John Paul the Great professor defends Rogue One

SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

Thomas P. Harmon, professor of theology and culture at John Paul the Great Catholic University, has written a thoughtful essay for Catholic World Report responding to my critique of the moral murkiness of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Harmon argues that the new film better comports with the original series than I allow.

I thank Professor Harmon for his thoughtful response to my article.

We are in substantial agreement on a number of points. Harmon acknowledges that Rogue One is far from a perfect film, and sympathizes with with my concern about the general trend of moral murkiness in contemporary Hollywood retellings.

I agree with Harmon, too, that characters in the original films aren’t always as morally clear-cut as one might conclude reading my current article in isolation. (I have written about this in the past, though in this piece I lacked the space to do more than gesture at it.)

Obi-Wan’s “from a certain point of view” rationalization is a retcon, a retroactive reinterpretation of past continuity to square with later creative developments. Still, it’s an ambiguity that is baked into the cake by the climax of The Empire Strikes Back, the backbone of the trilogy, so it can’t be bracketed by casting aspersions at the flaws of Return of the Jedi.

Not all of Harmon’s examples strike me as equally persuasive or relevant. In particular, the moral murkiness of Han Solo (whose moral arc my article treats at length) and Lando Calrissian are not counterpoints to my argument. My contention is not that the original Star Wars films are populated with characters who are all simply good or simply evil. Rather, I argue that the original films present us with “a more or less straightforward moral tableau of archetypal good and evil” represented by two opposing sides, the Empire and the Rebellion. The Empire are the black hats, the Rebellion are the white hats. Han and Lando as we first encounter them are morally murky because they aren’t aligned with either of the two sides.

Once they do join the Rebellion, this changes. As I said in my separate review of Rogue One concerning Han, “when he joined up he put on the proverbial white hat, even if he wore it at a rakish angle.” The same is true of Lando.

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