“Rogue One” indeed stands alone as a great Star Wars story outside the Episodes. The opening crawl of Episode IV: A New Hope says that during a battle “rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.” “Rogue One” tells us who, what, when, where, why, and how that was done in a film to rival the best of the Episodes.
“Rogue One” introduces some great new characters and treats us to a few old ones as well. Reminiscent of a moisture farm on Tatooine, we meet Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), a humble farmer. He may be just that but a visit from Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn) clues us in that Erso has a past he’s trying to forget. Krennic represents the Empire and happens to be in charge of the Death Star’s construction. He pulls Erso out of his farming life, killing his wife and threatening the life of his daughter unless he complies. He does so and Jyn Erso is raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a friend of Galen’s.
Years later, we find that Jyn (Felicity Jones) has lived an interesting life. She’s managed to stay out of the politics of the time, caring little about the Empire or the Rebellion. It’s not clear whose side she’s on, but she’s a prisoner of the Empire. When she’s rescued by the Rebellion, she’s not particularly grateful. They really only want her because they need her connections to gather intelligence on the Empire’s new weapon.
It turns out she has no love for the Empire, especially because they killed her mother and took her father but her rough life has taught her to trust no one. Reluctantly, she agrees to contact Saw Gerrera for the intelligence the Rebellion seeks.
“Rogue One” is fantastic heist movie. A bit like “Ocean’s Eleven” in space, Jyn gathers around herself a motley crew to pull off the heist we already know is successful. On the team are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Han Solo type who is dedicated to taking down the Empire; K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid who gets all the funny lines; Chirrut (Donnie Yen), a blind man, not a Jedi but in touch with the Force; Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Chirrut’s loyal friend and protector; and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial pilot who rejects the Empire and delivers the intelligence the Rebellion seeks.
Once they discover where the secret plans are hidden, “Rogue One” turns into a war movie making this film much darker than the Episodes, a Star Wars film for the adults. The civil war described in the Episode IV opening crawl is well under way. The setting: the tropical planet of Scarif, where the plans are hidden. While the battle commences on the ground and in orbit above the planet, Jyn and her crew infiltrate the Empire's base in search of the plans.
The war aspects of the film made me think of spiritual warfare. It’s not my favorite metaphor for the spiritual life. I much prefer a relationship-based take, the relationship of love between myself and God and through that, myself with those around me and the whole world. Recently, however, my spiritual life has felt like a battlefield. My heart and soul have been a place where the devil, temptation, and selfishness have warred with prayer, generosity, and integrity. We all go through these times in our lives when life feels more like a battle than a loving relationship. Of course, my faith enables me to believe that the loving relationship is still there, even during the battles.
Because of this, I was really able to connect with Jyn and Cassian and their determination to get those plans in order to have a hope of defeating the evil the Empire brought to their lives, no matter the personal cost. As anyone who has seen the Episodes knows, the battle was worth fighting. Our spiritual battles are worth fighting, too, because, in the end, God and God’s love will prevail.