[preparing primary ignition sequence]
[pushing the green buttons, then the red ones]
So, today I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the cinema.
Beautifully designed, loved the nods to various details. Star Wars Episodes IV-VI always sided with people who would be classed as terrorists, and Rogue One if anything takes us deeper into sympathising with a terrorist/freedom-fighter position (I suppose we’re meant to think in terms of the Free Syrian Army rather than, say, FARC – but I do wonder how the Rebel Alliance financed their operations for the 15 years that are referenced in the movie!)
A few deeper thoughts:
This is a movie filled with pain. Only the Guardians seem to be at peace in their various ways, regretting little and living for the moment. Even they are outcasts as their temple has been plundered by the Empire. (Both of them were far and away my favourite characters and I suspect I will carry the mantra “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me” for a while when I come upon hard times – along with my prayers to God.)
Much was made of how the X-Wing Fighters attack on the Death Star in Episode IV resembled a certain type of WW2 movie about daring aerial battles, and drew on them for inspiration. In the same way, Rogue One reminded me of another staple of the WW2 movie genre. From the stories that were well-known and based on true events still in living memory when the films were made, such as “Heroes of Telemark” and “Dirty Dozen” (and with a definite nod towards the style of “Saving Private Ryan”, though not so much) – Rogue One referenced a few different subgenres around the theme of a team going on what could well prove to be a suicide mission.
And here’s the big spoiler: it turns out that the final mission, to retrieve the Death Star plans, ends up being exactly that. None of the central characters introduced during the storyline survive and there’s a tipping point where you realise that they know they won’t make it home again. In this sense, it is a true “tragedy” play.
The text and dialogue of Episode IV tells us that a lot of people died to bring the information back to the Rebellion, which set me up for the possibility that the heroes were not necessarily going to make it but I’m an optimist and just hoped that maybe there would be a chance to recover quietly afterwards. Not so! As with those war movies referenced, finishing the mission became the only victory and survival was out of their reach.
Even so, the scenes where the Rebel guards on the flagship are frantically trying to escape with the plans and have to pass them on rather than escape was the real heart-wrencher: the sinister figure of Darth Vader, lightsabre blazing and rendering him immune due to his Sith powers to their blaster fire – and then slashing through them… and again, these unknown characters, barely seen before they are cut down, dedicated and sacrificing themselves just as our heroes had, to get the all-important information to those who could use it to stand against the fascist Empire.
It seems, with such a painful ending, in which characters both main and extras meet with certain and inescapable death at the hands of the Evil Empire, that this would be a bleak story. Everyone we meet along the way has regrets, choices made that meant they had to lose things and people important to them. Everyone bears scars inflicted on them by the struggle against the overbearing tyranny.
Despite this, however, the actual theme of the story is hope. The repeated refrain is that rebellions are built on hope. Everyone who faces these bleak regrets and violent deaths, makes their decisions because of hope for the future, hope for their loved ones, hope for freedom. And the hope makes it worthwhile. As long as a chance remains that the technological monstrosity of mass destruction and the will to use it can be prevented, then the struggle to stop it is worthwhile.
* * *
I cried at the end. Partly, because the final message is delivered by Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher died a few days ago (followed by her mother). Partly because the tragic ends of the characters I’d grown to love during the movie set me up for it. But also because of the words spoken.
The guard hands Leia the plans that will reveal how to destroy the Death Star and asks, “What have they given us?” She answers with one word – the theme of the movie. “Hope.” And if there’s one thing Carrie Fisher can give us still, then that is it: hope.
This feels like the perfect movie to sum up where we are now at the end of 2016. Fascism in the form of May’s Tory Party (and UKIP, and the other even farther right parties), and Trump’s new Republican nightmare, seem to be winning. They have such evil and such power that if we don’t resist, then it will be forever (to echo the language in the movie). Things have rarely felt so bleak even in the Thatcher years (I’m too young to know anything about what it was truly like before then).
But through it all – there is still hope. We are one with the Force, and the Force is with us.