Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger made waves when, in response to a budding boycott, he proclaimed that the new Star Wars film, Rogue One, was not a political movie. The movie centers around the efforts of a team of rebels to retrieve the plans for the superweapon, the Death Star, from the evil Galactic Empire. It is a prequel to the original Star Wars. Given the nature of two opposing governments engaged in both an idealistic and a literal battle, how could any Star Wars film not be political in some fashion?
For your next research paper in political science, consider looking into the ideological perspectives in Rogue One, or the elements of realism used in portraying war in the film as compared to the more fantastic elements in previous franchise installments.
Star Wars has always been political
While Bob Iger has a bottom line to consider and certainly wants any Star Wars movie to have as wide an appeal as possible, “to deny the politics of ‘Star Wars’ is to throw the franchise’s rich history under a bus the size of an Imperial cruiser,” wrote Ben Guarino in “Disney Chief: ‘Rogue One’ Not a Political Film” for the Charleston Gazette Mail, December 14, 2016. According to Guarino:
- The original Star Wars hid references to Vietnam inside its heroic journey.
- For Rogue One, filmmakers photoshopped rebel clothing onto images of soldiers from the Vietnam conflict, the conflicts in the Middle East and World War II to create a sense of realism.
- Costumers creating the character designs for Star Wars used Nazi helmets and World War I trench armor as inspiration for Darth Vader.
- The very word Stormtrooper is a reference to the sturmtruppen of Germany in World War I.
Critics have attacked the diversity of the Rogue One cast as one of its political statements; Bob Iger demurred there, too, but noted that he was proud of that diversity. The controversy driving the boycott, however, seems to have stemmed from Rogue One writer Chris Weitz’s deleted tweets, captured by David Sims in the November 21, 2016, Atlantic article “A Deleted Tweet Won’t Hurt Rogue One”: “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization” that, according to Weitz’s co-writer Gary Whitta in a return tweet, is opposed “by a multicultural group led by brave women.”
Rural vs. urban
The divide between rural and urban voters has frequently been in the news through the 2016 election cycle, and according to David Wong of Cracked, an entertainment site, the original Star Wars (as well as films like Hunger Games and Braveheart) actually add fodder to that political divide. In “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind” posted October 12, 2016, Wong offers this synopsis: “There’s this universal shorthand that epic adventure movies use to tell the good guys from the bad.” His assessment: simple country folk, such as the protagonists of Hunger Games are heroes, while the twisted, decadent urban residents are the villains. “In Star Wars, Luke is a farm boy … while the bad guys live in a shiny space station.” To Wong, the storytelling supports a code that is rural vs. urban, continuing to promote a divide between the “real people” standing against the elites. Which, he concluded, correlates to the political divisions that became so clear during the 2016 United States election.
Sims, too, felt that the 2016 election impacted how Bob Iger reacted to the term “political film.” As Sims wrote in another Atlantic article, “Of Course Rogue One Is Political” on December 14, 2016, Rogue One is “a tale of rebellion against a totalitarian government, of guerrilla fighters striking a blow against uniform regiments of stormtroopers and the brutal dictator they serve. The idea that such sentiments would be remotely controversial is indicative of just how much the 2016 election has seeped into every aspect of pop culture.”
When considering using Rogue One as a jumping off point for a research paper topic, you may delve into the idea of diversity or inclusion as a political statement; the rural vs. urban divide and how it is reflected in pop culture—and whether that is relevant for Rogue One’s rebel crew; or even whether films should—or even can—divorce themselves from the politics of the time in which they are made.
What political aspects do you see in Rogue One or other current pop culture films? Tell us in the comments.