I’ve never felt like a Jedi. Nor did my father before me, who preferred Spaceballs to Star Wars. My mother, though, loves with the original films. I always felt a little sad that Episodes IV-VI didn’t connect with me, because I know how much they mean to others.
When The Force Awakens came out I didn’t see it in theaters. It’s hard to articulate why. Mostly I felt like I’d be playing in someone else’s sandbox. This wasn’t my movie.
That went out the window when I saw the trailer for Rogue One.
I was fascinated. The main character was a cynical, sarcastic woman. The plot looked empowering. The cast was diverse. I surprised myself by asking to go with a group of friends to see it opening weekend.
Forgive me for saying this, but Rogue One shocked me because I found the original trilogy a little saccharine. Good people die in Episodes IV-VI, but they all come back as Force ghosts. For the most part the main characters live happily ever after. I never thought Darth Vader might actually win. I never felt the emotional impact of whole planets being destroyed.
Rogue One is violent, tragic, and dark. That may be what makes it such a good film. Seeing inside the trauma of people who fight against a totalitarian government is not entertainment or escapism. It’s a challenge. What will do you when an ancient, diverse, and sacred city is destroyed? What will you do when the fascists demand that you use your skills to their ends? What will you do when the world comes undone? You will die, obviously. But how?
Still, it’s not nihilist. The two core themes of Rogue One are spoken by Chirrut and Jyn. “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” And, “We’ll take the next chance, and the next, until the day is won, or the chances are spent.” I understand completely that this film is not what fans of the Star Wars universe expected. It is not in any way lighthearted. The trope of “good always defeats evil” is almost buried under Jyn’s and Cassian’s despair. What I think the film demonstrates, though, is that good only defeats evil when the good take action. It’s not a sure bet.
The Force Awakens
When Carrie Fisher died, the same friend I saw Rogue One with suggested we watch The Force Awakens. Robin is a bigger fan of TFA than Rogue One, and she thought I’d like it better too.
I did like The Force Awakens, very much. The main distinction between the two films is that the focus of Rogue One is global. The focus of The Force Awakens is individual. Rey and Finn must find the goodness in themselves and join the Resistance. Once they join the Resistance, the narrative tells us, the evils of the First Order won’t stand a chance. (Whereas Jyn and Cassian’s goodness doesn’t matter in the face of the oncoming catastrophe.)
I think it’s easier to be a fan of The Force Awakens. There is a great deal more joy in TFA. The triumph of good over evil does feel like a sure thing, especially after Rey begins to explore her power. Rey’s conversation with Maz and her fight with Kylo remind us that we all have the power we need inside ourselves.
It’s sentimental, is what it comes down to. That’s not a criticism. It’s okay to enjoy a bit of sentiment; in fact, these days I think we need it. Sentiment reminds us what we live for, what we fight to protect. Of what use is it to blow up the Death Star or the Star Killer or whatever the Big Bad Thing™ is this time, if it’s not to protect the dreams of Rey, and blundering, Big Deal Finn, loving, defiant Poe, and adorable BB8? Don’t be afraid, The Force Awakens tells us. Even if your own family falls to the Dark Side, still don’t be afraid. The belonging we seek is ahead of us.
MAZ THO. Ms. Nyong’o, if I wanted my heart ripped out of my chest I’d have just asked.