Wait a minute, after thirty-nine years, it turns out that Star Wars is about race?
Sort of. You may not notice at first (I didn’t, until the second half of the movie), but in Rogue One there isn’t a single non-Hispanic white male among the large cast of heroes. The rebel band seeking to steal the plans for the Death Star from the Empire is led by a white woman (Felicity Jones), a Latino man (Diego Luna) and three ethnic Asians (Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang), with advice from a black man (Forest Whitaker) and a droid (voice of Alan Tudyk). Among the rebels, non-Hispanic white dudes (for convenience, I’ll just call them white from now on) are relegated to the background, while the Empire is represented by brigades of sinister white men, led by Ben Mendelsohn and (the digital reincarnation of) Peter Cushing as Imperial officers. It’s as if the cast was meant to echo a Hillary Clinton speech in which she described her coalition as everybody but white males.
The casting was not accidental. The Empire is (now) a “white supremacist (human) organization,” Rogue One co-writer Chris Weitz Tweeted the Friday after Clinton was defeated in the election. Another writer for the film, Gary Whitta, replied with his own Tweet, “Opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women”—then deleted it.
That little spasm of Trump-induced liberal anger led to what might well be the weirdest and most pathetic boycott in the history of boycotts: Malik Obama, the Kenyan gadfly, Donald Trump supporter and half-brother to our president, Tweeted out, “Boycott Star Wars people! #DumpStarWars.” Star Wars will do fine without you, Malik.
True, pale-male bean-counting, along with white identity politics in general, are as boring and silly as any other kind of identity politics. Who cares if the rebels are a gorgeous mosaic? White guys have plenty of other heroes at the multiplex this year, and every year.
Still, the movie is obviously trolling to make a lame political point, dragging in a fashionable left-wing trope where it once again does not belong. Not only is it tiresome to imply that being white and male is something vaguely shameful, the white-supremacist angle makes no sense in the context of the other chapters in the Star Wars story.
If the rebels are some sort of coalition of minorities, women, and sarcastic robots, specifically opposed to white supremacy, why did they subsequently turn to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo to lead them? Weitz and Whitta (both white males) are injecting dumb liberal talking points into the franchise just as George Lucas infamously did in Revenge of the Sith in which (as Jonah Goldberg first pointed out) he jettisoned three decades of mythology in order to make a cheap fist-waving gesture in the general direction of George W. Bush. In the movie, the future Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, says, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” which prompts Obi-Wan’s riposte, “Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes.” Huh? The whole basis of Star Wars is that there is a good side and a dark side to the Force and you have to pick one. If you’re not with Darth Vader (or radical Islamists) you certainly are his enemy. Darth isn’t interested in multilateral peace negotiations.
Moreover, the decision to leave white males out of the rebel crew is indefensible from a marketing perspective. Like any Star Wars movie, Rogue One hopes to sell a lot of action figures. Little kids presumably like to buy action figures they can identify with, and though I don’t have any marketing data to back it up, it seems likely that white males are the single biggest market for Star Wars swag. Why would you turn your back on your best customers? It’s yet another example of how Hollywood’s incessant need to prove it is on the progressive side of the political Force sabotages Hollywood’s own best interests. Certainly these days Hollywood is more concerned with appeasing the Chinese government than with the reaction of the conservative half of its own country. Multiculturalism has a strong justification in marketing: if you want to sell to girls, boys, and every ethnicity and race, you’ll give everybody a hero that looks like them. So why leave out white males? The only white guy in Rogue One who has much value to the rebel force is an Imperial scientist played by Mads Mikkelsen who has misgivings about his work for the bad guys. But fifty-one-year-old Danish guys best known for playing Hannibal Lecter are probably not great models for action figures.
The irony is that, a long time ago, in a film industry far, far away, Star Wars was born in left-wing politics. Lucas dreamed up American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now (a project he subsequently passed off to Francis Ford Coppola) and Star Wars as a trilogy—one film about the carefree days just before the Vietnam War, one about the war itself, and one a dystopian sci-fi look at the ramifications of the aftermath—with plucky guerillas Luke and Co. representing the Viet Cong and the technologically awesome Empire meant to stand in for the United States.
Oh, you didn’t know that? That’s because makers of Hollywood fantasy films used to have the good sense to keep their politics to themselves.