every time I watch both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Something about tales of human connection that expand further than the scope of two people in love, or the death of a loved one tend to hit the hardest for me. These moments are no less important or emotional, they just drive me to tears less often than the overwhelming feeling that I am or could be part of something bigger.
On the same day I went to the theater to see Rogue One, the news broke that the Russian ambassador to Turkey had been assassinated. As details were revealed and startling images circulated of the incident, comparisons were made to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June of 1914, the event largely accredited to the trigger of the start of World War I. Things in Syria had reached an eruption unlike any we had seen thus far, resulting in the fall of Aleppo and the death of endless innocent men, women, and children. The rebels have fallen. The empire rises. Tensions reach and unavoidable boiling point. This is the environment we dive into as soon as the lights dim for Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One, jumping right over the titular Star Wars textual stage setting that usually crawls up the screen into the galaxy.
Conflict. Oppression. Destruction. These words rain down on viewers as they realize the uphill battle Jyn and the rest of the rebels must face to destroy the weapon her father has built. As they land on the moon Jedha, a surprise attack from the a rogue group of rebels on the Empire puts civilians in the crossfires. Jyn scrambles into the middle of the battle to save a young child, who is paralyzed with fear, screaming, covered in a mixture of grime and terror in the street. This moment was startlingly similar to stills I’ve seen of children in Aleppo, struggling to survive and buried in the rubble of destruction. Suddenly I, too, was paralyzed with fear. Fear of art depicted life, of science fiction becoming nonfiction.
As the parallels between fantasy grew more prominent and the lines that divide the two diminished during the film, I realized what was coming. The battle was lost. The rebels, in this moment, during this conflict, would lose. Jyn Erso would be a fleeting, but ferocious, addition to the Star Wars universe, and this magnetic, endearing cast would only be together for one chapter in this story. However, the way one chooses to view the outcome of this conflict speaks volumes about the future of the hope and progression that our world depends on to thrive under fascism and oppression. We can focus on losing the battle, or we can shift to the future, and put all of our efforts into winning the war. The rebels in Rogue One sacrificed themselves for the future generation. They lost their lives trying to ensure the future of their cause for those they were leaving behind.
It’s poignant that the last thing we see in Rogue One as the rebels on this mission to steal the Death Star plans are annihilated is the word “hope” coming out of the mouth of a young Princess Leia when the woman who brought her to life four decades ago left is just yesterday. Carrie Fisher, although she’s gone, gave us hope that as sufferers of mental illness, as young women, as human beings, we can all still change the world when the odds are against us. If, after the death and destruction, hope is all we have, then that’s enough to start with. Rebellions are built on hope.