Ever since Disney announced Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last March, fans haven’t seemed sure what to expect of the film. All seven previous Star Wars films focused on the Skywalker family saga. However, Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Felicity Jones, has been advertised as something different. It’s the story about the Rebellion’s attempts to steal the Death Star plans before A New Hope. No Skywalkers or Jedi are expected to appear in the film (with the possible exception of Darth Vader). How would fans react to a Star Wars film lacking many of the elements that made the franchise what it is in the first place?
Looking at the reactions on my Facebook feed to the new Rogue One trailer, it seems fans are indeed quite willing to give this new type of Star Wars a try. The trailer emphasizes action, focusing on a handful of battle scenes (although, surprisingly for a movie about X-Wing pilots, no space battles). There’s also an element of nostalgia. As much as The Force Awakens hearkened back to the Original Trilogy, there’s nothing quite like seeing the original Stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, and Rebel base on the big screen again.
What I liked most about the trailer is that it hints at an interesting story arc for the lead character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). At the beginning, Jyn is led through a Rebel base in handcuffs. Rebel leader Mon Mothma claims Jyn has a history of petty crime and getting into fights (she was apparently abandoned at the age of 15). Jyn responds, “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” Although Jyn might not like the Empire, she’s not a wholesome, idealistic crusader like Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia.
The Star Wars films have always been interested in insurgencies and what motivates people to rebel against government. In the Prequel Trilogy, the Separatists appeared to wage war on the Republic solely for financial gain. A New Hope clung closely to the more romantic notions of the anti-Vietnam War movement, treating the Rebel insurgents as righteous idealists. This also hearkens back to our own mythology about the American Revolution as a noble struggle for freedom and democracy. By contrast, in the post-9/11 era, America has found itself in long running wars against insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the United States has increasingly found itself in the position of the Empire, the large, bureaucratic superpower fighting a band of terrorists motivated by an “ancient religion.”
I would love to see Rogue One explore what it means to be an insurgent and who joins insurgencies (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine told some interesting stories about this during the 1990s). From what we know of Jyn Erso, it seems like the film is prepared to admit that not everybody who joins the Rebellion is intrinsically heroic or altruistic. I certainly don’t expect Rogue One to draw some sort of moral equivalency between the Rebel Alliance and the Taliban (for all her faults, Jyn Erso doesn’t come across as a “Jihadi John”). However, one of the more fascinating – and disturbing – trends of the past few years is how ISIS has attracted a variety of individuals already predisposed towards violence and extremism. Some of these newer members, who often come from affluent and educated backgrounds, care more about bombs than the Quran. As Alain Grignard, a senior member of Belgium’s federal counterterrorism task force, put it after the recent attacks in Brussels, “we’re increasingly dealing with what are best described as ‘Islamized radicals.’” Jyn’s background and remarks suggest that she too joined the insurgency not because of deeply held political ideals but rather because of some predisposition towards rebellion.
Dom Nardi is the Contributing Writer for Star Wars at Legendarium Media. He has worked as a political scientist and as a consultant throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, he has published academic articles about politics in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. You can find more of his writing at NardiViews.