From ‘A New Hope’ to ‘Rogue One’: A Successful Star Wars Adaptation to Current Political Climates

Erden Göktepe | 9th January 2017.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

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The original Star Wars is a romantic and epic space opera with stunning visual effects, but, at the end of the day, it is still an essentially political saga. It is a heroic mainstream statement of the fight against corruption, totalitarianism and injustice. When I first watched A New Hope in the 1980s, though, it was not the political aspect that swept me away from the Aegean small-city life I used to live. Star Wars invited me to travel to different worlds full of creatures in all shapes and sizes. To me, it was a truly romantic story with marvellous music that spoke to my emotions, while politics operated in the background.

In the beginning of the 1977 film, I met the grumbling-pessimist-gay-interpreter android named C-3PO and his closest friend R2D2, loyal to his one and only master, Princess Leia. They were chased by that most familiar villain – the black-clad, wheezing Darth Vader with his terrifying mask. Through these characters, and right from my first viewing, even as a child, I understood the fight and the clear distinction between good and evil as the film portrayed it.

To further this message, the film quickly introduced the young orphan boy, Luke, who was working on his uncle’s farm and waiting for the harvest time to come and go so that he could finally embark on his dream: the “academy”. In one of the film’s most celebrated scenes, Luke looked at a horizon with two Suns. The picture was accompanied by wind instruments playing the famous theme and then, suddenly, as the breeze got slightly stronger, the stringed instruments lifted and it took my breath away. As Luke squinted his eyes, gazing at the binary sunset, I felt that I had a clear understanding of his feelings and aspirations.

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Sunset on Tatooine

Of course, the early scenes of the movie also underscore what is at stake in the fight between good and evil. I was terrified by the burnt bodies of Luke’s uncle and aunt after the Storm Troopers’ attack on his home planet, Tattooine. Yet, apart from Anakin’s slaughtering of the sand people in the 3rd prequel, I do not remember any other particularly violent death scenes in the entire Star Wars series. Rather, vast devastation is viewed from a distance, with little gore or sense of personal loss.

At every step of the story then, the viewer is asked gradually to become a part of a journey of self-discovery that takes place in the fight against evil. A New Hope speaks to the viewer’s emotions more than any concrete political stance. It is a story about an exciting, even if devastating, solidarity that stands against an evil force. I know for me, I felt assured all the way through that the good side would be victorious.

39 years later, I watched a different Star Wars story: Rogue One.  This film (you might want to hang on to something!) uses jaw-droppingly beautiful images to tell the story of suicide mission in which all of the main characters die.

Rogue One breaks Star Wars’ traditional portrayals of heroes and villains. This time, the evil invaders are only white, while the resistance is multi-racial and ethnically diverse: there are people representing Black, Hispanic, Asian and White; the annihilated sacred city which appears in a desert-setting is named Jedha; rebels speak with disparate accents; and the female protagonist and her father have a lisp. In comparison with A New Hope, we see a noticeable shift from a portrayal of the traditional white hero to one that tells the story of a variety of heroes.

Moreover, the rebels do bad things. For example, Cassian Andor, the cool and accomplished alliance intelligence officer, murders an informant without hesitation because the informant has a broken arm and is not fit to escape. Jyn Erso does not want to fight against the evil Empire because all it has brought to her life is pain and unhappiness. Jyn Erso’s well-intentioned father, Galen Erso, designs and oversees the construction of the Death Star. By replacing any ill-willed scientist that would have designed the Death Star, Galen Erso is able to design a flaw in the system that will help the resistance defeat the new weapon. But, he nonetheless still becomes the man who provides a weapon of mass destruction to the dark side.

The people in Rogue One no longer belong solely to the fairy tale I used to watch – they more closely resemble the modern world where powerful nations invade or intervene or stir up trouble or bombard for their own interest! This is a dark story where fear reigns. It is not a simple matter of adventure or discovery like the earlier Star Wars movies, but is rather a gritty portrayal of a situation that becomes a suicide mission. Although it is built on hope, none of the protagonists survive to see that hope becoming the reality. It is a story of ordinary people who do not possess the power of the Force trying to fight the mighty evil Empire. They all die. It is their sacrifice that makes the hope a reality. They save the dream that others must carry on!

Every Star Wars movie reflects the different political realities and climates of their production. We can clearly see similarities between the current conditions of confusing political circumstances in the world today and Rogue One. Upon closer inspection of the general elections in countries such as the US, Turkey, Russia and Israel, we observe the rise of conservative parties that efficiently use opportunistic and sometimes fascist propaganda. We can no longer clearly separate good from evil, and we sometimes cannot even recognize who is resistance and who is a terrorist. We no longer trust the elected governments, as, in many cases, they might as well have turned to the dark side.

One thing is sure: the story and screenplay writers John Knoll, Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy provided the director Gareth Edwards with a powerful twist of political perspective through this newest  Star Wars story. So, just tell me, are we currently living in a lost cause? What would it take to fight against the evil forces today? Really, who is the Empire now? And still, even in the current political climate and in this new Star Wars world, I would like to end with some of the hope that Obi Wan Kenobi gives us in A New Hope. As he says, “You can’t win, Darth. Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine”.

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BB8 Droid


About Erden

I am currently a first-year Ph.D. researcher in Film Studies. My Ph.D. research addresses Turkish film directors’ patterns of representation of the relationship between the ordinary people and the authoritarian military regime during the military coup years in Turkey.  I am passionate about languages, Turkish cuisine and jazz music.

Article edited by Bridget Moynihan and Matthew Tibble.

Image Credits

  1. Coming Soon website. http://www.comingsoon.net/movies/news/606876-nightcrawler-hunger-games-stars-target-roles-in-star-wars-rogue-one
  2. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightsaber#/media/File:Lightsaber,_silver_hilt,_blue_blade.png
  3. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatooine#/media/File:SW_binary_sunset.png 
  4. Pixbay. https://pixabay.com/en/bb-8-bb8-star-wars-mars-martian-1185956/

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