(Includes SPOILERS for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.)
It’s been clear from the moment the film was announced that Rogue One wasn’t going to have any big show of the Force. Even the director, Gareth Edwards, has mentioned on several occasions that Rogue One was about “normal” people in the Galaxy where they could no longer rely on supernatural forces or their wielders, like the Jedi, and had to try to do the best on their own.
The Absent Force
This all was determined simply by the fact that the story takes place twenty years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. With the execution of Order 66 back then, all Jedi in the Galaxy had been wiped out or forced to go into hiding. Obviously, the Emperor’s words “every single Jedi is now an enemy of the Republic” (and consequently, of the Empire) remained in effect up until the Empire’s fall. Once the Sith had taken hold of the Galaxy, they did not allow any threat from the Light Side to arise.
That was why the victory of the Dark Side was such a big deal. After all, totalitarian regimes may come and go. But what the Jedi purge succeeded in had potentially much more far-reaching consequences. It meant wiping out (potentially forever) the whole notion that there is a way beyond the material realm and the force of arms to oppose the evil, that there is any hope beyond the tangible. That was why – speaking of that – the story of The Force Awakens was so important, among other things. Return of the Jedi meant the fall of the Emperor, the start of the return to democracy, the end of the reign of the Dark Side, but not yet the return of the Light Side, and not even the return of the Force as a whole to its former place. That was why Luke Skywalker had the greatest task still ahead of him – with all the problems that followed, as we have seen on the story of Kylo Ren.
The Sorcerer’s Ways
And it is with this in mind that we can now look at Rogue One and the way it deals with the Force. The Jedi had been presumed dead for some twenty years. The Force had become but a memory, possibly presumed to be just a superstition. Once again, think about A New Hope. The ignorant Imperial admirals even make fun of Darth Vader because he believes in the Force. The Emperor is not showing his power, pretending to be a scarred old man ruling with a firm hand, and Vader is his shadowy and scary special servant, but officially, the spotlight remains on the order and security brought by the new Imperial structure and the pompous show of state efficiency. When Vader claims that Obi-Wan might have returned and is aboard the Death Star, Governor Tarkin himself does not believe him: “The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.”
The Emperor is content with keeping all the knowledge of the Force for himself and keeping the rest of the Galaxy in the dark – literally. If people don’t even think about the Force, there might be a way for them to rise in small rebellions using the material force, but they can never hope to beat the Emperor on the spiritual level. And knowing what the Force can do, the Emperor can thus believe himself invincible. (And that was why dealing with young Skywalker eventually became such an important matter, too.)
“May the Force Be With You”
With all the Jedi dead or hiding and their temple sacked, there was no official structure to hand the teachings of the Force on. In the Republic era, a random citizen interested in the Force or just wanting to chat about the “big questions of life and universe” could have probably just found the nearest Jedi, sit with them for a drink and ask away. After Order 66, this was no longer possible. (One can also assume that all books, holorecordings and other sources of Jedi teaching had been safely stored in some Imperial vault or straightaway burned and smashed.) All knowledge of the Force had to be handed down by word of mouth, which, with the passage of time, would become less and less convincing.
The young generation who have not seen the Jedi in action, all those born too late to see the Clone Wars (such as Jyn Erso), might have trouble believing in the Force without tangible proof. Even if some remarkable person (say, the blind Chirrut Îmwe) succeeded in performing some unusual feat (such as being able to shoot a target even though he was blind), even eyewitnesses could have ascribed such an one-time success to luck. And those who only heard about it would have no reason to believe it at all. And after all, who knew if it was really the Force that was responsible for it. It’s a big Galaxy and there are creatures and species who can breathe underwater, speak in ways inaudible to human ears and do other things some might consider “supernatural”. So how can one be sure that a sole incident can be ascribed to the Force? One who doesn’t believe will have a way to explain it away.
If the Empire is officially not mentioning the Force at all, the atmosphere in the society naturally gravitates towards forgetting the concept as well. The parting wish “May The Force Be With You” probably fell out of use and was picked up by the Rebellion just because it represented dissent against the Empire. I would dare to assume that most of the Rebels would adopt the saying without really meaning it. Rather than referring to the Force, it would be a symbol of something that used to be said during the Republic times. It would become the symbol of the Republic itself.
