Rogue One and a Philosophy of Hope
By Matthew William Brake
After enduring years of crappy prequels, Star Wars fans have now received not one, but two good Star Wars movies since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. While I liked The Force Awakens, the Honest Trailer for the movie voices all of my criticisms of that film, including its over-reliance on nostalgia in its rehashing of A New Hope.
Then Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out last month.
That movie has easily made its way into my top four favorite Star Wars films (I’ll let you guess the order).
In its attempt to copy the success of its Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney has taken it upon itself to create an entire shared Star Wars universe, crossing over into cartoons (Star Wars Rebels), comic book series (like Star Wars: Darth Vader), and a new slate of novels that throws out all of the previous novels and comic book stories (now known as Star Wars: Legends). Disney is now free to craft a new shared universe for the franchise in a galaxy far, far away.
Rogue One, in particular, tells the story of the mission that led to Princess Leia getting her hands on the plans for the Death Star in A New Hope (Spoilers…I guess?).
The movie focuses on the character of Jyn Erso, the daughter of one of the architects of the Death Star, Galen Erso. Galen, who is forced into helping build the Death Star at the beginning of the film, is able to send out a message that he hopes will reach the Rebellion: there is a weakness in the Death Star—a small exhaust port leading to the power core. This seems to answer a long-time question Star Wars fans have had: Why would the Empire be so stupid as to leave such an obvious weakness in place? Now we know. Thanks Disney!
After a pilot who works with Galen, Bodhi Rook, defects from the Empire, the Rebellion tries to find Rook in an attempt to get to Galen. To do so, they find his daughter Jyn.
Having seen the message from her father and learned of the Death Star’s weakness, Jyn attempts to convince the Rebellion’s leadership to raid the Empire’s data storage center on Scarif in order to obtain the plans for the Death Star to find out what the flaw is.
Given its one chance to potentially destroy the Empire’s new superweapon and stave off the growing domination of the galaxy, the leadership of the Rebellion…chickens out. They don’t think they have a chance.
Cue Jyn’s reply (and the most quotable line from the movie): “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.”
This line, while being an obvious set up for the first/fourth Star Wars movie (A New Hope), shouldn’t be dismissed as something cheesy.
Hope is important in the universe that Rogue One shows us. It is the first Star Wars movie without a clear delineation between good and evil. The Rebellion itself is tainted with shades of grey, at times using dirty techniques and getting its hands dirty in the business of war and counterintelligence. Even at the end of the movie (SPOILER!! Like, a real one), all of the main characters die. No one gets to live happily ever after. All they have is hope that in the face of impending death their actions will reap positive consequences.
As John Caputo asserts, in the face of nihilism, the thought that all will be destroyed and become nothing (like if a Death Star is approaching your rebel base), we can either ignore it or “do something about it” (9-10). We can either flounder in hopelessness or choose to “never lose hope in hope” (18).
Even the thought of death and nothingness can intensify life such that we want to make our lives count for something, like those who volunteered to go on the Rogue One mission with Jyn.
This brings us to Caputo’s idea of “the call.”
Caputo believes in God…kind of, but not one that exists; rather, he believes in an idea of God that “insists.” It is the insistence that actions of justice and mercy can give this idea concrete reality. Our works “supply the existence that is lacking in insistence” (58). For Caputo, God is “the powerless power, the unforced force, of a call” (124).
In some ways, Caputo’s idea of God is like the Force, except even the Force is probably too “real” for Caputo. It is a groundless hope, but even if our hope feels groundless, we ought to answer “a call that calls for a response, of an insistence that strains to exist, of a truth that we are asked to make come true in [our] works” (61). As Caputo says, we need people like that “who need to do what they do not need to do” (52).
It was a groundless insistence that drove Jyn to undertake the mission to Scarif, one for which she died. It was the risky, unstable hope of “perhaps” (198). But “perhaps” in the face of hopeless situations is all we have according to Caputo.
As Saw Gerrera described it, the Rebellion was a dream, a dream that he admonished Jyn to save. But it was only a dream. There was no guarantee of success in the face of the Empire’s superweapon. But as Caputo reminds us, “If we do not dream, reality will be a nightmare” (51).
John Caputo. Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2015.
Matthew William Brake is a dual masters student in Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy at George Mason University. He also has a Master of Divinity from Regent University and is a teaching pastor at Hill City Church in Arlington, VA. He has published numerous articles in the series Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception, Resources. He is a contributor for Noetic (www.noetic-series.com). You can follow him on Twitter @mattybrake.