Thursday, December 22, 2016
The Empire Was Good, But Not *That* Empire.
In Rogue One there are two factions of the Rebellion. Broadly speaking, they are moderates and extremists. The moderates are still seeking to affect political change via diplomacy, while the extremists are convinced that the corruption of the Empire is such that only radical, violent resistance--revolution--will do.
Neocon boosters of American Empire like Sonny Bunch, who enjoy LARPing as the Galactic Empire, do so in vain. The Rebellion--democratic, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian, and very much universalist in its aspirations and pretensions--is American Empire in seed form. Comparisons of Dick Cheney to Darth Vader notwithstanding, American Empire functions by spreading, or attempting to spread, American values of democracy, liberty, and equality to the globe. Not exactly high on Vader's list of priorities, but right in the wheelhouse of the Rebellion. The two sides are not Empire and anti-Empire, but competing Empires. Not all Imperia are created equal.
Observing the factionalism of the Rebellion in the film naturally brings to mind Islam (jihadis and non-jihadis), but it is better correlated with the Puritan North (abolitionist and non-, later interventionist and non-). The Rebellion is too democratic, diverse, and egalitarian for it to be an appropriate analog to Islam. Puritan Yankees fit the bill much better. The same Yankees that were the victors who came to define America, and spread its secularized Puritanism to much of the globe.
Others have made similar critiques of Bunch, rightly recognizing that America is much better correlated with the Rebellion than the Empire. But both sides of this argument miss the mark for a simple reason: both assume American Empire is a force for good in the world. It's an intra-neocon squabble that is easily resolved: Bunch likes to root for the bad guys in film and troll (who doesn't?) Not much more to it than that.
But it turns out Bunch is correct by accident. The rebels are a force for evil in the galaxy, as is America to the globe; the Empire are the protags, but they are not America (or even the neocon segment of it.) The Empire are the defenders of power and order, hierarchy and authority, tradition and obedience, harnessing spiritual power to quell dissension among the people, securing a new Pax Romana against the forces of global (or galactic) liberalism. The Empire is Holy Mother Russia.*
*It's to be expected that the screenwriters would attempt to tar the Empire and its values with allusions to Nazism and planetary ethnic cleansing. To maintain the analogy we just note that the hysterical anti-trad equivalent of 'planetary ethnic cleansing' in the Current Year would be something benign like anti-homosexual-propaganda laws.
Posted by Nathan Duffy