I just watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and I believe it is a very important movie to review if you are a lover of liberty in the classical liberal tradition. Before starting the review itself, I’d better say that I like the old Star Wars movies very much (episodes IV to VI), especially Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but other than that, my knowledge of the Star Wars universe is very limited. With that said, please be kind with me hardcore fans, and, of course, spoilers ahead!!!
I guess it is common knowledge by now, but Rogue One takes place before the events of Episode IV, and tells the story of how a group of rebels stole the plans of the original Death Star, leading to its destruction by Luke Skywalker at the end of the first movie of the original trilogy. Other than that, the movie is very surprising, and I was not expecting pretty much anything that happened on screen. The story is very good, the characters are very likable, the dialogues are amazing, all the actors do a great job, and the production is superb. But I would like to focus on aspects of the movie that I believe are specifically important for classical liberals, conservatives, and libertarians.
Darth Vader is shown as a broken character in this movie. You can tell pretty much how he was hurt by the events at the end of episode III. He is but a shadow of who Anakin Skywalker used to be. Also, I believe he must be very disappointed with what the Empire turned out to be. In episode II, while still a naïve Padawan, he mentions his frustration with the Republic and hopes that the galaxy could be run by a wise all powerful dictator. With that in mind, Darth Vader seems to be frustrated with all the bureaucracy the Empire still has, actually perhaps more than the Republic itself which, incidentally, connects to my next point.
In Rogue One we get to see a little bit more of how the Empire works, and it’s great. There’s bureaucracy, corruption, very low politics, struggle for power, everything one could expect of a major political organization. The leaders of the Empire are evil, of course, but not cartoonish evil. They are as evil as one could expect of politicians in Washington, and much more of politicians in Caracas, Moscow or Havana, but their villainy is more connected to cravings for power than to sadism pure and simple.
In Rogue One we can also see a little bit more how the rebellion works. I read quite a few people saying that in this movie things are not black and white, but much more shades of grey, and I guess this is basically true. But there’s also something else: what happens to common folks under the pressure of tyranny? In an excellent line, Jyn Erso says she doesn’t bother living in the Empire: you have to keep your head down, so you don’t see the flag that is flying. I believe that much more than saying that the fight between the Rebels and the Empire is not a simple fight between good and evil, the movie is saying that common people can become shadows of themselves when faced with enough pressure. After great pain and suffering, Erso is becoming cynical and is almost ready to give up when events change her path and awake the good in her.
Finally, this movie really has that “ground level” feeling. The group of rebels who steal the Death Star plans are not a bunch of Rambos. They are not even like a Saving Private Ryan’s company. They look a lot like a group of ordinary folks who are faced with great dilemmas and responsibilities and just choose to do what is right. Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, I never liked Episode IV all that much, but Rogue One gives an entirely new meaning to A New Hope. I think that Luke is too whiny, Leia is too bossy and Han Solo is too Han Solo – at least, up until the very end (I like Obi-Wan Kenobi, though). In the end of Saving Private Ryan the character played by Tom Hanks tells Ryan that he has to earn all the sacrifice made for him. In the same fashion, I believe each character in Rogue One can say the same to Luke, Han and Leia. Liberty is not earned by guys with superpowers, princesses or guys who fly very cool starships like the Millennium Falcon, but by simple people who make the ultimate sacrifice.