Rebel Moon Exposes the Weakest Part of Star Wars
Zack Synder isn't subtle about being influenced by Star Wars, but he made one smart change to his galaxy.
Audiences aren’t really digging Rebel Moon, Zack Snyder’s supposed answer to sci-fi epics like Star Wars. For better or worse, it is the quintessential Snyder movie, with oodles of slow motion and an R-rated director’s cut already waiting in the wings. The parallels between Snyder’s world and George Lucas’ are admittedly forthright, but comparisons to that galaxy far away can actually enrich the film where it needs it the most, and even highlight the one thing the Star Wars franchise still hasn’t gotten right.
That Snyder cribs so eagerly from Star Wars is a make-or-break aspect of Rebel Moon, as the director relies on our familiarity with the archetypes Lucas helped define and popularize. Through Sofia Boutella’s Kora, Rebel Moon answers the question Star Wars obsessives have already asked: what if Luke Skywalker (or, perhaps more fittingly, Leia Organa) had been raised by Darth Vader? She finds a fitting foil in Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), a naive farmboy who dreams of adventure in all the wrong places (another easy parallel to Luke Skywalker). When he inadvertently leads imperial soldiers of the Motherworld to their peaceful home on Veldt, he and Kora set off to recruit warriors who can aid them in taking a stand.
Rebel Moon often reads more like a mood board than a movie, but were that the only issue in this first entry, there’s a chance it would have been better received. Unfortunately, Rebel Moon’s problems don’t begin or end with Snyder’s love for pastiche, but one of its most hated elements is actually what gives this universe the space it needs to set itself apart: its eager exploration of sexuality, and its role as a character-building tool. Spoilers ahead.
Snyder wastes absolutely no time reminding viewers that he is A Filmmaker For Adults. Rebel Moon is still tamer than his most bombastic efforts, but Netflix’s restraints allow Snyder to try his hand at sexual subtext for what might be the first time. It’s not all subtle: the very first frame features a portal that can only be described as yonic opening in the vacuum of space, one soon penetrated by a spaceship built in a very familiar shape. Those references continue on Veldt, a world where farmers believe in consummating a fertile harvest with a marathon sex festival.
Even if Snyder’s enthusiasm can be gauche, to say the least (and a chunk of context has obviously been relegated to his R-rated director’s cut), setting the stage on Veldt sets the tone for a galaxy that’s far more comfortable with expressing all manner of sexuality. It also opens the door for some darker portrayals of desire.
Rebel Moon has been criticized for its depiction of sexual violence, from its weaponization of queer themes in a questionable cantina scene to the near-rape of a Veldtian girl named Sam. It’s the latter that first pushes Kora into a more active role. Snyder’s no stranger to conflating female empowerment with the threat of assault, but the restraint employed here actually provides the characterization we need to understand Kora and her role in this universe.
Before her brief stint of peace on Veldt, Kora was an agent of the Imperium, an enforcer of violence and oppression. She spent her life turning away from the downtrodden, all while protecting the Motherworld’s cruelest leaders. She’s left that life behind by the time we meet her, but she’s still wrestling with her capacity for violence. Her choice to save Sam from imperial soldiers represents the last pall of programming she’d yet to slough off. She’s finally able to stand up to the fascistic force she once upheld, and by defending a young girl’s autonomy she signals she’s officially reclaimed her own.
Rebel Moon delivers the rest of its adult-centric commentary with a much heavier hand, but it’s still a welcome change to high-concept fantasy that forgets its characters are human. Sex is a subject fans and critics have been asking franchises like Star Wars to acknowledge time and again; the saga’s approach to violence has always flirted with a PG-13 rating, but themes of desire often fall by the wayside. Andor, which infers that people do, in fact, have sex in other galaxies, is the exception that proves the rule. More importantly, it depicts desire in a way that needn’t be explained in clunky confession scenes or culminate in a clandestine wedding.
As promising as that is for Star Wars, Andor is still a novelty. Lucasfilm is ultimately in the business of family-friendly content, which will force fans to look elsewhere for that coveted R-rating. Rebel Moon is hardly an outright improvement on everything Star Wars fails to accommodate, but at the very least, it’s an alternative to the chaste epics that have come to (non-sexually) dominate sci-fi.
Rebel Moon is not meant to replace or surpass Star Wars. But as a deconstruction of its themes, and as an alternative to the PG-13 galaxy it inhabits, Snyder’s film represents a kind of success. Hopefully, it will make room for more tonal variety in mainstream sci-fi: having more options certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone.