On December 16th, 2016, the first non-episodic Star Wars movie was released. It was called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and it was about “ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things”, according to Disney and Lucasfilm.
The timing of such a story couldn’t have been more perfect.
One month before its release, Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. It was the capper of a difficult year, filled with death (Bowie, Prince, Ali--Carrie Fisher’s passing would come after the movie’s release-- the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Bastille Day attack in France, the civil war in Syria, etc.) and all-around bad news (Brexit was passed, Aleppo was destroyed, North Korea kept testing its missiles, global warming, etc.). For many, hope seemed in short supply.
Mine was already on its way out. The tail end of 2016 was not going well, and I had a sneaking suspicion-- even as everyone celebrated the end of a tough year-- that 2017 was going to be a lot worse, particularly after the election.
I was right. Apart from the constant barrage of awfulness that was the world in 2017, it was also the year that threw me back into a long spell of depression. I gained back most the weight I had lost years ago. I had to see a therapist again. I lost friends, heroes, opportunities, hobbies, passions, and dreams. Mostly everything that had made my life incredible was taken away from me, and I did not handle it well.
But on December 18th, for two hours and thirteen minutes, the threat and possibility of all that disappeared.
Star Wars (and entertainment in general) has always been an escape for me, but this was different. This wasn’t just getting lost in the story of a galaxy far, far away-- it was seeing myself and my world reflected, more realistically than ever, in the galaxy that I had grown up with. There was no happy Hollywood ending, no neatly-tied-up ends. There was conflict and moral ambiguity, heartache and loss. It was dark, serious, mature, and sad. It wasn’t the Star Wars that I grew up with, and yet it was. Just like me, Star Wars had grown up.
Every time since then that I have sat down for those same two hours and thirteen minutes, it has been the same. The fear and despair fade away for a little while, and I let myself believe in the actions and strength of a small group of people. I believe in their ability to make a difference. I believe in their fight, their hearts, and their sacrifice. And thus, I remember that it is possible in this galaxy, too.
The running joke is that I call Rogue One “the movie that ruined my life”. By that I mean that I willingly and enthusiastically let it permeate my life this past year. I am once more my twelve-year-old self, completely head-over-heels in love with Star Wars. I have posters, books, toys, figures, fan art, clothes, etc. I have written thousands of words of character study and alternate universes in which my beloved characters survive. I jumped back onto Tumblr, just to see a dashboard full of Rogue One gifs, fics, and other posts every day. I cosplayed, for the first time in my life, as Jyn Erso. I have watched the movie at LEAST twenty-five times by now, though I’d guess it’s probably more. I am taking a trip to Florida in early 2018 PRIMARILY to experience a pre-Rogue One virtual reality experience (I fully intend to probably cry/scream the entire time).
And yes, a lot of that obsession came from needing an escape from my depression and hopelessness. Rogue One has served as a wonderful (yet heart-breaking) distraction from this year from hell. It has comforted me, kept me going, kept me from falling into completely and utter despair. I looked to its fictional heroes when I lost my own. This movie has felt more reliable, more honest, more dependable than most anything else in my life this year, and so I clung to it like a security blanket.
I have no regrets about that. We do what we have to, to keep going.
But I also had valid connections to both the story and, especially, its characters.
I saw so much of myself in angry, broken Jyn Erso. I understood her fears and expectations of abandonment and her lack of trust in people that came with it. I knew both her anger and disinterest in a government that had failed her, and yet her desire to still do good underneath it. I knew her immediate sense of loyalty to people she barely knew, and the passion that came out when someone finally stuck by her, believed in her, and she let herself care.
I saw myself in Bodhi Rook, the pilot who saw himself as nothing but a failure, but still managed to fight for what was right. I understood his doubt in himself, the belief that had been drilled into him that he would never be enough, but his devotion of what he did have to his friends, to trying to help.
I saw myself in Baze Malbus-- the once-believer in greater things, proved wrong too many times by an uncaring and unfair universe. I knew his anger and exhaustion with the world, and the loss of the possibilities and purpose that once existed for him. But I also knew his loyalty to his loved ones.
I saw myself in Cassian Andor, who hated what he had become but fought on anyway. I understood how intimately he knew the darkest parts of his being, and how it took someone brighter than he could ever hope to be to pull himself out of it. I understood his need for attachment, even when he didn’t want to need it so bad, and I understood his unrelenting desire to know that all of it would be worth something, in the end.
I even connected with K-2SO, not just for his annoyance at how stupid humans could be, but for his loyalty to the man who saved him.
(I’ll admit, I did not connect as much to Chirrut Îmwe. I mean, if I was Force-sensitive, I’d be Dark. I’m too emotional--it’s hard for me to connect with any Jedi-esque characters. I still loved him, though.)
The thing is, Rogue One didn’t “ruin” my life, as I keep joking-- it actually saved it. I spent this year with barely any hope left inside of me to carry on, and this underappreciated, diverse, emotional movie gave me just enough to keep going. It showed me that we can lose, and lose, and lose, and lose, but it just takes ONE win to change everything. That enemies stronger than we can possibly comprehend can still be defeated, by the act of just one person (and then another, and another). That even though I may not live to see a better world, even though things might ALWAYS be hard for me, I should still strive to improve what I leave behind.
After all, some of us will never live to be the hero, but our stories can still mean something.
And so, a year after its release (and as we welcome a new film, The Last Jedi, into the Star Wars universe), I wanted to pause and appreciate the Star Wars Story that was everything I needed in 2017. I feel like Rogue One might fade a bit in the wake of the new installment of the current trilogy, but it won’t for me. It has become my favorite part of the Star Wars universe, and I’d be surprised if anything in the future surpasses it.
Rogue One, may the Force be with you.