Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
The ten-second summary of Rogue One is that it tells the story of the mission that captured the plans for the first Death Star, the pivotal plot device that drives A New Hope. However, Gareth Edwards’ film uses the opportunity of this story to show us the Rebellion at a crossroads–specifically, when doubt was at its highest peak. Appropriately, the characters of Rogue One each find themselves existing on a personal spectrum of belief and conviction that informs all of their decisions, and ultimately all of their fates.
To start with, you have Jyn Erso, whose taste for rebellion has been tempered by witnessing the damage it wreaked upon her family and by the twisted sense of militancy exemplified in Saw Gererra. One gets the sense that Gererra’s zealotry has been hard-forged, that each piece of him replaced by machinery also cost him a fraction of his wisdom and restraint. He has become what Santayana warned about the fanatic: “somebody who redoubles their efforts while losing sight of their goal.” Jyn, for her part, has no wish to follow that path, when she has seen what it took from those she held dear. That she is the one who argues most passionately against surrender in front of the disarrayed Alliance is a testament to what she learned from her father’s sacrifices. She can no longer tolerate people cowering in the face of insurmountable odds when she knows that her father, all alone, spent 15 years building a trap he needed the Rebellion to spring.
You also have Cassian Andor, one of the most ethically gray characters to exist in this cinematic universe since the last time Han Solo was allowed to shoot Greedo first. His utility is in his pragmatism; the first time we meet him, he has extracted information from a terrified source and then shot him dead when that source threatens his escape. But the core of him is also found in belief, as it is in the rest of the Rogue team he assembles. As he explains clearly and convincingly, for as many terrible acts as he’s committed, he needs to believe they were in service of something greater–and should the Rebellion fail, then all he ever did, and all he ever was, meant nothing more than murder and death.
The duo of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, of course, have a much different ideology to believe in–that of the lost and scattered Jedi, and the power that may still remain in the Light Side of the Force. And even in their relationship we see how defeat has affected them differently–Imwe maintains his faith, Malbus believes in his weaponry. Both of them die without fully knowing what their sacrifices have facilitated, but both die in conviction of a belief. Imwe dies believing that the Force was still with him when he needed it most. Malbus dies believing in Chirrut Imwe.
Bodhi Rook is the unready apostate, whose story before his betrayal we are left to imagine, but who we know believed in Galen Erso enough to take the risk he did. Rook was a cargo pilot, after all, not a fighter, and he could quite easily have lived a life of quiet survival. He had little to gain but much to lose by agreeing to help Galen’s plot, and yet he did so anyway. He did not have to continue helping the rebels after his message was delivered, but he did so anyway out of a sense of duty to Galen’s daughter. Rook was a man handed something to believe in and he drank it down like a dehydrated man finding a canteen full of water.
Even K-2SO, in its programmed, artificially sentient manner, gives us a glimpse at what it means to sacrifice for a calculated priority.
Orson Krennic, on the other hand, is a portrait of how belief erodes under tyranny. All of his actions and reactions are guided by ego, but his ego is guided by fear. Despite his rank we see how easily rattled he is by Tarkin, by each incident that threatens to brand him as expendable. His crowning achievement is taken from him, the man he thought he’d broken exacted vengeance while under his eye, and his audience with Vader only reminds him how small a cog he is in the grand scheme of the Empire. He has nothing to believe in except the fleeting possibility that he himself will be remembered. And the tragedy of him is that he never knew how close his work came to crushing the Rebellion’s spirit outright.
The Rogue One mission, then, was not only about acquiring classified intelligence, but about reminding the Rebellion that some battles are worth fighting, some chances worth taking. The short-term damage to the Empire was considered negligible–indeed, it is Tarkin who destroys Scarif as an acceptable loss. The long-term inspiration to the Alliance, however, proved invaluable.
And if you think I’m also looking at Rogue One as an analogue for how to face the next four years, then you would be absolutely correct.