WARNING: Mild Spoilers
Rogue One, a novella of a movie wedged between the Episode III and IV of the Star Wars saga, carries a message for the Christmas season. It is a prequel that sets up the coming actions of the heroes, especially Princess Leah.
Much has been written about the choppy first and second acts of the movie. I agree with these assessments. It’s like the screenwriters used hyperspace to skip between plot points and accelerate to the end of the story. Certain characters show briefly, and one longs for more flesh on their bones. Perhaps future films will expand their stories.
There’s so much transience in this film. Maybe it’s purposeful. It all feels ill-fated, fleeting, and temporary — kind of like life itself.
Besides Darth Vader, no Jedi knights enter the scene to save the day. Many characters live out a crushing existence of rebelling against an all-powerful State intent on extinguishing dissent. Some serve a rebellion that’s at odds with itself and lacking courage or conviction. Some characters are conscripted against their wills to serve evil ends.
The Star Wars universe lacked, until this film, a fanfare to the common man. Soldiers, especially the white-clad stormtroopers, fell and no one paid any mind. The carnage was just out of sight. The observer sees the trusting child before the camera cuts away from Anakin’s rage-fueled murders. Kylo Ren massacres a community for protecting a rebel and his droid. It’s quick and clinical and then forgotten.
In Rogue One, attachment to the protagonist builds quickly. She bumps into a blind and insightful priest and his protector and recognizes that he “sees” her. She saves a child caught in the cross-fire. She’s a freed criminal. She’s angry, defiant, and hurt. Yet, she is sustained by her beliefs.
Unlike the cartoonish innocents of past episodes, these beings matter. They’re not unreal, fluffy Ewoks. They’re not weird CGI underwater creatures. They’re not expendable townspeople or children who are setting up the evil character. These are individuals with agency who are deciding their fate. I found myself wanting to know each of them. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time.
Because so many good characters make difficult choices, their motivation matters. Why do they do it? It’s a question many outside of the military wonder. Why go to Iraq and risk one’s life? Why be content while stationed in South Korea? Why defend an innocent Afghani?
The rebel warriors of Rogue One have a system of beliefs that undergird their actions. Call it Chi, Ki, the Holy Spirit, The Force, these people believe. Not only do they believe, but they pray, they mantra, and they call on the power of The Force. They put their faith in this Power. They believe so completely that they do not feel limited by death. Their faith gives them strength to be people of action.
It is nice to see the average temple-goer act on their beliefs and use them in service to self-sacrifice for a more important ideal.
Cynical news outlets like the New York Times just don’t get it. This week, they call Christians stupid. This week, President Obama sold out Israel as his final act of vengeance against a world leader, their people, and Americans state-side who support Israel. Contempt for true believers is at an all-time high.
It’s nice when, as often happens, art stumbles over truth and reveals the culture (or is it reflects?) around it. Rogue One is a collection of deplorables who fight anyway. Criminals, rebels of questionable character, who share one redeeming quality: their faith in The Force.
The end of the story for these ragtag humans is unpleasant. As Darth Vader cuts down lives mercilessly, it even seems that hope is lost. As Jyn Erso says,”Rebellions are built on hope.”
What is the purpose of life in this temporary world? Why would a young person walk into the fire to save the lives of people she’s never met?
Faith, hope, love. The basics.
On this Christmas eve, when faith is renewed and people slow down to contemplate the why of their existence, it’s heartening to be reminded that this temporary life is not in vain. The good done here and now matters. And there’s something solid and permanent and eternal to fight for, no matter the outcome now.
I Corinthians 15:
May the force be with you! Merry Christmas to you and yours.