I have heard a lot of complaints from friends about the fact Sabine is a graffiti artist. Yeah, we get that the punk that makes your community look bad annoys you. We understand that your nice neighborhood looks “urban” when someone paints their name in a public space. We understand. In fact, bad graffiti is as detestable as all bad art. But there are some similarities and differences between that kid annoying you in your community and what Sabine appears to do in Star Wars Rebels.
Under imperialism, individual freedom is stifled. Individualistic expression is scorned. Everything should be about the good of the empire rather than the self. The self becomes disposable all in the name of the greater good. Free speech and artistic expression are not something you can count on under imperialism, especially when the Emperor is a Sith Lord. Challenging or subversive art under imperialism is one way to find yourself in front of a firing squad.
Sabine being a graffiti artist makes sense both historically speaking and as political action. Remember Mandalore as we got to know it in Star Wars: The Clone Wars? That planet had some space-Picasso cooking up lots of great art work, tapestries, and stained glass works. Sabine would likely have fit into that art scene had she not been squeezed into the situation she is in now. While we know the Mandalorians to be a war-intensive people, they are also clearly an artistic people by the same measure.
So what is her option? How can she express herself artistically in that situation? How can see free the creative impulse while fighting a war? It seems to be me she’s found a way. This isn’t a kid writing her name on the back of a store so she seems hip. This is a girl under a truly oppressive circumstance that has decided to rebel. Her art has become a political weapon. When she spray paints the rebel thunderbird onto Stormtrooper helmets, she’s sending a message, she’s creating a symbol, and she’s making a statement the oppressed people will come to know and understand.
We kind of live in a world where people are annoyed by the fact Sabine spray paints on walls but ignores the fact she’s a weapons expert and uses two guns. I’m just going to leave that there. I also want to add that I’ve known Los Angeles area taggers that became “legitimate” artists. As teenagers, they found themselves on the outskirts of legitimate society and they rebelled, painted public space to claim ownership over public space in the process of orienting themselves within the dominant culture. Sometimes it was dumb, sometimes it was intelligent. In Star Wars the graffiti artist isn’t dumb because Sabine is rejecting true tyranny.
By the way, have you seen Mandalorian Graffiti directed by Baron Papanoida? Sorry, I had to shoehorn that in somewhere in this article