“Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie” hits theaters this week, and one group of fans is not happy. The self-described “alt-right,” an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, and populism, has complained that “Rogue One” has been tarnished by politics.
Members of the group have called for a boycott of the movie for allegedly promoting an “anti-white agenda,” citing as evidence Chris Weitz’s comment that “the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.”
Politicizing the franchise may be part of a larger ritual on the eve of every new Star Wars movie. A 2002 article in the Weekly Standard, released with “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” advocated a “Case for the Empire” as a meritocratic replacement to a failing Republic — ignoring the fact that the Republic largely failed thanks to the would-be emperor.
There was also the 2015 piece in advance of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” claiming the destruction of the planet Alderaan was justified under “just war theory” as a proportionate and necessary response to an insurgency. As someone who once taught at the Australian Defense Force Academy, I personally guarantee superweapons are not justified responses to terrorists, no matter how many Bothan spies they have.
And who could forget calls of a boycott in 2015, in response to the casting of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as the protagonists in “The Force Awakens,” as an alleged attempt to “promote white genocide.”
The alt-right must be the only people in the galaxy shocked at the parallels between the Nazi Party and the villains in Star Wars. Imperial storm troopers are analogues of the sturmabteilung (“storm detachment”), the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. Imperial officers wear the monotone gray of the Wehrmacht. In the ill-fated prequel series, Chancellor Palpatine ascends to emperor, in much the way Hitler wished through the Third Reich (reich literally meaning “realm,” in German but often used as “empire”).
But this is hardly unique to “Rogue One.” Star Wars, a saga spanning eight movies as of Dec. 16, two animated series, dozens of books, and a slew of comics, is profoundly supportive of diversity, and opposed to war and oppression.
Its central tenets are freedom and dignity, regardless of age, gender, political or social status, sexuality, race, species, or geography. It is a galaxy far, far away, in which all creatures are intertwined through the all-encompassing Force. It has always opposed bigotry; it has always taken a stand on one side of the arc of justice.
Star Wars isn’t “anti-white.” The Skywalkers and Kenobis, white folks all, manage to do just fine. We should be pretty confident that Rey, a protagonist of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” is going to do fine as well.
Nor is it true that the Empire is absolutely white. Finn, one of the protagonists from “The Force Awakens,” is a black storm trooper. Grand Admiral Thrawn, who appears in the “Star Wars: Rebels” TV series, is blue! And we’ll hopefully, one day, get to see Admiral Rae Sloane on deck on the big screen — she appears in Chuck Wendig’s book “Star Wars: Aftermath” and would be the first on-screen imperial admiral played by a black actor.
The point is that the Empire systematically disenfranchises anyone who is different. And the message of Star Wars is that this injustice is unequivocally wrong. No matter the faults of the Republic, the Empire that rules through fear and intimidation is deficient as a form of politics. You can see that in the faceless Imperial storm troopers, in the First Order troopers who are stolen and brainwashed as children.
The Rebel Alliance and the Resistance in “The Force Awakens” are the opposite of the Empire. Diversity gives the rebels strength. It’s Lando Calrissian and Nien Numb blowing up the second Death Star. It’s Rey and Finn outwitting the First Order. It’s Princess Leia and Han Solo. It’s Han and Chewie. It’s Yoda — judge him by his size at your peril.
Our differences make resistance possible. That’s why the Empire loses — because its prejudice and desire for control limit its vision.
Of course, some members of the alt-right may acknowledge all of this but simply dispute that the Empire — and, by extension, the Nazis — were the bad guys. There’s not much one can do to that kind of revisionism. Star Wars doesn’t hate white people. It doesn’t hate anyone. Its message is, and always will be: May the Force be with us all.
Nicholas G. Evans is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.