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'Rogue One' Fights Culture War in Post Election Haze

Racially charged online calls to boycott "Rogue One" reflect increasingly ugly battles over politics and entertainment.

"Star Wars" blasted into theaters nearly 40 years ago, bursting with movie magic, but barren of subtly in its language, imagery and message.

The Dark Side is evil incarnate, embodied in the Death Star-based Empire and its faceless henchman, the Imperial Stormtroopers, who were named after Hitler's brown-shirted thugs. Sure, it eventually turns out that Darth Vader has a complicated backstory. But in the original film he's a ruthless, murdering dictator bent on dominating the galaxy.

In short, he's the fearsome, black-helmeted head of a fascist regime.

Fans are set to get a new peek into the Empire's early days with Friday's debut of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," the first movie spinoff from the Disney reboot of George Lucas' universe. But the opening is shaping up as far more than a test of the franchise’s initial standalone flick: “Rogue One” unexpectedly has put "Star Wars" in the middle of culture wars.

The #DumpStarWars Twitter movement calls for a boycott of the movie, led by forces decrying the woman-led multicultural band of good guys and the white, male bad guys. Co-screenwriter Chris Weitz touched off an outcry among some by reportedly posting a tweet declaring the Empire a "white supremacist organization." He later took down the post, but tweeted an image of the rebel alliance logo with a safety pin, which has become a post-election symbol of the battle against intolerance.

Meanwhile, false rumors the film was reshot to insert an anti-Donald Trump message spread. Security was reportedly tight at Saturday’s “Rogue One” premiere in Hollywood.

We're witnessing an ugly mash-up of "Star Wars" purists who will never be satisfied with anything that deviates from the first three flicks, the scourge of fake news and a rightward shift epitomized by haters for whom "Make America great again" is a white power cry.

It's baffling that anyone could be threatened by a fictional outer space rebel alliance being led by a white woman who counts non-white fighters (and droids) among her ranks. That’s a change from the original trilogy, in which, as New York magazine pointed out last year, women other than Princess Leia spoke for a total of 63 seconds.

Plus, the races and ethnicities of the cloaked stormtroopers aren't clear  – as we saw in last year's "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens," they're not all white, which spurred another puzzling controversy

That marked a pre-election sign the country's political divide is increasingly playing out through the popular culture. 

More cases in point: The misogynistic online backlash to the women-dominated "Ghostbusters" remake that opened the same month Hillary Clinton became the first woman major party presidential nominee. Comedians Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes got booed for skewering Trump. Calls for a "Hamilton" boycott erupted after actor Brandon Victor Dixon told Vice President-elect Mike Pence from the stage that "your new administration will not protect us.”

The November Hamilton flap didn't seem to bother Pence, but it angered the President-elect, a former reality TV star who regularly tweets his displeasure with his portrayal on "Saturday Night Live." 

This first post-election installment of "SNL" earned the show's highest ratings in three years. Despite the online "Boycott Hamilton" movement, you still can't get tickets to the multicultural musical retelling of country's early days through the story of the title immigrant.

The power of the anti-"Rogue One" movement ultimately will be measured not by the Galactic Credit Standard, but in dollars – and there's nothing subtle about that.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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