If pressed, I would probably name Rogue One as my favorite of all the Star Wars movies. That’s quite an admission from someone who grew up with the original trilogy in the 70’s and 80’s. (Collectively, my brother and I owned every Mattel action figure.)
The original movies are still very close to my heart. But I realized only after chatting with my son recently that there are actually two main plot lines to Star Wars and sequels, and one is a bit more compelling to me than the other.
The more famous of the storylines is that of the Skywalker family’s personal saga, with Jedi Knights, the Dark Side of the Force, and all that. Its elements include magic (or what passes for it anyway), coming of age, personal betrayal and redemption. It’s magnificent storytelling, and gets my votes for best on-screen villain ever (Darth Vader), best cinematic plot twist ever (Vader is Luke’s father) and best surprise ending ever (Vader becomes the hero in the last episode, Return of the Jedi).
But it’s the other storyline — the Rebellion’s struggle against the Galactic Empire — that I think always appealed to me more. It’s about a totalitarian regime seeking to stamp out what little resistance remains within its domain. There’s a small but determined band of rebels who value freedom above oppression even at great personal cost. They refuse to give in, try to reconcile their internal differences, and put their lives on the line for this shared value. Its heroes are not famous, Force-equipped warriors with hardy bloodlines, but ordinary men and women who care about a cause enough to do whatever they can.
It’s this storyline, even more than the other, that brings a tear to my eye. It appeals to me because it’s so universal: oppression is real everywhere, in different ways, and it always calls for resistance and sacrifice. This is the (only) theme of Rogue One, and it calls to mind so much other sci-fi: The Matrix (we few insurgents refuse to cop out with the blue pill), BSG (our tiny fleet will stand firm and preserve the human race), The Terminator (John Connor will lead the humans against the tyrannical machines), Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, and far too many others to name.
But much more importantly, of course, it echoes events in the real world. Washington’s forces wintering at Valley Forge; the remnant of 120 believers gathering in Acts chapter 1; Luther and his students at Wittenberg; the French Resistance against the Vichy regime and the Nazi’s bombing of London; the underground railroad in America and the underground Church in China; MLK and Nelson Mandela; Mahsa Amini and Alexei Navalny; Tiananmen Square, the Uyghur genocide, and the 2019 Hong Kong protests; the Maccabean Revolt of two thousand years ago and Ukraine’s struggle against Putin today.
Which brings me to Veterans Day. It and Memorial Day are the most underappreciated holidays in our country: underappreciated because we underappreciate sacrifice. And make no mistake: this is the inescapable destiny of not only Princess Leia’s rebels, but of all those mentioned in the previous paragraph. Sometimes that sacrifice is absolute, as it was for Jean Moulin and Jyn Erso; sometimes it stops short, as it did for Luther and Leia. But the upshot of “standing up and being counted” is taking a risk for an ideal and for other people, without hedging your bets.
The biggest knock I’ve heard on Rogue One is that it’s too “depressing” since so many of its main characters die. To me, that is exactly the point. The film glorifies precisely what should be glorified: selflessness, courage, devotion to justice even to the point of ultimate sacrifice. It’s an inspiring movie to watch on Veteran’s Day, as you look squarely and without flinching at the cost some brave people have paid to make a better life possible for others.
Here’s the honest truth, folks: I’ve never done a truly brave thing in my life. None of the “sacrifices” I’ve ever made for others, or the “guts” I’ve ever shown in standing up to a bully, are even worth comparing with those we honor today. They gave, and are still giving, without limits. If they’ve avoided physical harm, it’s because fortune has favored them, not because they weren’t willing to accept the possibilities.
Thank you for what you’ve freely given, veterans, whether great or small. Your sacrifice will most often be overlooked (and we know that public applause wasn’t your motivating factor anyway). But every once in a while, the rest of us will remember.
Everybody else: take a moment and thank a veteran today, either to their face or in your heart. Realize the immense privilege you have that someone else faced the enemy so you could live free.