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Can We Forgive Rogue One’s Heroes?} ?> In a film about good intentions, heavy consciences, and tainted legacies (also, lasers), the cry for redemption is what stood out to me the most.
The line between scoundrel and hero is blurred in Rogue One. Galen Erso, the lead scientist behind the construction of the Death Star, wonders if history will remember him as one of the Galaxy’s greatest villains. Unwilling to die like his wife (who makes a stand rather than be a slave to the machinations of the Empire), he makes a deal to help complete the Death Star, believing his actions will be justified by adding a kill switch in secret.
Captain Cassian has compromised so much of his conscience as a saboteur, and he wonders if there will ever be a momentous enough victory to justify those actions. If he kills for the ideal of freedom that never appears, is he no different than an empire filled with men following violent orders in the name of a peace that is never established?
Saw Gerrera, a fanatic, leads a militant terrorist-like group in the face of the Empire. Gerrera has fought too long, making too many compromises to feel like a hero. When in possession of a turncoat Imperial pilot who brings news of the Death Star’s flaw, Gerrera tortures him. While he saved Jyn Erso as a child, he abandons her when she comes of age in a perhaps misguided effort to keep her identity hidden. It’s another difficult choice to weigh heavy on his conscience, but made with good intentions.
Desperate circumstances have led these men to embrace disgraceful methods, and they are all of them ashamed.
The Turning Point
Galen Erso, Cassian Andor, Saw Gerrera, and many of the Rebels feel a deep need for redemption. But they don’t know how to get it until they meet Jyn Erso.
The hope Jyn brings is demonstrated by her faith in her father. She can believe her father’s pure intentions despite his actions because she trusts his word. Or perhaps its a naive, unwavering belief simply because he’s her father. But it’s that kind of belief that gives everyone around her the hope that if someone can forgive the man that created the Death Star, then they too can be redeemed.
Jyn’s plan to storm the Empire’s information centre is not only a way to save the Galaxy, but for her it’s the vindication of her father. Jyn’s love for her father allows her to look past his imperfections and believe in the man he wishes to be.
In that suicide mission, the chance for redemption is offered, not only for Galen Erso, but for Cassian, Gerrera, and many of the other rebels. It is a chance to do the right thing, for the right reasons.
But does the Death Star’s destruction make what the Rebels did to get there “right”? Does their sacrifice make up for their wrongs? Should they be redeemed or should they live with the shame of what they did forever as penance?
Inspiration from World War II
I saw a documentary on the first nuclear weapons and bombings of Japan shortly after seeing Rogue One, and I couldn’t help but make the comparison between the Death Star’s planet-destroying power and the shocking introduction of nuclear bombs in 1945. Incidentally, George Lucas patterned many of the visual motifs in Star Wars after World War II designs, including the Nazi inspirations for the Empire’s parade sequences and uniforms; the space battles are inspired by some of the air-to-air combat scenes in World War II films.
Watching the documentary, the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima speaks of how millions of lives were saved when the mushroom cloud grew behind them; they avoided months of potentially bloody and conventional warfare.
But in his voice is the unmistakable tone of defensiveness, the self-justifying logical argument, and it’s root: guilt.
The man indirectly killed thousands of men, women, and children in the process of saving millions. He may be a hero, but the shame remains.
Guilt and the desire to do the right thing drives Galen to finally take a stand and give himself up in an attempt to save his fellow scientists. Cassian stays his hand and disobeys a kill order an another quasi-innocent target. After making peace with Jyn whom he abandoned, Saw Gerrera, the jaded and pessimistic survivor, embraces the audacity of hope with his final breath. Chirrut and Baze embrace faith over doubt in the face of death.
Guilt, when faced head on, transforms its subject into a willing sacrifice for good.
Do these characters deserve forgiveness? No. I don’t think one good action makes a previously wrong one all better. But because of their sacrifice, they are redeemed. The whole point of redemption and forgiveness is that we don’t deserve it.
Jyn’s belief in her father’s true nature creates a vehicle for everyone else to dare to hope they can be redeemed. It seems redemption, like rebellions, is also based on hope.