By now the dust of the holiday madness has settled and we’ve all had the chance to see (and geek out over!) Rogue One at least once (or, you know, four times). In honor of alllllll the time Star Wars fans have spent thinking about the new film, this month Jenmarie – from Anakin and His Angel – has dedicate the Star Wars ComLINKS post to a discussion of our favorite scene in the film. Coolio! It seems obvious, but this piece will have some spoilers in it. They aren’t major ones but a scene will be described. Hey, I just want to make sure we all go into this with our eyes open okay?
My initial post about Rogue One was pretty clear about how the film blew me away. Granted, the Disney Canon’s bar wasn’t that high for me, but Rogue One was impressive! Of course nothing can compare with what George Lucas – the master, the myth-maker – himself can create, but this was far and away the best offering I’ve seen from the Disney Canon so far. Despite my love of the whole film – both its “big picture” parts as well as its subtle nuances – it wasn’t difficult to settle on my favorite scene. One moment gave me chills in a unique way during my first viewing and it has only spoken to me more and more with each additional viewing, namely the approach to Scarif.
As their ship, freshly Christened Rogue One, descends to the planet Scarif, Jyn Erso and her crew are asked to transmit their clearance codes for the shield gate. At the helm, Bodhi Rook transmits the code they have…and he, Jyn, and Kaytoo hold their breath in the cockpit to see what will happen. Will they have a chance to land and attempt to steal the Death Star plans, capitalizing on the weakness Jyn’s father Galen hid in the design? Or will the secrets of the Empire’s ultimate weapon remain just that? Everything hinges on this moment.
With all of this hanging in the balance, Jyn reaches for the kyber crystal she wears around her neck. Given to her by her mother Lyra, herself a devout believer in the Force, the crystal serves as a sacramental of sorts providing Jyn with a quick moment of silent prayer. This is an action all people of faith do in times of trouble, reaching our to the divine in the way of their tradition seeking help, guidance, strength, etc. Her prayer, thankfully never expressly stated or described in the film, is obviously important to Jyn. Why else would she reach for the crystal at that moment? But it’s also important to the overall message of the narrative. Subtly and beautifully this scene presents one of Rogue One‘s central themes. We are reminded that the Force isn’t simply a magic power or mystical tool used by the Jedi and the Sith through millennia of combat. Rather, the Force is to be an avenue to contemplation of the Divine – in all its unknowable transcendence – and it moves in and through everything in the galaxy.
We’ve lost much this overtly religious focus in recent years of Star Wars storytelling. Watching the Original Trilogy as a kid I always got the sense (because Obi-Wan and Yoda say it directly and often) that the Force touches everything. Conversely, while Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels are both enamored with telling Jedi tales, as Dave Filoni and co. explore the Force, more often than not it comes off as something the Jedi (or the Sith) exclusively tap into (albeit, I believe, unintentionally). Sadly, I rarely see anything in The Clone Wars (a show I truly enjoy and respect) or Rebels (a show growing more underwhelming for me) to make it seem like the Force is relevant to anyone who doesn’t wield a lightsaber. Yes, the Jedi can feel it in a special way, but the Force is supposed to be for all. In losing this aspect of the Force, we lose something important. Thankfully, in this quiet, beautiful scene, Rogue One reminds us of this religious dimension of the Force. We see this dimension too, of course, with Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, and even the existence of the Temple on Scarif. But this moment of private prayer is the example I’m most drawn to because of its intimate honesty.
Star Wars in general, and the Force specifically, at their core are intentionally designed to be a deeply religious experience. While these films are a fun, exciting cornerstone of popular culture, they can also be the doors to explore something far more meaningful. Part of what Star Wars provides is a wonderfully unique path to talking about God. In many an interview George Lucas has affirmed that he put the Force into the films to consciously try to get young people thinking about religion, God, and all the ways our lives can intersect the sacred. He wanted to attempt to connect his audience to the mystery, get them asking questions and exploring.
Obviously Lucas wasn’t looking to invent a new religion with Star Wars and the Force. Rather he sought to distill the central themes of our major faith traditions and explore, in a unique way, what was most important to all the world’s religions. He read fifty books on religion in crafting his idea of the Force and he wanted to express it all. But Lucas stresses that it is important to remember that the Force isn’t God. Instead it’s a vehicle to get young people thinking about what God is and what God could be. The Force isn’t the answer so much as the tool to get you asking the questions.
Lucas gets us contemplating the Divine and then offers a variety of examples of prayer too. Most often, prayer in Star Wars is to ground yourself in the present moment, which is where you find the Force and connect to your feelings. This is something that is taught by all major faith traditions, from Christian centering prayer to Buddhist meditation. Lucas also uses traditional religious idioms as the framework for some of the films’ most famous lines. For example, the classic line “May the Force be with you” was intentionally modeled on the phrase, “The Lord be with you” or “God be with you.” Rogue One adds to this prayerful tradition with Chirrut Imwe’s repeated mantra, “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” Also, while Star Wars is a fantasy/science fiction story with incredible technology Lucas stresses that the phrase “Use the Force,” which is echoed through all six films, is an urging not to rely on logic or computers but to rely on faith. Faith is the way of the Jedi; faith is the way of the hero.
One of my most exciting events as a Youth Minister was a six week “Theology of Star Wars” event I held where we’d watch a different movie every week, deconstructing their theological merit with pizza afterwards. Now, I teach a course on Star Wars and Contemporary Myth-Making. The whole course is designed to introduce the students to this incredible dimension of Lucas’ work and allow them to explore what it has to offer. Lucas gave us so much to think about theologically with his Star Wars Saga. I feel all of this rich tradition in the moment when Jyn holds her kyber crystal as their ship approach Scarif. The beauty of the moment is matched for me only by its power. It’s a wonderful little reminder that there should always be more to Star Wars than just lazer guns, lightsabers, and space ships. It also serves as an even more important reminder that there’s much more to our world than meets the eye.