Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rogue One: Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?


There's a well-known saying that goes 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter'. Whilst this is probably a bit simplistic ( when discussing revolutions, uprisings, insurgencies and the like, I think it does have an element of truth to it. Watching the recent Star Wars film Rogue One reminded me of this saying.

You can read my review of the film here.

In case you didn't know, the movie follows a group of resistance fighters who are battling against the evil Empire, a totalitarian space government hell bent on complete domination of the galaxy (with the ultimate aim of galaxy-wide peace, apparently). These rebels are out to get plans to the secretive Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction so terrible it can vaporise entire planets, thus eliminating billions in one strike. The rebels hope these plans will enable them to exploit a fatal weakness that will easily destroy the weapon, dealing a devastating blow to their enemy.

In order to achieve this goal, the rebels cross paths with various military, law enforcement and administrative personnel of the Empire – many of whom who are killed for getting in the way. It's not just Empire staff that are in danger, however. The very first time we meet him, one of the Rogue One team kills an informant in cold blood.

Sure, the Empire is evil (although it's never very clear in the movies exactly why they're evil). They're developing a humongous floatey grey ball that can extinguish billions of lives in an instant, so yeah they're pretty bad. But does this fact justify the murder of innocent people in the name of a 'cause'? No doubt the bigwigs at the top (Darth Vader, the Emperor et al) are evil through and through, but the regular guys lower down the ranks probably aren't on the same scale of evilness. I expect they're just trying to get by, keep their head down and provide for their family – but unfortunately they are the ones who usually get slaughtered.

The sad plight of a baddie's goons has no doubt been discussed many times (and even made fun of in the excellent Austin Powers), but every time I see nameless henchmen take a bullet for their evil masters it always makes me wonder about the morality of our hero. It doesn't take a massive leap of imagination to see the heroes as terrorists, but because they are framed as the 'goodies' we the audience are happy to cheer them on as they blast away faceless stormtroopers in the name of freedom.

Okay, now don't read too much into what I'm saying here. I'm not equating the rebellion with ISIS / DAESH, for example. The ideals of that real-world terrorist organisation is in no way, shape or form 'noble', and the atrocities which they've committed in the name of it means they should be stopped at all costs. Also, Star Wars is fantasy and no actual people are being killed in the process, obviously. Real life is not like the movies, and that's something we should be constantly reminding ourselves of. Art is simply a mirror held up against our culture, after all.

Curiously, given one of Rogue One's themes (armed struggle against oppression), it seems to me that Disney – that great, magical provider of wholesome and wondrous entertainment – is advocating guerilla warfare. This is automatically, by association, of course. I don't think Disney have actually ever released a press release stating as much, but if our heroes are killing people in the name of their cause and we are meant to be rooting for the hero, then we should be aligning with that cause at least to some degree. This means that we're on the side of the armed struggle and Disney is too (because they wouldn't be on the side of the Empire, would they? Would they??).

Apparently, a load of blogger moms were invited by Disney to a special preview showing of Rogue One because they were worried that the advance word about it being a 'war film' would put parents off from taking their children. As it was a preview, they only showed about twenty minutes of the film (probably all the safe bits, with K2-SO giving his comedy quips), but I'm sure they did their best to try and allay any fears the adults might have. If this was the case, it's a classic example of corporate deception. Rogue One is very much a war movie, despite the fact that it falls under the Star Wars banner. I must admit, when I heard that Rogue was going to be more 'gritty', I thought twice about taking number one son. Since the rating was a 12A, I thought it would be alright (Force Awakens was the same rating), but it's certainly darker than other Star Wars films (just compare the end battle to the one in Phantom Menace. It's like they're from two completely different franchises).

So, going back to my freedom fighter / terrorist thought ... I'm not necessarily saying it's wrong to feature characters overthrowing an oppressive regime, but I'm questioning the morality of murderous acts committed in the name of such causes. You could argue that freedom has a price, and that those who stand in the way of freedom pay the ultimate price – their lives – for deliberately getting in the way. To quote another famous space-based franchise: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." ( This is particularly poignant in modern times, as freedoms in the West are becoming more and more threatened (see: Snoopers charter, Trump, Putin etc.). We've recently seen protest marches against Trump across the globe, and one common thread has been the notion of 'resistance'. Even some Trumpists are accusing Disney of comparing the current US administration to that Empire. The parallels between Star Wars and contemporary society have never been more blatant.

I hope I'm never in the position where I have to choose between living under an oppressive regime or being a rebel fighter against it. Sure, I like to think I'd chose the side of the goodies over the baddies, but no armed struggle has ever been a picnic – for either side. So let's pray that in the not-too-distant-future the only time we see freedom fighters battling it out against a fascist regime is in a galaxy far far away...

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