As you probably know by now, Rogue One is about a small band of rebels, part of the larger Rebel Alliance, who try to steal the design plans for a super-weapon called the Death Star. Even if you’re not that into Star Wars films (which I’m not) you’d enjoy it. It’s basically a heist movie – a ragtag bunch of compatriots, each possessing different but complementary skills, attempt to rip off an evil guy’s stuff.
It’s like Oceans 11 in space.
The movie’s tagline is “A rebellion built on hope.” And there’s lots of talk of hope. Because we all know that what the Rogue One crew is doing won’t defeat their enemy but will offer hope for the future for the Rebel Alliance (see Star Wars Episode IV for how all that turns out).
But the Empire is all-pervasive. It has conquered the galaxy and seems invincible. The Rebel leadership is ready to capitulate. There’s simply no way to stop it. Until Jyn Erso and her plucky crew take matters into their own hands.
And everyone cheers them on. After all, we hate Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin, right?
But what if I told you that most of those in the cinema, munching blithely on their popcorn, were really on the side of the Empire without knowing it?
We watch films about small bands of rebels undermining apparently omniscient rulers and think we’re on the side of the rebels but actually the empire has us in its grip.
We’re like stormtroopers unthinkingly following the directives of our leaders.
When the empire insists that asylum seekers be imprisoned without hope of release in detention centers on Pacific islands, we don’t cheer the Rogue One-like activists who advocate for them. We support the empire.
When a rebel alliance rises up in a Native American reservation in South Dakota attempting to stop the empire from constructing an oil pipeline under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, we support the empire.
(I’ve had pastors tell me those rebels were merely “paid protesters”, and that the oil company “did everything it could” to respect the Sioux and Lakota people. They sound exactly like Orson Krennic, the bad guy in Rogue One, making excuses for the Empire and demanding our submission.)
Whenever I’ve raised concerns about unjustifiable wars, or gun control laws, or cuts to foreign aid, I’ve been told by Christians that the Bible tells us to submit to our authorities, that God has installed them and we must honor them.
I’ve addressed what I think Paul is saying about submitting to authorities in Romans 13 in a previous post. My point here is that movies like Star Wars seem to inoculate us from the realities of our own world.
We feel somehow righteous when we side with Jyn Erso and her Rogue One crew and then we leave the darkened cinema to pledge our ongoing allegiance to the Empire.
And in case you think I’m reading too much into a dumb action movie, Rogue One screenwriter Chris Weitz recently tweeted, “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization,” and it is “Opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.”
The makers of Rogue One know exactly what they’re doing.
But Darth Vader’s grip is inviolable. Even as we’re cheering on the brave but outnumbered rebel forces fighting for freedom, we still can’t see our complicity in an empire that feeds us half-truths and numbs us into apathy and tells us everything is alright as it is. And we keep supporting unjustifiable wars, promises of walls along borders, the cruel treatment of refugees, entrenched racism and poverty and sexism and greed.
And we keep cheering rebels on screen, while jeering them in real life.
As bad dude, Orson Krennic says, “The power that we are dealing with here is immeasurable”.