The release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—the first film of the Star Wars anthology series, and a major occasion for many Star Wars fans—on December 16, 2016, was preceded by a much larger event on November 8: the election of President Donald Trump. In a moment that surprised many who had followed polls, gasped at the revelation of “grab ’em by the pussy,” and stashed champagne in their refrigerators for the seemingly inevitable triumph of America’s first female president, the country revealed itself to be one where, despite Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory in the popular vote, a man like Trump could still ultimately emerge as the ruling champion.
Like many of my nonwhite friends, I’d had a feeling that Trump would win. On the morning of the election itself, that feeling had calcified into an acidic sureness that was only confirmed when I went to bed before the results were called that night. By the time my husband C and I flew to Louisiana that December to see our relatives, I was part of various communities that felt more aware than ever of our vulnerabilities; if I didn’t want to visit my in-laws in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, C said, it would be understandable. The decision would be up to me. But I love my in-laws. Christmas is a big deal to them, and so we went.
The family saw Rogue One together in Metairie. For me, to go into a film about a scrappy, multiracial resistance against an imperial power in that community held a particular resonance. Metairie, as PBS describes, is “a predominantly white and Republican stronghold in the New Orleans area.” When he ran for Louisiana governor in 1991, white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke set up his campaign headquarters in suburban Metairie; one of the community’s districts elected Duke to the state legislature the year before. According to the 2010 census, only 3.8% of Metairie’s population of 138,481 are Asian, which is probably why I almost never see any faces that look like mine when I’m there.
Rogue One is unique among the Star Wars films in that it stands alone more sturdily than most of the others outside of the original trilogy, in part because (spoiler alert!) all of the major characters who take part in the acts of heroism, as well as plenty of the minor characters, are dead by the end. Though much of the criticism I’ve read about Rogue One emphasizes the themes of hope, my take on the film when I first saw it was—and continues to be—one about sacrifice. My mindset when I saw the opening scenes with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his injured informant, Tivik, whom Cassian shoots once stormtroopers approach, was: Would I have the ability to take part in a true rebellion? At the time, #resistance was becoming a common social-media rallying cry. The Women’s March was a month away, and my friends were anxiously talking about Muslim camps, what would happen to the Supreme Court, and the disappearance of the Affordable Care Act, DACA, and rights for minority groups. True resistance, I thought anxiously, might look like this. It also seemed odd that this message should come through in a massive Hollywood blockbuster, in a genre that is more likely to be the source of action figures and expensive memorabilia than a place to find revolutionary feelings and ideas.
Though Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the heroine of the film, first claims, “I’ve never had the luxury of political opinions,” she changes her mind once she sees a holographic message from her beloved father, Galen Erso. He has been gone for most of her life, a scientist taken by the Empire to build a fearsome weapon that they call the Death Star. In the message, he shares that he has secretly created a vulnerability in the Death Star. The rebellion must access the structural plans on Scarif or suffer mass destruction at the hands of the Empire.
Like many, I was emotionally vulnerable in the wake of the election. This may or may not be why I cried throughout this movie, sobbing from beginning to end. But I also cried because I could foresee, like the shadow of an oncoming train, all the deaths that would happen in the next four years, for whatever reason, as people died on-screen again and again. When the android K-2SO is shot up by stormtroopers in the Citadel, he locks the vault door as his final act. In this moment, it hit me with particular force that Cassian and Jyn had to pull off their seemingly impossible mission—access the plans and transmit them to the rebellion—with faith that everyone else involved would also complete their tasks, such as taking down the planetary shield, while the viewer knows that they face almost certain death.