On the Wars in the Stars

Prompted by: Rogue One

I’ve been thinking about something for over a year now. It started with this:


Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)

This was the first time I can ever recall that a fantasy movie crossed a very real bridge for me. I remember watching this and thinking, clear as day, “this is real.” A superhero movie was addressing an issue that was relevant in our day and age, without any guise, and I wondered how many other people got that. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I thought about it in Age of Ultron, when the Sokovia Accords started to be addressed. I thought about it in Captain America: Civil War when Iron Man and Cap faced the reality that they supported two very different realities. And I thought about it with Star Wars— I thought about that a lot. Star Wars.

Our generation has been blissfully unaware of the reality of war. The Iraq War is the extent of our experience with warfare, and even that seemed awfully far off, almost surreal in its distant. Perhaps others remember more, being older than I was, but all I really recall is yellow ribbons. I didn’t have any family members who were in the military at that time, and I didn’t know anyone who died overseas during the war. This was not Vietnam, where those who did come back came back indescribably scarred, both mentally and physically. This was not WWII where every able-bodied man was drafted to support the cause. Our generation has never faced the reality of uprisings and rebellions and catastrophic loss. And this is a reality that is added to by the privilege of our nation. It’s been 150 years since our nation was torn by civil war, while numerous countries are still locked in deathly struggles and have been for years; it’s been over a decade since a U.S. city faced the threat of attacks from the air, while even in the past week, entire towns have been obliterated by air strikes. Rationing has not taken place in the states since WWII, while there are citizens of other countries starving to death due to the grips of warfare. And rebellions? What do we know? We are children, rebels without a cause, playing pretend and speaking when we feel like it. We have never been faced with the hard choice, never faced the fork in the road. Sure, we make decisions– speak up on social media, maybe even say something to a stranger who is harassing someone. And then what? We return to our bubble, we step back into our scene, we walk down the sidewalk of the free world and do not have to worry about what lurks around the next corner or who heard us defending someone who is deemed lesser than us. We do not know of the gestapo or the thought police or the people’s security. We know nothing and we have nothing to fear.

Star Wars. Perhaps our closest association to a war-torn galaxy, and it has been presented to us over the course of 30 years, eight movies, a number of books, one TV show, and endless merchandise. The implications of The Rebellion versus The Empire are, for most people, almost entirely lost in their shiny packaging and sweeping soundtracks. Han Solo! Leia! Oh and Yoda! Who doesn’t love Yoda… How easy it is to forget that this is a war story. The rebel alliance made the choice to stand up against a global– nay a galactic– superpower. Leia risked her life and her position– not to mention lost her entire planet (her country, if you will)– to stand up for the rest of the galaxy. Ambassadors gave up their privilege, their positions, and their safety to give what they could. Yoda was one of the last remaining survivors of a genocide. We watch these movies and forget that we are watching a violent grappling for freedom. We forget that beneath every storm trooper helmet lies a human being. Count Dooku, General Grievous, Darth Maul– these are generals and weapons specialists. Han Solo and Chewie are average citizens turned rebels, normal people who made the choice to fight for what they believed to be right.

What I’m trying to say is that I think we have missed the point, and I think we still are. Rogue One reminded me once again of the implications and far-reaching impacts of war. Rebellions start somewhere, and rebellions are not merciful. And while most people my age will watch Rogue One two or three times and enjoy the fight scenes and hat-tips to the original trilogy, I find it safe to say that the majority will never grasp what is actually happening and what the series is actually about. The prequels catalog a descent into war. Senators doing their best to maintain a grasp on control, government officials choosing between what is right and what is easy. I can’t help but think a similar scenario looms on the horizon for us, in which we will have to choose. Choose to live a quiet life of safety and not speaking up, or if we will choose to brave the colder horizons of Hoth, where danger lurks at every turn, but where we are fighting for the future.

And yet still, we are removed. We’ve seen how many of the rebels die, how many of the fighter pilots are shot down. But they’re extras in a movie, and we’re not surprised when they die, are we? We are removed from the reality of war. I’ve been seeing a lot of Empire bumper stickers lately, and it gives me pause. I struggle to comprehend the reasoning behind supporting the empire. Even Wikipedia describes it as “a brutal dictatorship, one based on tyranny, xenophobic hatred of non-humans, power projection through brutal and lethal force, and, above all else, constant fear.” Why would anyone openly support that? And then I remember– it’s a movie. Darth Vader is a badass. It’s all fiction. It’s easy to pick sides. And in a way, this only makes me more frustrated. Because how far off is that, really? Here lies what may very well be our generation’s best frame of reference for what is right and what is wrong within government structures, and are we overlooking it?

I have long pondered the implications of desensitization in media and videogames (which is a topic for a different post) and I wonder if this is a similar case. How easy is it to look at the clash of rebels vs empire with excitement. We settle in with our popcorn, the lights dim, we squirm excitedly. We forget that the Empire is a dynasty built on hatred, leaving entire races extinct in the blink of an eye. Half of me says I’m being melodramatic and taking all the fun out of an enjoyable franchise that has been a part of my life for over a decade. But the other half says it is childish and irresponsible to overlook the larger themes. Stories hold meaning.

Ever since I read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was seven or eight, I knew there was a larger struggle in the world. An overreaching battle between good and evil, one that would manifest itself in virtually every worthwhile story for the rest of my life. And sure, they’re just stories. But stories are often based on history, and history is destined to repeat itself. And when that day comes, when the circle restarts, wouldn’t we want to be the Leia Organas and the Lucy Pevinses of our stories? Wouldn’t we want to stand up and say no, this is not right? Wouldn’t we want to be the heroes, the protectors, the valiant? Wouldn’t we want to speak the truth, even if our voices shake?

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