Given that the next Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (as its full title stands) is less than half a year away (the official release date is 16th December 2016), it is about the time when news about it start to pop up. After almost a year since its announcement, we are now beginning to put together the pieces of the puzzle Rogue One is.
There is one very important thing to note. It will be the first stand-alone, officially canon Star Wars film which does not include the word “Episode” in its title. In its way, it will be an experiment, and the first step in an unfamiliar direction. Given what Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, and others have given away already some time ago, the long-term plan is to release a new Star Wars film every year. “Star Wars stories”, such as Rogue One or the other anticipated film about young Han Solo (due in 2018) would certainly serve such purpose well. The question is, what kinds of obstacles might they meet on their way there? And is there something we can guess based on what we already know about Rogue One and the newest Star Wars episodes?
One obvious, glaring problem which Rogue One had to deal with is the absence of one absolutely iconic element of Star Wars: The Jedi. Apart from starfighter battles and gigantic space stations, this might be the second pillar upon which everything stands. Star Wars without the Jedi, or at least without the Force, is not Star Wars. Right?
Rogue One seems to have found one way around it. If you have watched the trailer, you might still remember the martial arts-using warrior, portrayed by the actor Donnie Yen. Turns out the character’s name is Chirrut Imwe, as now the official Star Wars website has also confirmed, and he was described as “spiritual warrior”. It is, obviously, on one hand a makeshift substitute for an actual Jedi, but on the other hand a decent way to keep the underlying element of the Force in the film where no Jedi exist. Kathleen Kennedy has recently mentioned in an interview for Entertainment Weekly that Chirrut is a kind of post-Jedi believer, someone who is carrying the mantle of the faith even if there are no more Jedi around. Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One, has complemented this picture of Chirrut by explaining: “This idea that magical beings are going to come and save us is going away, and it’s up to normal, everyday people to take a stand to stop evil from dominating the world.”
Chirrut is also mentioned to be blind, which is perhaps even more interesting aspect. At first, the mention of his blindness immediately made me think of the possibility that he might use (or try to somehow draw on) the Force to help him “see” on different levels than the seeing people around him do. This is underlined by the fact that in one of the officially published pictures, he is carrying on his back an item which seems to be a ranged weapon. Of course it might not be his, or it might be purely a memento of some value – or maybe it is both and he is not expected to fire it, but in some dramatic point of the story, he does nonetheless because he is out of options? Anyway, his blindness and using ranged weapons would obviously not be the first thing one would expect, unless he was somehow using the Force. One parallel springs to mind with the expanded universe race of the Miraluka (near-human aliens), who, after their homeworld became uninhabitable, had migrated to a planet which emitted most of its light in the infrared spectrum. The Miraluka gradually lost their eyesight, but their latent Force abilities developed and they could “see through the Force”. This is not to say that Chirrut is a Miraluka, on the contrary, it seems quite clear he is human, but rather like a parallel or a case to compare.
Even from the little that we have been told, I think (and what I would rather see) that “seeing through the Force” – if such a thing is going to happen in Chirrut’s case – could be primarily on the metaphorical level; that is, the Force would not actually make him “see”, but thanks to it, he would somehow better understand the Galaxy around him. After all – and now we can all think back to the classic scene in A New Hope when Obi-Wan bids Luke to cover his eyes while training with a lightsaber for the first time – Force and not seeing is a big theme in Star Wars.
The very interesting question I keep asking myself is how exactly will Chirrut’s spiritual side be visible in the film. Because we don’t see inside his head, he cannot be just silent about it and only act – there has to be a way for him to actually mention, or explain how he feels the Force and his role in relation to it and the Galaxy. I am wondering whether he is going to somehow serve as reminder to the heroes that there is something more at work here (even though, not being really trained in the Jedi arts, he probably won’t be aware of the Force in the same way a Jedi would be). This might be also the opportunity to underline the fact that being a Jedi is not really just about swinging a saber (which will both explain why Chirrut is not a Jedi and still give him the chance to perform amazing stunts that can equal a Jedi, therefore keeping the coolness of action scenes undiluted).
If we are talking about Jedi, there is, of course, one more essential part of what they mean to Star Wars, and that is the use of lightsabers. However trivial the fact, lightsabers are iconic and Star Wars without lightsabers are maybe even worse (on the, let’s say, purely visual level) than Star Wars without the Force. You don’t see the Force, but you see the colourful blades hitting each other, and that is something that makes you recognise on first sight: now I am watching Star Wars. It sadly does not seem very likely for us to get a lightsaber duel in Rogue One. But I think, if we are lucky, that a colourful blade of light may still appear, however from somewhat unorthodox source.
I am intentionally using the word “unorthodox”, because I am thinking, obviously, of Darth Vader. His presence in the film has been very much expected, but only recently confirmed by the official sources. Also as expected, Vader is not meant to be the focus of the story, but being such a big player he is, one cannot really call him a minor character, even though by all accounts that’s exactly what he is going to be. But that is good. A bit more ominous Darth Vader in the background will not only give the space to other characters to shine, but also make a more dramatic impression when he actually appears and acts. And, who knows, maybe even draw a lightsaber and utter a line about the Force.
With that being said, my secret hope is that him and Chirrut might have some epic confrontation – and not just in some lightsaber-vs-staff-sense, but also on the spiritual level. If Chirrut is all we have listed he is, meeting the one who actually has been the doom of all the Jedi would be a very significant moment for him.