Rogue One: A Meditation

Rogue OneThis 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.Everfair

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.



Rogue One: A Meditation — 18 Comments

  1. Yeah, I have been thinking along the same lines: we need stories about acknowledging that the people have managed to come up with a set of good laws, and now we need to do everything we can to make them work, in spite of the powerful criminals who managed, by whatever means (including aid by some of us) to get to the top, and the equally powerful kleptocrats poised to take advantage of the situation.

    If there is any lesson to be learned from November’s fiasco, I think it’s to pay attention, and not take voting for granted anymore–and to learn what our laws can do for US.

  2. In so many ways, from so many directions, our entertainment is part of the problem, even the cause of many of the problems, not, never the solution. Which is why I’ve turned my back on most entertainment — particularly movies — for many years. The Great American Myth — the loner wreaking justified violence as The Solution — and the other Great Entertainment Myth — that there must be a happy ending and love conquers all, and is indeed the objective at all times.

    That isn’t real life, but real life livers have been trained after centuries of popular entertainment that this is how Real Life is.

    • And yet good stories — which can also be highly entertaining — are an important part of the solution. I suspect it’s the absurd cost of making movies that keeps them limited to the kind of stories that were never true, but are easy to tell.

  3. The thing is, it’s a sequel/prequel. To STAR WARS. So how can it not be warlike? It’s baked in, the same as the Matter of Troy or The Song of Roland. But we can comfort ourselves with the thought that many other types of movie are being made. MOANA would be an example of a current film that isn’t doing the war thing.

    • From the previews I saw, there are many more warlike movies. Of course, those were previews for an action/adventure movie, but still.

      And I wasn’t expecting anything else from a Star Wars movie. But watching it in the context of the current political situation, I realized how few narratives we have that give us alternative ways of fighting evil.

  4. Thanks, Nancy Jane and everyone, for good food for thought. Yes, we need stories that aren’t didactic but present alternative plots and ways to live. I just had a nice “aha” moment when I belatedly realized that in my own latest novel — a near-future thriller that did include lots of action and violent attacks by the bad guys– my hero and heroine eluded the violent factions and served the greater community without resorting to harming anyone. It just worked out that way as I wrote. I’m hoping we can all stay positive and clear-sighted in these coming years, using language as a tool for understanding instead of deceit, as our world desperately needs that.

      • Thank you, Nancy Jane. I’m now working on a sequel and realize that part of it needs to be a new model for a community — that’s a challenge! I think of some of Ursula’s writing in that regard, too.

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  6. In the “before story” they do try and work things out. The Senate tried to work things out. But a man bent on dictatorship used events to become dictator.

    More often than not that’s how things work. So violence. No one wants that, at least no one sane. Ghandi was a unique man, but he also used nonviolence against a people tired of killing.

    • As I pointed out, I’m not a pacifist and I’m not objecting to violence pe se. What I’m saying is that it’s the same old fight we always see. Given how the Star Wars universe is set up and where Rogue One fits into the canon, it wasn’t likely to be anything else. I knew that going in and that’s why I was able to enjoy it.

      But what we need are new ideas. The original three Star Wars movies end in triumph for the rebellion, but in The Force Awakens we’re back to square one in the lifetime of those who fought the first time. So all those victories didn’t do much. (Much as I enjoyed that movie, I found that aspect deeply depressing.)

      I don’t want to rewrite Star Wars. It is what it is and I enjoy the movies (well, not the prequels, which I gave up on, but the original trilogy and what they’re doing now). What I’m trying to do is challenge writers and filmmakers and — for that matter — activists to come up with some new ideas. They’re out there. It can be done.

  7. Conversely–inversely?–my problem with Les Miserables was the lack of exploding helicopters.
    It’s a Star Wars movie, fer chrissakes.

  8. At Book View Cafe, we welcome thoughtful disagreement, but we do not tolerate personal attacks and insults. If you want to argue with the points I made, please make sure you understand them and then explain why you think I’m wrong without calling me names.