No one thinks of “quiet” and “calm” when they think of Star Wars. No one. From the very first blast of the iconic John Williams’ score at the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, to the fantastic ships, weapons, thundering confrontations and larger than life characters, it’s a loud saga. Big. Booming. Atlas holding the sphere of the world and tossing it around like a ping-pong ball. But it has occurred to me recently, after my most recent viewing of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, that it is in simple, quiet moments and the characters who define them that I find the most power, more than any other Star Wars film.
Surprising? For a film that features nearly regular use of a weapon called the Death Star that is capable of blowing whole planets to smithereens? Absolutely. What do you think of first when you think of this film? The battles? The liberal use of the Death Star weaponry? Baze mowing down storm troopers to save his friend Chirrut, who may or may not have actually needed intervention? The Imperial Weapons Facility on Eadu destroyed by Rebel air invasion? All memorable, loud moments, but this is what wields the most power for me…
Right from the beginning, this film’s uniqueness shines. There’s no opening crawl, no tradition on which to build. The lack of crawl is a metaphor for the isolation in which these Rebels are forced to make their stand. The underlying theme of this film is the quiet, the powerful silence that is created by the deaths of everyone, all beings on whose broad, silent shoulders our “classic” heroes, Luke, Leia, and Han, overcome. There are plenty of ties to the saga proper, and even in those, Rogue One demonstrates its quiet obstinance. Jyn’s Kyber crystal necklace, given to her by her mother, that hides around her neck mirrors the Japor snippet that Anakin gives Padme that rests around her neck under the watchful eyes of thousands during Padme’s death procession. The sometimes comical – but original – stormtrooper voices that emerge from beneath dirty, scuffed armors, are something we never see in any of the other films until Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens. The stunning CGI Tarkin and Leia are truly remarkable. The play on Admiral Ackbar’s classic line, “It’s a trap!” guides us to the real trap that lies waiting for the Empire inside its own death machine, a tiny flaw that will bring them down. Galen Erso’s revenge. The parallel between Jyn rushing to Galen as he dies and Anakin rushing to a dying Shmi is unmistakable, except Jyn allows that event to propel her into the Light not fall to the Dark as Anakin did. Jyn and Cassian steal Imperial officers’ uniforms to infiltrate the compound on Scarif, disguises so like yet so different from the stormtrooper armors that Han and Luke steal on the first Death Star.
I could go on and on and on.
Saw Gerrera: Vader Light
No, one character embodies this theme more than Saw Gerrera. There’s no mistaking the physical tie to Darth Vader. Unable to live without use of the machine he wears, Saw is very nearly as menacing, yet he’s a “good guy” not a bad one. Saw exists in that space between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. How many times and in how many ways have we all debated the actual moment when Anakin falls to the Dark Side? To this day, do you know for certain? Is it when he kneels before the Emperor and calls him master? When he mows down younglings? When he brushes aside that tear he sheds on Mustafar and goes after his brother and friend, Obi-Wan? Or is it not until the broken Anakin, trapped inside his black shell, realizes that Padme is dead and he has no reason to turn to the Light? That’s where Saw lives, noble and heroic, wanting to do what’s right, in that space of place and time where Anakin can still be saved, but isn’t. Saw chooses the Light. He doesn’t succumb. Never. He protects the Rebellion and his beloved Jyn Erso until the planet swallows him whole.
Jyn Erso: Soldier, Rebel, Martyr
And what of Jyn? I expected not to like her, or more to the point, I feared that I wouldn’t before the film was released. How could I love another young female Star Wars hero as much as I love Rey? Again, I was wrong. Jyn is a tenacious, powerful soldier, yet she is beautiful and speaks with the sweetest voice. A girl’s voice, honest and true. Strong as a girl should be. Some of her lines crystallize in few words the depth of what she’s been through, how much she changes, and what she will eventually die for. “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up,” she says naively when asked how she can ignore the Rebellion as she had to that point. Wow! That line hits home. She could be speaking to so many issues, real and imagined, with that one true, piercing line. Jyn had been so willing to keep her gaze averted “downward,” away from the truth of the oppression of the Imperial regime. It is the contrast between that line, indicative of Jyn’s mindset to that point, and her abrupt and necessary conversion to Rebel hero thereafter, that defines the tragedy and triumph of Rogue One. Everything about Jyn Erso is raw and real, and it is through her eyes that we learn the true cost of the Rebellion.
Luke Skywalker: Before the Heroics
I have to admit that Luke Skywalker’s whining about power converters and Tosche Station in Episode IV comes to mind and grates on my emotions as I watch Rogue One. As Saw, K2, Bodhi, Chirrut, Baze, and then Cassian and Jyn die, I want to grab young Luke by the hair and scream, “Do you see what these Rebels died for so that you can be a Jedi? Have you learned the true price of freedom? Do you know what it takes to triumph? Do you really?!” I think of what he learns through Episodes IV – VI, how he comes to terms with life as a Jedi. Luke forsakes his weapon, symbolic of the blasts and bangs and loud booms of the saga, and retreats to the quiet calm of his love for his father to finally defeat the emperor. He didn’t get it until then, didn’t understand what the Rogue One heroes sacrificed until that moment. It breaks my heart a little bit to think of him in Episode VII, to think that he ran away and abandoned those who loved him and needed him most. I hope that December’s Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi proves me wrong about Luke.
When Cassian speaks of being a 6-year-old who’d lost everything, admonishing Jyn that, “now the Rebellion is real for you,” when K2 says to Bodhi on Eadu, “You’re a Rebel now,” when Mustafar appears on the screen with no caption necessary, when the Michael Giacchino Rogue One theme plays behind Jyn’s plea to the Rebel Alliance Council… It is in all of these quiet moments in Rogue One that the Rebellion and its necessary sacrifice are undeniable.
Contact Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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