Remember when a boycott of Star Wars: The Force Awakens turned out to be mostly a trolling attempt, and a boycott of Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t an organized boycott at all? Or when we realized that lots of tweets don’t necessarily equal a major social movement? I guess that lesson hasn’t sunk in yet, because Disney itself has now had to address a boycott of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Earlier today, The Hollywood Reporter asked Disney CEO Bob Iger about #DumpStarWars, an “alt-right” (reactionary white nationalist) “boycott” (hashtag) “campaign” (activity involving more than one person) that’s been brewing since not long after the election. Unlike the generic anti-diversity complaints against The Force Awakens, #DumpStarWars actually involves a specific political statement: it’s partly a reaction to Rogue One screenwriter Chris Weitz, who tweeted about implicit parallels between Star Wars villains and modern far-right politics. But Iger was still skeptical. “I think the whole story has been overblown and, quite frankly, it’s silly,” he responded. “I have no reaction to [this] story at all.”
But that wasn’t the end of Iger’s statement. “Frankly, this is a film that the world should enjoy,” he said. “It is not a film that is, in any way, a political film. There are no political statements in it, at all.” This is a ridiculous claim about Star Wars. It’s also a strategically solid decision.
Even beyond the notion that most stories implicitly reflect somebody’s worldview, Star Wars has been borrowing from real-world political movements, particularly Nazi Germany, since the original trilogy. In a now-deleted statement, Weitz contended that “the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization,” while fellow Rogue One writer Garry Whitta noted that it was “opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.” This isn’t a sign of some newly acquired social justice bent; it’s a basic element of the series. The Empire fosters a xenophobic ideology known as “Human High Culture.” Their rank-and-file minions are named stormtroopers, for crying out loud. It isn’t subtle. (Let’s not even get into the time George Lucas implied George W. Bush was a Sith Lord.)
Iger may just mean that Rogue One isn’t specifically written about current events, contrary to one totally unsupported claim posted online. Pleading this case would be pointless appeasement. Hashtags depend on recognition, and seriously addressing their positions, even to refute them, confers power. Not all complaints deserve a response, especially when — as the claim above suggests — they’re made in blatantly bad faith.
But there’s a more interesting twist to Iger’s statement, and it’s in the last line: “[Rogue One] has one of the greatest and most diverse casts of any film we have ever made and we are very proud of that, and that is not a political statement, at all.” Because this is what refusing to cede ground looks like. Cultural reactionaries rely on people accepting their position — in this case, a world where only white men do things — as the apolitical default, making any aberration an example of “forced” tokenism. Iger’s quote flips this on its head: if you take diversity for granted, shouldn’t you be wondering why a small group is pushing for forced homogeneity?
I have no idea how well Rogue One will handle any of its subject matter, political or otherwise, when it premieres on December 16th. Its box office performance isn’t a referendum on feminism or anti-racism, and fictional characters aren’t a substitute for diversity behind the camera. But I’m 100 percent on board with refusing to give a faux-controversy more oxygen. As much as people clearly love envisioning white nationalists suddenly discovering that racism is unpopular, these people feed on our eyeballs. So until there’s some sign that #DumpStarWars will do more than Trump supporters’ Hamilton boycott, go point them at Rogue One (or some other movie of your choosing), not a soul-sucking abyss that delivers only false schadenfreude.