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Rogue One – A Story of Hope

Canada Burns
Graphic Designer

I'll admit that when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, I had my doubts.  Thankfully my fears that they would turn the beloved science fiction series into a musical have been put to rest (though I still wouldn’t be surprised if it happened). Now I can say that I am actually glad they are steering the ship because it means we get more merch, more great cartoons, and, most importantly, more movies.

Which brings me to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, ironically the most un-Disney-ish of all films bearing the Star Wars name. The film, based on a line from the opening scroll of Episode IV, is more of a war movie than a sci-fi flick. The main set pieces feature numerous firefights, epic space battles, espionage, and one of the scariest and most awesome depictions of Darth Vader I have ever seen. Beware: spoilers ahead.

Rogue One tells the story of Jyn Erso, a young girl whose father, Galen Erso, worked for the Empire once upon a time. However, when Jyn was very young, Galen became convicted of his servitude to the totalitarian regime and moved his family to a remote farm where they could live in peace. One day the Empire showed up on their doorstep asking Galen to come back and work on a special project.  Galen resisted, Jyn's mother was killed, and young Jyn was forced into hiding.

Many years later Jyn is broken out of an imperial prison by the Rebel Alliance. They need her help to find Galen. Turns out his special project is something called "The Death Star" and it has the rebels a little worried. Jyn teams up with the Han Solo-esque Captain Cassian and his blunt robot K-2SO to find Galen who has in fact been working behind the scenes on the rebellion's behalf. Thanks to Jyn's father, the Death Star has a critical flaw built into it and if the rebels can get their hands on its plans, they can successfully blow it up.

Sounds easy enough, right? Except the plans are located on an incredibly secure facility, complete with planet-wide shields, heavy troop numbers, and a massive file archive with dizzying heights to boot. And, oh yeah, Darth Vader is after them too.

War is not always noble

Jyn starts out as a bitter young woman who thinks her father abandoned her to work for the Empire. Having lost hope for the future, she simply wants to stay out of the conflict spreading across the galaxy. When she discovers that her father has actually kept her best interest in mind, she gains a new perspective. Ultimately, the two are reconciled and this healing gives Jyn the motivation to join the rebellion.

Captain Cassian is confronted by Jyn for having no moral compass. Unbeknownst to Jyn, Cassian has been instructed to kill Galen when they find him. When the mission goes awry, Jyn confronts him saying he is no better than a storm trooper if he follows orders blindly. Convicted, Cassian turns over a new leaf and decides to do what is right instead of simply doing what he is told. Albeit that involves stealing, but that's war I guess.

Which brings me to one of the most interesting things about this film. In the other Star Wars films, the lines between good and evil were clearly drawn. The good guys were the rebels and the Jedi, and the bad guys were the Empire and the Sith. But Rogue One shows a darker side to the conflict. All those who oppose the Empire are not necessarily good guys. Saw Gerrera, one of the resistance leaders against the Empire, is said to be an extremist. We see this played out as his men blow up a tank and start a firefight that that results in civilian casualties. The fight against the Empire doesn't feel noble or romanticized in this film, further driving home the idea that though the cause is built on principle, war is rough, gritty, and tragic.

There is a strong theme of trust and self-sacrifice in this film. Galen remains undercover for years, sacrificing his relationship with his daughter so he can successfully create the flaw in the Death Star. Later he steps in front of several men who are about to be shot for leaking information to the rebels. Many other characters risk (and lose) their lives to save their friends and get the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance.

Rogue One doesn't have the largest body count of all the Star Wars films (considering that in The Force Awakens, they literally blew up several planets filled with people), but it feels like it does. The action is more war film than adventure fantasy, with intense firefights involving grenades, tanks, and air and ground assaults. What makes it all the more intense is that the action is seen from the vantage points of the characters, making the AT-ATs bearing down on them and the blasts from above all the more terrifying.

Saw Gererra subjects a possible spy to his mind reading tentacle monster in a cringe-worthy scene. Cassian is also a bit of a shifty character at the beginning. He shoots another rebel informer in the back so he won't be caught. He also shoots another insurgent to protect Jyn.

Grand Moff Tarken decides to test the Death Star on it's lower setting, taking out an entire city and the surrounding area. He also decides to end a battle by simply annihilating the ground troops on both sides. Darth Vader force chokes a character and then lets him go. Vader also takes out a host of rebel soldiers using the Force and his lightsaber.

One of the main characters, Chirrut, is a blind man who is not a Jedi yet has a deep knowledge of the Force. Many times he is heard repeating, "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me" over and over again which is reminiscent of a Hindu mantra. Chirrut is rather "evangelical" about his beliefs, yet the Force that Chirrut speaks of feels less mystical and impersonal than in previous films, a subject I will touch on later. 

Our hope is greater

Rogue One is definitely one of the darker and grittier of the Star Wars films, second only to Episode III. (It doesn't get any darker than the hero of the film killing a bunch of children, his wife, and then getting dismembered and burned beyond recognition.) However, like any good war film, Rogue One has great themes of self-sacrifice as well as a frank and realistic commentary on personal ethics in wartime.

Yet one of the most interesting takeaways I had from this film was the way the Force was portrayed. In past films, it felt like magic. In the prequels, George Lucas tried to make it a scientific phenomenon by throwing midi-chlorians into the mix. But in this film, the Force felt akin to a more personal religion than in any of the movies, TV shows, or books.

Many in our world today tell us that there is no God or supernatural being in our world and that this reality is okay. They "send good vibes/thoughts" instead of praying and they try to make death sound like a peaceful inevitable oblivion we should just accept. But that is all very easy to say when life is good. Yet in the midst of war, when death is imminent, the human soul longs for comfort and meaning. How do you keep going in the midst of such adversity? Jyn Erso answers this for us. It's hope; a hope in something other than yourself. It’s a hope she emphasizes when she repeats the age-old saying "May the Force be with us" as she and her companions leave for a mission they may not return from. I find it interesting that when Star Wars suddenly includes more war, the concept of the Force conforms to something more like a religion rather than hokey magic/midi-chlorians.

And yes, I know that the concept of the Force in these films is rooted in eastern mysticism. I'm not abdicating we convert to Force-ism. But taking a step back and looking at the principles portrayed and applying them to a Christian worldview, one cannot deny the clear message: when life's mortality is most evident (like in times of war), our hope must be on what will last. We all know in our hearts that the efforts of men are finite. There is something greater. The God who saved us by His infinite power will stand with us though the very planet we stand on is destroyed beneath our feet (Psalm 46:2).

We are one with Christ and Christ is with us.



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