A Re(new)ed Hope: Rogue One and the Little Guy

Last December, we were transported back to a galaxy far, far away and were reacquainted with some familiar friends. For some, The Force Awakens was a little too familiar, as though J.J. Abrams and Co. we’re treading on hallowed ground. It was an almost impossible challenge facing Abrams; trying and meet the massive expectations of a rabid fan base while telling a new story in a complex mythos. To his credit, Abrams delivered a thoroughly enjoyable film that extended the Skywalker saga for a new generation. But with all these things in mind, it’s no wonder he played it safe by sticking close to the original trilogy in tone and structure.

Rogue One was a much riskier proposition. Director Gareth Edwards was tasked with creating the first Star Wars film unconnected to the Skywalker saga. This required a film with an entirely different structure, and since it was a direct prequel to A New Hope, it needed to be steeped in the sights and sounds of 1977. Moreover, this film had to prove that stories unconnected to the Skywalker saga were worth telling.

Rogue One is a triumphant addition to the Star Wars universe. Not only does it add layers of depth to A New Hope (an almost 40-year-old movie) but it also serves as connective tissue between the prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Rebels, and the original trilogy. It does all this while telling a gripping and inspiring story about the fledgling Rebel Alliance.

The most compelling message found in Rogue One echoes a line from last year’s The Force Awakens. As Finn is rescuing Poe Dameron from the clutches of the First Order, Poe asks him why he’s doing what he’s doing. Finn responds, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” This theme—doing the right thing in spite of the circumstances—is what drives our characters forward in Rogue One. For our main heroine Jyn Erso, it’s easy to see how she’s inspired to do the right thing during the course of the movie. A glimmer of hope, her father’s love, and the full reality of what the Empire is capable of is all it takes to push Jyn back into the fray.

Ultimately, the film isn’t really about Jyn Erso though. Its true poignancy lies with all the other characters around her. Rogue One is an homage to the unknown soldiers, the X-Wing pilots, and the cargo haulers. These background characters—some even have names like Chirrut, Bodhi, or Baze—are all thrown into the middle of this galactic conflict. They’re not heroes like Luke Skywalker; they’re not going to save the galaxy by defeating Darth Vader or the Emperor (which is made plainly clear in the final scenes of the movie). But each one of them makes a choice to do the right thing, to defy the inescapable oppression of the Empire. And though none of these characters survive their suicide mission, their small individual contributions are collectively vital to the greater Rebellion and inspire great hope in others.

The title of Episode IV (A New Hope) certainly points towards Luke’s role as the last Jedi but now it gains an entirely new layer of meaning. The entire Rebel Alliance, fractured and on the edge of despair towards the beginning of Rogue One, draws on the heroic sacrifice at Scarif to rally in the face of mass destruction and terror. I think that’s why Rogue One is so successful. It’s a story about how the collective actions of a few determined people can inspire hope for the galaxy. It’s a story about you and me making a choice to do the right thing in the face of terrible circumstances.

Lucasfilm and Gareth Edwards unquestionably proved that there are compelling stories to tell in a galaxy far, far away. The Skywalker saga will always give us the epic conflict of good versus evil. These new stories will help fill in the gaps, whether they’re stories about the little guy like Rogue One or origin stories like the forthcoming Young Han Solo film. The Star Wars universe is ripe for new and different themes and narratives. I’m excited to see what Lucasfilm can come up with next.

The Cure for Cynicism

When Ken Griffey Jr. reached 500 career home runs, Joe Ponanksi wrote this in a commemorative piece for Sports Illustrated:

“There’s an old baseball man I knew who saw Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson and Albert Pujols all hit home runs. He loved baseball with an intensity that never stopped surprising people around him. Wherever he went, people would ask him to name his favorite, and he never could do that. He loved too many of them. He would talk about Ted Williams’ swing, and he would talk about the way Roberto Clemente threw, and the way Willie Mays’ cap flew off, and the way Cool Papa Bell ran around the bases.

‘But your favorite,’ the people would say, coaxing him, and he would smile, and he would say, ‘Well, I sure like that Ken Griffey Jr.’

‘Why’s that?’ people asked.

‘Because,’ Buck O’Neil said. ‘He’s having so much fun.’”

Baseball is many things to many people. It’s the greatest metaphor for life and the preferred sport for the aspiring philosopher. It’s simultaneously a marathon and a sprint; excruciatingly boring and intensely exciting. It’s a sign of hope after a long winter and can bring heartbreak in the fall. It’s both loved and hated. Above all else, baseball is fun. It’s fun to play, fun to watch, fun to talk about. It’s ten guys on an open field, trying to hit a tiny ball with a long stick, running around making fools of themselves. It’s pure, unadulterated fun.

The Seattle Mariners reminded us of this fact this year. It has been so easy to be cynical about the Mariners—they haven’t been a good team since 2002. They’ve been so frustrating that “Mariners” has become an adjective to describe long-expected disappointment (as in, “Taijuan Walker pitches his best professional game of his career but a gork double that falls in no-man’s land is his undoing, because Mariners.”). It’s been downright frustrating to be a fan of the Mariners. And frustration breeds cynicism.

Sometimes it’s easier to be a cynic. You don’t have to give a shit. You can go about your life without any emotional attachment, removed from the best parts of life like a robot. I see cynicism everywhere in our culture. Just look at the state of our political discourse. The most important conversation we could have as a society has devolved into petty bickering. The defining characteristic of an entire generation is cynicism. Sometimes it feels like no one cares about anything.

Because caring about things can hurt, especially if you throw your whole heart into the endeavor. Getting hurt sucks. It’s not fun. It has hurt to be a fan of the Mariners for the past decade; so many promises gone unfulfilled, so many wasted hours trying to care about a team going nowhere, so many meaningless games in June and July.

Until this year. This year was different. I’m not sure when it happened. Maybe it was that three-game series against the A’s right before the All-Star Break. It could have been the homestand at the beginning of August where they went 8-1. Whenever that moment was, the Mariners became fun again this year. They played 162 meaningful games where each emotion, whether it was joy or anguish, was magnified exponentially. The fact that we were actually feeling anything with regards to this team was an accomplishment.

You see, the cure for cynicism is hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for something, anything different than the dreariness of the past decade. We allowed ourselves to hope for an end to the playoff drought and even though we came up short, the optimism that hope produced is not easily thrown away.

The 2014 Seattle Mariners made it easy to hope again. King Felix is ours and you can’t have him and now he has a partner in crime in Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager continues to be a boss and we can now call him one of the best third basemen in the league. Dustin Ackley had his best season yet. Tom Wilhelmsen did this.

So here we are, eagerly anticipating the next season and all the disappointment, joy, agony, and delight it may bring. Who knows what will happen and, for once, that’s an exciting prospect. The Seattle Mariners are fun again!

The Problem with Superman

I recently watched Man of Steel, the newest Superman movie, and walked away disappointed. Those of you who know me well know that I prefer Batman over Superman (and Marvel over anything from DC). In the right hands, Superman can be an interesting character at the center of some excellent storytelling. The first two thirds of Man of Steel was an excellent example of this type of storytelling but then something happened during the climax of the entire film that exposed the major flaw with Superman that prevents him from becoming a truly compelling character.

Note: Major spoilers follow, ye be warned

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Hope Soars, Eternally

One final loss, another season finished. A heartbreaking, emotional defeat at a time when we felt like we could conquer the world. We were going all the way, carried on the shoulders of DangeRuss, Beast Mode, and the Legion of Boom. We were the team of destiny (thank you Brian Billick). Those dreams were shattered in just 31 seconds.

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