Like with video games, comics, and novels, we go to the movies to escape from the real world by immersing ourselves in the struggles of fictional characters, who more often than not discover their agency and are empowered. It allows us to feel empowered by living vicariously through them, and are in turn we are inspired to empower ourselves.
Movies as escapist entertainment are more valuable than any political messaging they might offer. Such content is ephemeral — it doesn’t age very well, losing meaning with the passage of time. That said, we always look for patterns and symbols in everything. Whether it’s in the clouds or within the media we consume, we try to find messages where there are none.
The extraction of these secret metaphors and hidden meanings stretches the limits of plausibility — each falling apart under scrutiny because the movie itself is apolitical, at least in regards to present-day politics.
While some movies are designed to reflect upon the issues of the time in which they’re produced, others — like George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy — are not. Enjoyment of these films isn’t contingent on having knowledge of contemporary issues.
Like the first three Star Wars movies, Rogue One refrains from offering political commentary. Although some elements, like the Imperials, are derived from historical sources like the Third Reich, the setting remains almost completely disconnected from anything in the real world. Instead, it delivers a heartfelt, character-driven story and an immersive plot to draw viewers away from depressing newsfeeds and day-to-day problems.
More so than other films in the series, Rogue One shares common themes with dystopian science fiction. The struggle of the good guys seems hopeless, but the narrative delivers a message of hope — and it ties perfectly into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
The main character, Jyn Erso, is essentially powerless at the start of the film. Her life is completely in the hands of Saw Gerrera until he abandons her as a teenager and she’s forced to fend for herself for many years until she’s eventually captured and thrown into an Imperial jail. Even after being rescued by the Rebel Alliance, her freedom is contingent on her cooperation.
Jyn Erso has no control of her fate up until the point where she makes a conscious decision to stop running away. As the protagonist, she has the agency to act on her beliefs and her actions inspire others within the Rebel Alliance to join her in a final effort to turn the tide of battle against the Imperials through an act of subterfuge.
Cassian Andor’s character arc mirrors Jyn Erso’s evolution toward self-determination. The supporting character wrestles with the guilt of following orders he knows are wrong. Inspired by Jyn, Andor finally makes a conscious decision that frees him from those shackles by disobeying a direct order to kill a certain character.
Neither Jyn Erso nor Cassian Andor are real, and the war they’re fighting doesn’t exist outside of Star Wars fiction. But their internal struggles — and the feelings that course through their veins — mirror our own battles in real life.
Rogue One does all it can to provide the wall of escapism we need to leave our problems outside the cinema while equipping us with the reminder that like Jyn Erso, we too can make a difference in our lives.