This is not the story we’re looking for.
Rogue One left me disquieted for a reason that has nothing to do with the quality of the movie: It perpetuates myths about how to fight evil. It may be fun to cheer for our heroes when they drop their bombs and fire their guns, but that’s not the way we’re going to solve the problems we’re facing today.
Now I must confess that I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy Rogue One despite my misgivings. I love adventure stories, especially when the main character is a woman and the story pays homage to other work I’ve loved. But the world is in a difficult place right now. We need to use our imaginations to find new ways to get rid of the real evils out there. And most of the movies aren’t helping at all.
I was primed to be reflective about the movie because it was preceded by twenty minutes of trailers for truly dreadful movies that I don’t plan to see. About halfway through them, I said to myself, “No wonder the world is falling apart.” The prevailing narrative seems to be fighting and war as a response to everything.
Many of these movies strike me as right-wing narratives (though I suspect most of the people involved in making them don’t vote that way): Humans fighting either evil aliens or evil supernatural creatures. Others focus on the outsider who fights for us all, but gets no thanks – not a story about people coming together to solve their problems.
Stories like Rogue One might be seen as having a liberal bias – rebels fighting a fascist, dictatorial regime. But in every case the story assumes that the solution is to blow things up.
It’s not the violence and killing that I’m objecting to – I agree with pacifists about many things, but I’m not one – but rather the idea that those things are the only solution. A lifetime in the martial arts has taught me that while there are times when a physical fight (or a war) may be the best choice, those times are few and far between.
Right now the world – including our country – is in a very difficult place. We have a lot of struggles on our hands and we are going to have to fight. I think it would help that fight a great deal if we had some new narratives about how to fight effectively that didn’t rely on plucky heroes and well-placed bullets.
We need more of what Donna Haraway and Ursula K. Le Guin refer to as “carrier bag” stories, more works that focus on cooperation and perseverance rather than complicated plots built on McGuffins and special effects that focus on blowing up the bad guys.
My sweetheart just finished reading Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and suggested that it was a good example of the kind of narrative we need right now. I agree with him. Everfair is a steampunk tale that addresses the very real horrors that took place in the Congo when it was a Belgian colony by giving us an alternate history. Some of the horrors still occur, people kill and people die, and the idealists run into the reality that perhaps they don’t have the only truth out there.
Readers don’t get utopia, but they get a new way of looking at the world. We need more stories like that.
And how about some stories that show us what the heroes are really like? The “Jaynestown” episode of the TV series Firefly is a great example. The crew is doing business in a crummy place that exploits its workers. They’re shocked to find that Jayne is the local hero. Since we and the crew all know what Jayne is really like – he’s in it for Jayne and no one else – this makes no sense until we finally get the whole story.
Not only does this story give us an idea of what the heroes out there are really like, it also shows us how focusing on a hero can keep people from doing the things they need to do to save themselves. The workers need to be organizing instead of worshipping their hero.
Right now we need a lot of people to do a lot of things to bring the world back into order. We don’t need to believe in heroes; we need to believe in ourselves. We need to take risks, but we also need to build community. We don’t need lone heroes; we need a community of heroes who can work together.
I’m working on some stories that I hope will give us new ideas. I hope many other people will, too, including moviemakers.
I’ll probably go to see the other Star Wars movies when they come out. But I hope that’s not the only kind of movie I get to see in the next few years.