3 Stars — Suspenseful

The publicity claims that Rogue One is a stand-alone Star Wars film. That is not true. For all Star Wars fans, the film fills a primary gap within the original tale: How did the rebels get the engineering plans of the Death Star in order to destroy it in Episode IV – A New Hope? The answer to this question is provided in this Gareth Edwards film.

Rogue One introduces a grieving woman leader, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who at great sacrifice gets the plans to Princess Leia (Ingvild Deila, a made-up Carrie Fisher), barely beyond the reach of Darth Vader (voice by James Earl Jones).

The story begins when Jyn’s father, the renowned scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is discovered on a remote moon where he had fled when his conscience would not allow him to complete the creation of this planet-destroying weapon.

Living with his wife and daughter far from the Empire’s knowledge, he knows that one day he will be discovered and so he has made plans to protect his daughter. The day arrives, he is taken prisoner, his wife is killed, and Jyn goes into hiding.

Galen’s moral struggle with his work as the designer of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction is central to the struggle between good and evil, within him, within his daughter and within the war waging between the Empire and the rebel Alliance.

The use of the Force in Rogue One is limited. Although everyone speaks in a wishful way saying “May the Force be with you,” there are no Jedi, and no one even has a light-saber, except for Lord Vader. The only one who works to have the force with him is a blind warrior named Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen).

Though continuously repeating a desperate prayer that the Force would be with him and he would be one with the Force, he lacks the confidence or training necessary to wield its power.

That is not to say the Force is not with him or that he doesn’t play a major role in the story, but the success of the mission requires a variety of persons, each with a self-sacrificing commitment to its success, rather than a reliance on a higher power.

One of the most interesting moral issues presented in the film applies to all wars, both in the stars and on earth. In an explanation given by the Rebel Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), he states why he and the other true rebels cannot stop fighting.

Regretfully explaining that he and his men have been spies and assassins and that he and his men have done terrible things in the name of the rebellion, they cannot justify such acts as being necessary if the rebellion does not continue.

This is often the experience of soldiers who are compelled to do horrendous harm to other humans in the name of their nation. When they come home from the war, their hyper-patriotism can be fueled by a need to believe what they did was necessary and so it is morally justified to both die for and kill for their nation even though their souls cry out in pain.

The moral universe of the Star Wars saga is one in which redemption of even a person like Darth Vader is possible, while the best of people are often ordered and compelled to kill.

The war between good and evil is never a simple one, nor are the people who wage it. We have learned this warring madness cannot be solved by developing and using more destructive weapons like a Death Star. It can only be resolved by changing people’s hearts and resolving their conflicts through reconciliation.


» The presence of an “extremist” like Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker) is a new introduction into the Star Wars tale, where even the “rebels” try to distance themselves from the “extremists.” How do you think the introduction of this reality impacted the story?

» When Jyn and Cassian team up, we soon are made to understand that both of them are struggling with their father being absent. Why do you think Star Wars picks up this theme so often, as seen first in Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader?

» The introduction of the new android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) brings a more sophisticated humor into the film than previously experienced with C3PO (Anthony Daniels). Do you think this makes the film better or worse? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.