Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rogue One

If the below reads with the melodrama of a fan transported by an over-active imagination and a penchant for reckless empathy, well, that's probably because I love Star Wars. And I love movies. The subtle ways cinematography and the music score and flawless acting tease out a person's emotions and make good stories become that much more dazzling, it really is movie magic.

And the magic is not just in being transported to another time and place, it's also magical how movies pound on the struggles of our times. It was hard to watch the hubbub of Jedha and hear Kassian describe fighting with the rebels for a lifetime and not draw parallels to the war and unrest in the world today. As the slow tilt towards tyranny in my own country begins to pick up speed, Rogue One has me daydreaming about what resistance looks like and how to do it ethically.

So I think I might be a pacifist? This is the influence Michael and Rebecca and Wendell Berry have had over me in my formative years . . . It was an easy bent to have when the wars my country was involved in displaced the principle of national sovereignty in the name of protecting our monetary and political interests. It was easy to say that Americans should come home when I didn't fully understand what they were doing abroad in the first place.

Pacifism is harder when you have something you think could be worth fighting for.

In Star Wars it's not as though they're even so much fighting for some greater ideal or religious freedom; it's a matter of self-preservation. At this point the Empire already has the political power; it just wants to wipe those who dissented out. So when the Alliance doesn't want to send rebels to steal Death Star plans, Jyn tells them they don't have a choice; it's futile to surrender and plead for mercy.

And so in the name of self-preservation they do a lot of sketchy things. The first time we see Kassian he's shot a source, no hesitation, just popping caps with such nonchalance that I assumed he was a bad guy. Jyn herself is a criminal, but the rebels break her out of jail so they can use her as bait to, wait a sec, kill a rebel extremist? And then kill her father, who is also a double agent? Rogue One makes an excellent showing of how coordinating a resistance is fraught with opportunity to become the thing you're fighting.

(I'll hand it to the Imperial Army; in spite of their internal political squabbles, their strong leadership keeps them organized and on-message.)

This is how I feel about a lot of activist efforts mobilizing in my area. I am very thankful of the efforts of the ACLU and AILA and other attorneys that have provided support to those affected by the "terrorist ban" executive order. I am encouraged by the demonstrations and protests and discussions I see happening in the media and in book clubs and person to person. But the discussion is sometimes not nuanced enough, not precise enough, not careful enough to pose a truly ethical challenge to an unethical administration. We have a group of extremists (or I don't even know anymore, maybe Breitbart trolls?) at Berkeley smashing windows and starting fires. We have misinformation or exaggeration of the facts floating around. We have factious silencing of diverse viewpoints from within the "resistance" itself, alienating many potential allies and undermining fundamental American values. So, you know, democracy can be a check on power but it can also be a mob unto itself. #flawedhumanproblems

I left Rogue One thinking about the allure and glamour and horror of war; the bravery, the self-sacrifice, the purposefulness, the loss. I don't believe that a civil war is coming to our country, but I see in Rogue One the appeal of giving up everything to be the resistance, and with that appeal is also the danger that our conscience becomes obscured.

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