They Know of The Force, But Don’t Know What To Do With It
At the same time, the belief cannot disappear completely during a single generation. Jyn’s mother apparently believed in the Force, as we can see in the scene where she hands little Jyn her necklace. Jyn is later touching her necklace when the shuttle tries to sneak through the shield gate on Scarif, seemingly kind of wishing (maybe just subconsciously) for the Force to help them get past the Imperial security. The fun thing is that there is nothing in the scene that would prove that the Force actually worked here. Objectively speaking and knowing this is Star Wars, where the Force works towards certain things, the Force would probably help here. But it might just have been that the Imperial security didn’t suspect anything – and that is perfectly plausible. In any case, what is clear without any doubt is that Jyn was not consciously using the Force. She was no Jedi. She would not know how. And that is the main thing we have to keep in mind when watching Rogue One.
Chirrut Îmwe and many of the visitors of Jedha city probably believed in the Force too. The problem was that without any official authority on the Force, they would not know what to imagine under the Force. The term and how exactly the Force “works” would have become murky at best. Anyone could claim anything and you could either easily mix up the “real” happenings with pure superstition or you could disacard all claims of the Force at work as unfounded. There were no Jedi to ask.
Not a Jedi, Just a Believer
We are told that the guardians of the Kyber temple on Jedha were not Jedi themselves. They might have picked up a thing or two, but either they were not Force-sensitive in the same way the Jedi were, or (in the case of those growing up after the Clone Wars) they did not have anyone to sufficiently train them. (One can assume that while the Jedi still were around, those of the guards who would have high affinity with the Force would simply become Jedi instead.) Chirrut Îmwe might be an exceptional warrior who had learned to get past his handicap – it is quite remarkable, but not impossible. His faith in the Force, however, is only that – faith. Chirrut is not a Jedi, he does not feel the Force, he is not Force-sensitive. The filmmakers have confirmed as much when his character was revealed.
Chirrut Îmwe and his friend Baze Malbus represent two different attitudes to the Force. Chirrut believes that despite its visible presence, the Force is still at work in the Galaxy. Not knowing any better way to “activate” the Force (for reasons I mentioned above), he does the only thing he knows and which he believes might work – he repeats his mantra “the Force is with me, and I am one with the Force”. Baze himself called Chirrut a fool and in Saw Gerrera’s prison, Chirrut told captain Andor that his friend didn’t really believe in the Force anymore.
It doesn’t need to mean that those who are like Baze stopped believing in the Force. They might, however, believe that since they see no real proof of it, the Force had simply stopped to affect the world. Maybe they think after all the Jedi had been killed, there is nobody left to “mediate” between the Force and the living beings. Maybe they think the Force had just stopped to work. Maybe some of them still believe in the Force being in all living things, but being only a passive element that provides growth to flowers, heat to stars, but would not interfere if a person walking in the middle of the battlefield would call it to his aid to protect him from harm.
Was The Force With Chirrut?
So what exactly happened when Chirrut walked that battlefield in order to enable the Rebellion send its message and later transmit the plans which would eventually not only help destroy the Death Star, but draw Luke Skywalker from his home on Tatooine and lead to the return of the Jedi into the Galaxy?
There was no visible lightning shield surrounding Chirrut. There were no Force-driven dodges from him, like those we know from Anakin Skywalker, allowing him to avoid blaster bolts by ducking at the right moment. Chirrut simply walked and the bolts missed him. Also, if you think from his own perspective, he was blind. He did not see anything, he only heard blaster fire all around him. He did not even see what he saw on the screen. He believed the Force would protect him, he repeated it to himself in his mantra, and he walked. If it was anything, then it was a test of faith. For Chirrut, not for the Force. And in Baze Malbus’s eyes, it looked like utter foolishness.
It is clear, however, that Chirrut did not draw on the Force. Not like the Jedi do. He had no way to “communicate” with the Force to make sure it did what he wanted. There are only two explanations possible: either Chirrut was just too lucky (and the stormtroopers had their proverbial bad aim), or the Force decided, on its own terms, to let him walk unharmed to the switch. And the same could be said about his other successes in the film (those that cannot be explained purely by his exceptional fighting skills).
A Jedi communes with the Force and knows whether or not it will answer when he calls. Chirrut, unlike the Jedi, has no such certainty. He has to trust the Force – literally, only trust. For that reason, his faith is perhaps much more valuable. And, I might add, it is much closer to any kind of faith that exists in our world. In fact, it is exactly the same thing.