It's true, that for Star Wars fans, the release of the first ever standalone Star Wars Story is a very meaningful moment. If this film succeeds, it's a pretty good indication that other standalones will be handled in ways that fans can get onboard with, similar to the way The Force Awakens gave fans hope for the new trilogy. But, beyond the effect it could have on the fandom, Rogue One has meaning and significance for all moviegoers, and the world as it stands in 2016.
Take one look at today's selection of headlines or your Twitter feed and you'll see two things: thoroughly disheartening news (for people on any side of our greatest political debates) and a plethora of friends and family sharing the "Me at the beginning/end of 2016" memes that betray a general sense of disappointment with where we find ourselves this year. In the United States, we are more divided than ever, and tensions are high, but by some miracle, Rogue One exists at the exact right time to speak to those who are unhappy and even fearful of what they see in the world.
"It’s OK to feel [fear], but you have to get over it, because by working with people that are different than you and by complementing each other we become strong. The message is pertinent today and the film is about today’s world," says Diego Luna, who plays Cassian Andor, when I speak to him at Lucasfilm Headquarters in San Francisco. He's talking about the basic premise of Rogue One, which just so happens to be incredibly relevant to everyone, but especially the people of the U.S., in 2016: Faced with a dark reality, and one that makes them feel helpless and powerless, six people from different cultures, backgrounds, philosophies, and even sides of the political divide come together for the greater good. What they do is risky. They have no help in their mission to make a difference. Their work is the truest definition of "grassroots." But they band together to give it their all.
It sounds cheesy, I know. I definitely sound like a pro-Rogue One robot whose only function is to repeat lines from the trailer. But, when you see the film, I assure you, the feeling is real. It's inspiring to see characters who are regular people doing something to change the world. Add to that, the fact that this story carries a film that's on track to be one of the biggest international hits of the year, and it's clear just how universal the message is. And while the concept of unity isn't exactly a novel one, Rogue One demonstrates just how powerful it can be and delivers a pretty straightforward road map for those who are looking for steps to take in the real world.
"I think the way we make a difference is by joining together with people we seem to have nothing in common with," adds Riz Ahmed, who plays former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook in the film. "You look at the protagonists in this film, they all came from different backgrounds, different histories, pasts and they're all coming together to take on the challenges that none of them could face alone. And I think that's a poignant message for our day and age because the biggest challenges we face as a nation, a species, a planet, they're ones that we can only tackle together."
The topic of unity, and the "can't we all just come together" attitude, can be met with some derision, especially in light of president-elect Donald Trump saying things like "I hope we can all get along" and the New York Times responding with a resounding "nope." But the unity promoted in Rogue One isn't so much a message about everyone calming down and being friends — it's a war movie with the tagline "rebellions are built on hope" — but rather the acknowledgement that, whenever we focus solely on our differences, the forces that we are fighting only have the opportunity to grow stronger.
Clearly the message that people from different backgrounds, cultures, and value systems can come together when the need is great is something many people need to hear, at a time when hate crimes are rising and apparent enemies of diversity are finding themselves in places of power. When so many factors are driving people to divide even further, the reminder that we don't actually have to follow along is integral.
At the very least, it's wonderful to see that the cast was inspired by the experience of making Rogue One. "We are all capable of that. If we work together, we are stronger," says Luna.
And all we can do is hope, beyond all hope, that Luna and Rogue One are right.
Images: Lucasfilm (3)