Tuesday, December 20, 2016

'Rogue One' and the Will of the Force

"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform," states the old hymn, which many people quote as though it were from the Bible. The lesson of the song, though, sits well with Scripture - the Will of God is inscrutable, occasionally difficult to understand, impossible to predict, yet bending everything in His creation eventually back to Him. "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" the Apostle Paul asks in Romans.

I kept thinking about this while watching "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," the first of Disney's planned "stand alone" films apart from the main Episodes in the film franchise. Unlike the other seven films which follow some member of the Skywalker family, the heroes of "Rogue One" are not Jedi Knights but rebels fighting the Galactic Empire just prior to the events of "Episode IV: A New Hope." And "Rogue One" is more of a conventional war movie in the sci-fi mode, almost reminiscent of "The Dirty Dozen" or "The Magnificent Seven."

But what mysticism there is in the story is crucial, not only to this film but the others in the series.

The plot of "Rogue One" is simple - Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of the Imperial weapons engineer Galen, the designer of the ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Jyn has not seen her father in years, but through the intervention of the Rebellion, father and daughter are brought face-to-face. The rebels hope to secure the battle station's plans before it becomes operational, in hopes of destroying it.

All of the "Star Wars" movies hinge on the will of the Force, the mystical energy field which "binds the galaxy together." In the other seven movies, this mysterious will is often expressed in what might otherwise be considered coincidence. It is engine trouble which forces the Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn to land on the planet Tattoine, where he discovers the young Anakin Skywalker, a boy he believes to be the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force. Though Anakin will receive Jedi training, he must leave his mother Shmi back on his home world, which will later serve in the child's undoing.

It is a series of dreams that force an older Anakin back to Tattoine in search of his mother, where he arrives to reunite with her at the moment of her death. His anger at the Tusken Raiders who kidnapped her turns him into a covert murderer, and his ardor for Padme Amadala results in him secretly fathering a pair of twins. It is only later we discover that perhaps this wasn't coincidence at all, but the plans of the sinister Darth Sidious, intent on ruling the galaxy as the Emperor.

But in "Rogue One," it is 20 years after the events that changed Anakin Skywalker into the Sith Lord Darth Vader, and turned the Galactic Republic into an Empire. The Jedi are "all but extinct" in this time, we are told, their fire having gone out of the universe. And the Kyber crystals which once powered their light sabers are now being used perversely to power the battle station which the Emperor believes will restore order to the galaxy.

So what happens? In "Rogue One," Jyn travels to the city of Jedha in hopes of finding the way to her father. Up until this point, the film has been silent on the question of the Force, until the entrance of the blind Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), who is identified as a Guardian of the Whill. This means he is a disciple of the Force, but not a Jedi. This shows in his fighting techniques and his personal affirmations.

"I am one with the Force," he says. "The Force is in me." This would seem to be an axiom, as the Force is "an energy field created by all living things."

Chirrut's entrance into the film signals the coming of the Force. Think about it - though Jyn is unaware of it all, she will transmit the Death Star plans to the Rebels. They will fall into the hands of Princess Leia, the as-yet-unidentified daughter of Anakin Skywalker. She will transfer the plans to the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, who she doesn't know have already figured in the events of Anakin's early life. Then they will set out for the planet nearest their ship - Tattooine, where R2 will seek out the old general Obi-Wan Kenobi. Instead, the two are captured by Jawas and taken - to Luke Skywalker, Leia's obscure twin brother and the son of Anakin.

If Jyn doesn't transmit the plans, the twins might never meet, the Death Star will not be destroyed, Luke will not be trained as a Jedi, and Anakin will never be able to fulfill his destiny. The destiny of the thousands of systems hangs on the success or failure of a rag-tag band of misfits and cutthroats, only vaguely aware of the importance of their mission. Though they think they are saving the galaxy, they are setting in motion the events that will save the soul of a villain.

So what is the will of the Force? It's a question that is asked many times in the "Star Wars" movies, and "Rogue One" has its way of getting at an answer. Consider that Chirrut Imwe, in the middle of a firefight on the planet Scarif, chants his reminder to himself of the Force's presence as he walks through a hail of blaster fire. It is a scene that recalls the beginning of "A New Hope," when the two droids walk between a firefight as they escape the Imperial attack on their ship. The Force means to have its way. "I fear nothing. All this, as the Force wills it," Chirrut says.

I said earlier that "Rogue One" reminded me of a conventional war movie. One of my favorites is "The Guns of Navarone," another film about an impossible mission. The character who sends out its heroes says at its beginning, "Still, they may get there, and they may pull it off. Anything can happen in a war. Slap in the middle of absolute insanity people pull out the most extraordinary resources: ingenuity, courage, self-sacrifice. Pity we can't meet the problems of peace in the same way, isn't it? It would be so much cheaper for everybody." 

It seems painfully obvious but worth stating - "Star Wars" is about conflict. At its best, it's about good and evil fighting each other within souls and across the vacuum of space. Rarely when we watch one of these movies do we mourn the death of a Clonetrooper or Stormtrooper, Rebel or Jedi Knight, alien race or even planet. More often those casualties feel casual, like simple plot points to provide character motivation. One recalls Princess Leia comforting Luke Skywalker on the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, even though she has only within the last few hours seen her home planet and family destroyed before her very eyes.

The will of God would seem to be similar, and different. The will of God ultimately leads to His own glory, as all other competing wills are made to bow. But what happens in the midst of that conflict is that those who acquiesce, out of fear, reverence, or even love, find something not only for themselves but provide something for those who take courage from their struggles. And that too is the will of God. The Force, which more often than not seems an impersonal personality, is too mysterious to reveal much about what its will might be. That might reflect some of its eastern mystical DNA, but probably has more to do with the will of screenwriters than any overriding logic.

And that will marches ever forward. "Rogue One" feels different as a Star Wars story because the heroes of this tale must serve the needs of the larger conflict, not knowing what will happen once the plans are out of their hands, only trusting that from their exertions, someone, somewhere else in a different time and place, may enjoy hope.

I previously wrote about Star Wars here and here

Set Your Fields on Fire

The award-winning novel by William Thornton
Available now

Read the first chapter here

Some of the coverage of "Set Your Fields on Fire"

 You can order "Set Your Fields on Fire"for $14.99 through Amazon here.
It's also available on Kindle at $3.99 through Amazon here.
Read an interview I did with AL.com on the book here.   
Here's my appearance on the Charisma Network's CPOP Podcast. 
Here's an interview I did with The Anniston Star on the book. 
Shattered Magazine wrote a story about the book here. 
The Alabama Baptist wrote about the book here.
This piece appeared in the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal.
Here's the write-up from The Birmingham Times.
Read a story for Village Living here.
This story appeared in The Trussville Tribune and this video.
Here's my appearance on East Alabama Today.
Story and video from WBRC Fox6 here. 
Here's the write-up in The Gadsden Times on the book.
Read a piece I wrote for WestBow Press about writing the book here.
A piece about some inspiring works for me.
This is another interview with the fleegan book blog here.

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