I’ve been wanting to talk about the themes of enlightenment & salvation in rogue one (along with the force & hope) for a really long time, and I think I have the words to explain what I’m thinking now so here goes:
As a Hindu (a religion star wars has been inspired by) one of the common themes I’ve noticed is how enlightenment works. One of the main ideas is that anyone in any situation can be salvaged in the end (ie. redemption. Like how Anakin rises to the light in ROTJ). Some people, are dedicated believers their entire lives (see: Chirrut in the Force, Cassian in the Rebellion). Some lose faith but regain it in the end (see: Baze in the Force, Jyn in the Rebellion).
The moment this really clicked for me was Cassian and Bodhi’s arcs in particular, but it works really well for the others too.
Bodhi’s arc is pure poetry for this, mainly because of his name choice (which I’ve mentioned before): it literally means ‘enlightened/awakened one’. It’s more prevalent in Buddhism (which admittedly I’m not as familiar with) but it’s a Sanskrit word why I’m so glad he’s played by a south asian. Bodhi’s main struggle is within himself: self doubt. He grows throughout the film (his enlightenment is when he defects, then he faces a series of trials, and he’s at peace in the end). (“Bodhi had only ever doubted himself” to “He’d done enough. It was okay.”) His struggle is two-fold: he feels like he needs to right a wrong (his time spent with the Empire – “praying that he had found his salvation at last”) and also prove himself/his capability. It’s why he’s so easily crippled by everything that goes wrong (ex. every rebel that dies, Jedha’s destruction “it’s too late”) because he takes it personally/as his own failure (he should’ve been faster in delivering the message). However in the end, he’s both righted his wrong and is at peace (fulfilled Galen’s mission – he didn’t fail him.).
Cassian’s arc is really beautiful as well. He dutifully serves the greater good, but takes an emotional toll in the process (he loses a part of himself for every life he takes). Are sinners allowed to achieve eternal peace? Religion says yes and the Force agrees with me. It’s really well done in the novelization: Cassian’s stuck in a mental prison (possibly as a sinner, but there’s a phrase we use: “the prison of the flesh” ie. mortal life – the whole purpose of life is to not be reborn) and he is seeking redemption (enlightenment). It’s why he saves Jyn so many times against his instinct (though he doesn’t realize it). It’s why he doesn’t shoot Galen. It’s what drives him (and the other rebels) to volunteer so easily for Jyn’s suicide mission (this is really clear in the novel) – they see it as an opportunity for redemption. It’s like the Rebellion is his religion and Jyn helps him to his salvation. What greater sacrifice is there than self-sacrifice?? Cassian is the pinnacle of the concept. And so, on the beaches of Scarif, he’s freed from his prison (or as we like to call it, the burden of life).
In terms of literal religion, we can compare Baze and Chirrut. Chirrut is the ideal believer, he trusts in the Force more than anything. (His faith is why he didn’t get killed when he went to pull the master switch. But after, he realizes his work here is done, and no longer has the will to live. unlike padme cough cough That’s why he dies.) So of course he will become one with the Force. He’s completely at peace. There’s no question. I’m so glad they made a Chinese actor play him. But Baze? We don’t really know really when or why he goes from a Guardian to a non-believer. But in those moments after Chirrut’s death, he become a believer again. And that’s what counts (Hinduism is really big on this. No matter your past is, redemption is possible. Like Anakin!). He become one with the Force.
Jyn’s a little harder to describe. She falls out of love with life after being abandoned so many times and doesn’t have a purpose other than her own survival. She sees political opinions as a luxury (which in this case, is true for a different reason. Jyn’s the one who has the luxury of not choosing a side. People like Cassian did something about it because they had to.) Somewhere after Galen’s death and Cassian’s attempt to knock some sense into her (and this is my only issue with rogue one – we don’t actually know how or when Jyn decides to be the champion of the cause, but it’s sometime after Eadu and before they get back to the base) Jyn finds her life’s purpose. This is really well done in the novelization, it’s described as the mental cave in her mind (modeled after the cave on Lah’mu) and how it’s broken open with light on Scarif. That’s her salvation.
I hope all of this made sense so far.
Salvation in Hinduism is almost always described as “the person stepped into/were enveloped in a bright light, and attained true peace/became one with god”. In star wars terms, they become one with the Force.
What I noticed while watching the movie is “Why does everyone die in great big bursts of light?”. It only clicked after reading the novel and seeing how important it was that everyone died at peace, and became ‘one with the force’. To back this up just take a look at everyone’s death scenes (now that we have gifs of them). Bodhi goes in a flash of light, so does Baze (and Chirrut). Even Galen’s face is illuminated when he dies.
The visual of [Jyn and Cassian] literally being surrounded with light, becoming one with the Force, screams salvation. Redemption. (and according to the novel, they’re both at peace, chains broken and free of burden).
I’d never thought tragic endings for characters could be beautiful, but rogue one proved me wrong.
(I’m done, but I also want to talk about hope. Someone last weekend told me “hinduism is a religion of hope. you can live however you want, but in the end, as long as you do the right thing, you’ll be at peace.” I’ve always thought the same about star wars. It’s a story of hope. Of hope the good in the world universe (or literally, the good in Anakin, that he is redeemable). It’s about hope being passed on (quite literally: the stretch of rogue one from Chirrut moving the master switch to the plans landing in Leia’s hands is so. beautiful. for this reason. Leia is more than right: the plans are Hope, they’ve traveled between so many hands hoping that they’ll get to the right place, willing to die just for this little disk of hope (some of them not even knowing what it is). Hope is what gives the rebels this strength, while fear himself – Vader- is killing them all.
Hope – belief in anything – is the strongest thing there is.)