Finding Comfort in Star Wars after a Week of Distressing News

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Finding Comfort in Star Wars after a Week of Distressing News

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

I’ve been a fan of the Star Wars franchise for nearly two decades, but I was finding it difficult to find much enthusiasm for the release of Rise of Skywalker, the ninth Star Wars film and final chapter of the generation-spanning Skywalker family saga. Happenings in the real world had soured my appetite for adventures taking place in a galaxy far, far away. Much more pressing were the demonstrations taking place in my own country, in my own city. To be honest, I was more interested in attending the August Kranti Maidan protest than catching a first-day screening of Rise of Skywalker. As it happened, I did both, and if not for the former, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the latter.

The Star Wars films, like most great sci-fi and fantasy properties, have always appealed to our sense of escapism, which is why my enthusiasm was somewhat dimmed for Rise of Skywalker. Don’t get me wrong – I love Star Wars so much I even own underwear with Darth Vader’s face printed on it, but the thought of forgetting the very real problems for another entertaining Jedi vs Sith battle was enough to cause a little guilt. But then, I ended up going for the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Mumbai’s August Kranti Maidan, and I realised that even here, there were people resisting the Dark Side of the Force.

rise of skywalkers

Resisting evil is what defined Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo just as much as it does Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron.

Lucasfilm Ltd/Bad Robot Productions

It’s evident by now that I’m one of “those” people – some would call me “anti-national”, others might say “useless liberal” – who believes the CAA flies against the principles upon which India was brought into existence. Combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), I’m worried what these developments could spell for the future of India. The single-minded determination with which Home Minister Amit Shah pushed the Citizenship Amendment Bill through Parliament and secured the President’s approval, turning it into law, as well as the widespread approval it received, made me feel alienated, as if my discomfort over thinly veiled religious discrimination made me the odd one out.

But at August Kranti Maidan on Thursday evening, tens of thousands of people assured me of the opposite. It wasn’t just me! The number of people turning out for the protest exceeded everybody’s expectations, and to see solidarity in such numbers lifted my spirits. I went from feeling alone, to feeling that if like-minded people stick together, the future can in fact be changed. And the next day, a character in Rise of Skywalker expressed exactly what I was feeling: “They win when they make us think we’re alone.”

The thousands who took to the streets in Mumbai, their struggle is just beginning. May the Force be with them.

The people at the Mumbai protest were all dissenting with the establishment, they were braving the chance of meeting similar brutal repression as the protesters in Delhi and Aligarh, and voicing their opinions no matter how unpopular those might be among the establishment. They were – and any Star Wars fan will tell you, this is a compliment of the highest order – rebel scum. The fictional world of Star Wars needs this rebel scum – a ragtag band of heroes from diverse backgrounds – to challenge and defeat the evil, oppressive regimes of the Galactic Empire and the First Order, and our India needs her own rebel scum to fight against laws that will divide her citizens.

From the first Star Wars movies, which were released in the ’70s, to today’s Rise of Skywalker, there has been a common thread of the plucky underdogs fighting the good fight. Resisting evil is what defined Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo just as much as it does Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. And at a time when resisting and speaking out feels more important than it has in a while, that is an inspiring message. It’s probably one of the reasons why this franchise has spanned decades and generations. Despite the lightsabers and sentient droids and rampant escapism, there’s an evergreen relatability to the theme of fighting the power. It is one of the main purposes of the genre, as the author Neil Gaiman once said: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Rise of Skywalker might be the culmination of a nine-film long saga, but for the thousands who took to the streets in Mumbai, many of them for the first time, their struggle is just beginning. May the Force be with them.

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