We’re cheering for Rogue One but we’re really on the Empire’s side

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”.

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23 thoughts on “We’re cheering for Rogue One but we’re really on the Empire’s side

  1. Amen.
    I’ve come to the sad conclusion that a good majority of people want someone else to think for them and will do whatever they’re told by the ‘experts’.

    It probably works on the same level as click activism, that is, once you’ve sided with the rebels in mind there’s no need to do anything more.

  2. Hey Mike.

    Loved the way you framed Rogue One – insightful, challenging, provocative.

    Given the FB responses I’ve seen to your comments in days gone by re: asylum seekers, oil pipelines and (dare I mention the most ‘touchy’ one of all) gun control laws, it may be time to grab some popcorn and watch the responses flood in from the Empire.

    Blessings.

  3. Well said… a sad situation.

  4. For too long, I passively accepted empire without question. I accepted the narrative of neoliberal empire that the lot of the poor because of their character. All they needed to was “pull themselves up by their boot-straps.” I listened to the daily reports of urban shootings and would shake my head and change the channel. But the disconnect between my church life and the injustice outside the walls was more than I could bear. So I left. And I went out. I joined a team of like-hearted believers and started mentoring young men transitioning out of foster care. I learned what generational poverty does to people and how hard it is to break out of the cycle. Where this will all end the Lord knows. I just can’t go back to a benign church life and pretend the ugly underbelly of Empire doesn’t exist.

    1. Thank you for sharing that. It encourages me greatly.

    2. Hi Al,

      I just wanted to say this is the best thing I’ve read all week (so technically, all year I guess). Once my own children are old enough to require less attention I would love to do something like this. The plight of those living in poverty with little hope of escape is something most people don’t appreciate. Like you, I once believed they should just work harder and make something of themselves. It is far from being that easy, with dozens of things stacked against them from poor schools, to drugs, to the courts.

      I am sure that you are going help some people have a better life by you getting involved. Best of luck to you.

      1. Thanks Jack. That you have been encouraged by my journey encourages me! We are fellow travelers after all. I would only add that my journey was spawned by disillusionment with “Empire” (church, world). It was nourished by prayer, reading the Gospels and reading works of those who were, transformed by the Gospels: Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Mother Teresa, MLK, etc. Don’t wait to include your kids in service to others. Start out simple. Keep it accessible. For example toy drives for the poor and refugees. I wish I had done so when my kids were little. Peace and blessings on your journey!

        1. Really like your framing in this article. But I’d just like to respond to this comment. It’d be great if people stopped referring to “the poor” as if they are a monolithic identity. It shouldn’t be an identity, it is an economic position people are put in by the system we live in. I don’t have a easier replacement.. the people who are economically suffering? victims of colonialism or capitalism?…Just my two cents

  5. To quote Luke from Star Wars Episode 4
    “I can’t get involved!
    I’ve got work to do!
    It’s not that I like the Empire.
    I hate it!
    But there’s nothing I can do about it right now.
    It’s such a long way from here.”

    The same sort of excuses Moses put out there when God pointed out the injustice of Egypt to him.
    I don’t think that decent-hearted people look at injustice and approve of it. I think that they look at issues and have so much overwhelm that they simply do not feel equipped or deserving or capable of “fighting back” let alone knowing where to start.

    But I hope and pray for more people to grow in their confidence, their willingness to step up and speak out and welcome in and shift culture. “Here I am. Send me.”

  6. Resisting empire is tricky, sticky business. Differing views can find individual verses to back them up too. I’ve been working on a project in the Book of Revelation and what I’ve discovered is that Christ through John is challenging the Early Church to resist conforming to the Empire. The Empire gets all the nasty imagery while the Lord Almighty receives all glory. Rome claimed divinity, the Power by which all would either rise or fall. Christ reveals that any person and power opposed to God will only fall. Thus God warns us to live mindfully, according to the Way of Christ.
    In response to those pastors who quote Paul’s directive to be submissive to the government I would say this: you are right to caution our response to injustice. We ought not resist simply for the sake of resisting. Rather, we stand for justice and mercy on all fronts and if that puts us on the opposite side from Empire, so be it. Between God and humans, Paul chose God, as should we.

  7. Its difficult to tell the truth from fake news. This has probably been true for a very long time but social media exposes us to more of it at the same time it exposes fake news. It can be confusing. I initially believed the Native American protests against the pipeline to be politically motivated. There is an awful lot of that going around today. Thru social media I have come around to sympathize and agree with my Native American friends.

  8. This is kindof a buried not-so-secret message in a lot of Star Wars. Ep7 features a Stormtrooper protagonist turning away from service when he sees the evil in blindly following orders. Ep3 has Padme wonder aloud if she and others might be on ‘the wrong side.’ SW is modern mythology and knows the seeds its been planting. Hope takes root!

  9. Love the analogy and point.

    However, if we take the analogy a step further… you get to Darth Vader and realise that the evil white supremacist empire is led by a black dude… but wait, his boss was hurt in a work accident with Mace and becomes disabled.

    A black guy and a disabled guy lead this organisation! (And before I get the howls of outrage… it’s an extension of the analogy people. Mike makes a great point.)

    1. Vader planned to kill the Emperor/Palpatine (an old, rich, white, powerful man) after he finished his revenge plan against Obi-Wan. It just took him a while to carry that plan out – or do you not remember VI?

      Not sure how Anakin became Black either, considering the EU was thrown out in the Disney acquisition and canon is quite small at the moment. I-III, Clone Wars exist, after all.

      1. Luke and Leia don’t exactly look biracial, and Vader wasn’t black when he mask was removed in.. was it Return of the Jedi?

  10. North dakota, not south

  11. Rogue One will take on 2017 “skin” with two conditions:
    1/ The rising up of a group of men (especially Dads) who (a.) reject passivity, (b.) accept responsibility, (c.) lead courageously, and (d.) accept the greater reward, God’s reward (borrowed from Robert Lewis’ work QUEST FOR AUTHENTIC MANHOOD.)
    2/ The replacement of POLITICIANS by STATESMEN at all levels of government.
    May God help us all.

    1. I wanna see a rising up of women as well as men.

      1. Women will continue to rise, as they have already risen, only to be magnified by the rise of the Servant-Leader male.

  12. Very nice twist Mr. Frost. I was subconsciously thinking the very exact thing during the movie. Its the first time I’ve really ever gotten into Star Wars in an attempt to truly understand the story after hearing anti-star wars groups posting not to support it because it promotes division and war. Thanks again!

    -Stilo

  13. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I read them all and appreciate the feedback. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you can be notified of future posts. The link is on the right at the beginning of the post.

  14. This is the first time i have left a comment on anyone’s blog in over ten years. I believe we try and live our heroism through the movies. Deep inside there is something in us that wishes we were the rebels. In a movie it only costs 12-15 dollars to be a hero but in real life it will cost us much more. I agree that we are definitely on the side of the empire but also we are very apathetic……and we know the most common root of apathy.
    Not very many have the courage to launch out by themselves. This is why i believe the church needs to be an equipping and discipleship base for mission. Things rarely change by simply telling people to get out there and be world changers.

    1. Thanks for posting. First time in ten years? I’m honored.

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