Backlash against 'Rogue One' reflects a post-election America

No matter how far, far away it may seem, "Rogue One" hits close to home

One of the most laughably naive concepts my younger self believed was that fiction was an escape from reality. The truth is that politics and entertainment are inexorably intertwined. 

Last night’s Oscars was peppered with politics throughout, from Gael García Bernal's condemnation of Trump's wall to Jimmy Kimmel's mid-Oscar tweet noting that Donald Trump hadn't taken to Twitter to address the Oscars.

Of all the films that made up the childhoods of many ASU students, many carried political undertones, which subtly influenced our current views.

Our generation was the one of the first ones that grew up consuming movies regularly. Despite ASU's film school seeking to be inclusive, there's only so much a film school can teach when the industry itself doesn't reflect the diversity of our student body.

"Star Wars" is much more than a family film series: it's an entertaining vessel for political critique, and the social media backlash against its most recent films reveals troubling truths about our culture.

The most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise, “Rogue One,” along with its predecessor “The Force Awakens,” has seen fierce backlash on social media.

Online protestors started a #DumpStarWars hashtag, suggested a boycott, and even call the film "anti-Donald Trump" and "feminist propaganda" for its female lead.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has said that Rogue One was not made with the intention of critiquing Trump, yet people took to Twitter to call for boycotts. 

"Frankly, this is a film that the world should enjoy," Iger said in a Hollywood Reporter interview. "There are no political statements in it, at all."

Rogue One screenwriter Chris Weitz called the Empire a "white supremacist organization," only to later delete his tweet and apologize for "connecting an innocent escape to ugly politics."

But Star Wars has never been an escape from the real world — the series has always functioned as a window into understanding and critiquing politics.

George Lucas is candid about the Empire's role as a stand-in for Nazi Germany and connections between Star Wars conflicts and the Vietnam WarThe films also parallel Anakin Skywalker and George Bush in the famous “you’re either with me or against me” line.

“(Lucas is) honest and open about this,” said James Wermers, an ASU professor for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. “Which is why there was so much sensitivity, I think, in the political right to the claims that Rogue One was anti-Trump."

While Wermers considers the Star Wars series inherently political, he doubts that the film explicitly targets Trump. 

"I think what it comments on are some of the cultural strings that (Trump's) administration seems to be pulling at," Wermers said. "It’s not about Trump, it’s not about Republicans. I think it’s largely about currents in culture. Rogue One is interested in these currents of culture."

Some of these currents of culture include the long-unheard calls for diversity. When a blockbuster as influential as "Star Wars" casts a diverse group of actors to be heroes, it's reflecting our changing culture. 

Diego Luna's decision to voice his character with a heavy accent provides representation for Hispanic-Americans who are greatly underrepresented in media and film. 

The decision to cast a female lead who was not tied down by arbitrary romance plots also reflects our demand for realistic, wholly human female characters.

While millennials grew up with problematic elements in our media, films like "Star Wars" inspire hope that people in future generations will enjoy films full of diversity and positive representation.

No change is met without critics. While "Rogue One" doesn't address Trump or Clinton directly, it speaks to the American hatred for fascism and our love for representation, diversity and heroism. After all, politics and entertainment have always been the two best-used tools of the rebel alliance.


Reach the reporter at sosulli2@asu.edu or follow @serenaeosully on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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