What happens when we become the empire?
In an early scene of Rogue One, the new Star Wars spinoff, we follow the protagonists Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor to the desert moon of Jedha. Walking through the streets, looking for a contact, Cassian perceptively comments, “This town is ready to blow.” Moments later, his words prove prophetic when a group of radical, masked rebels plans a surprise attack on an imperial squadron.
As I watched the scene, my jaw dropped. A desert setting. A group of soldiers in uniform. A surprise attack by a radical group that strongly opposes the more powerful force. This is Star Wars, yes, but it could also describe American combat in the Middle East, and as I watched Rogue One I was struck by the similarity. Thinking through the analogy, though, made for a troubling realization—if the radical rebels of Rogue One stand in for modern-day extremists, does the Empire they fight symbolize the United States?
In 1977, when Star Wars: A New Hope was released, there was no ambiguity about the good guys and bad guys. The good guys were Luke, Leia, Han and Obi-Wan, and Darth Vader, the Emperor and the stormtroopers were the bad guys. Easy. As a child, I identified with the rebels and their fight for justice. (Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, on the other hand, recently confessed he was “inclined to root for the empire.”)