Rogue One: A Story about Redemption

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[Warning! Spoilers Ahead]

“Rogue One” was an incredible, action-packed film that told the story many Star Wars fans had been dying to hear for years: how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans to the Death Star. This film perfectly sets the stage for “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” as we see Captain Antilles’ Tantiv IV blockade runner make its escape from the compromised Mon Calamari command ship above Scarif mere seconds before Vader intervenes. But, “Rogue One” also paves the way on a deeper level by showing how even a shred of hope can change lives and change the galaxy.

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One of the most powerful themes in “Rogue One” is the ability for characters who have made mistakes in their past to act selflessly and sacrifice to make them right, and how Galen Erso, representing hope for the galaxy, is the impetus of each of the main character’s redemption story. This post will outline the redemption story of 5 of the main characters: Galen Erso, Bodhi Rook, Saw Gerrera, Cassian Andor, and Jyn Erso.

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Galen’s Redemption — Galen’s dream for which he dedicated his life was to unlock the power of kyber crystals to provide unlimited energy for underprivileged, suffering worlds. He was adamantly opposed to any weaponization of his research. But he let his pride and ego allow him to become blind to Krennic’s manipulations, even when his wife Lyra had serious concerns. It almost cost him his marriage before he realized that Lyra was right and with the help of Saw Gerrera, they were smuggled off Coruscant into hiding. But, the damage had already been done, and his early cooperation with Krennic cost him. Lyra was killed, Jyn was lost and possibly dead (or so he thought), and he was incarcerated, forced to use his research to build a weapon of mass destruction. However, he sacrificed everything he had left to feign subservience to gain the access needed to implant a fatal flaw into the Death Star that he was forced to help build. It must have killed him to see the destructive power he was creating, but he knew this was the galaxy’s only hope to be free of the Death Star’s destruction: for him to build it with a flaw so the rebels could destroy it. He risked everything to get the message out to the rebels, who tragically answered his message with a proton torpedo. But this act saved countless lives throughout the galaxy and gave the rebellion a fighting chance.

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Bodhi Rook’s Redemption — While traveling to Eadu, Jyn questions Bodhi about her father, Galen Erso. At this point, we learn that for at least some time, Bodhi was conflicted with his service to the empire. He admitted that he struggled doing things that were against what he felt to be right in his heart. He tells Jyn that his interaction with Galen gave him the courage to act according to what was right instead of blindly following orders. He ended up delivering the crucial message to Saw Gerrera and Jyn, and then was crucial in the transmission of the Death Star plans from the Scarif complex to the Rebel Fleet. His redemption story is poignantly completed moments before his death as he quietly dedicates his courageous actions to Galen Erso.

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Saw Gerrera’s Redemption — Saw is one of the most mysterious characters in “Rogue One”. He has literally spent his entire life fighting oppression of own kind or another, dating back to the Separatist occupation on his home world of Onderon. He has become a deeply troubled man who has faced countless battles and experienced tremendous pain. We aren’t sure whether we should fear him, revere him, respect him, or love him. We know that his tactics are too ruthless for even the Rebel Alliance, which among other things is ruthless enough to sanction a mission to kill Galen Erso to prevent what he knows to be used for the empire (even after they received confirmation that the weapon already exists and is operational). I think it is no mistake that Saw shares much in common with Darth Vader, including prosthetic limbs and internal life support. At times, he is a menacing character. He must feel deep remorse and pain for failing to protect the Ersos. On his watch, Galen was captured and Lyra was killed. He raised Jyn until he had to make the tough choice to abandon her for her own safety. This is the troubled man that confronts Jyn on Jedha. It is at this moment, after receiving the message from Galen, and passing it on to Jyn that he receives a piece of redemption for failing at his responsibility to keep the family safe. He was able to connect father to daughter, and facilitate the mission that would ultimately cripple the Empire’s ability to exercise its terror weapon throughout the galaxy.  Perhaps this is one reason why he chooses to stay behind and die on Jedha, so that after a life of conflict, his final act could be to help Jyn find her father and destroy the Death Star. I also think it is no accident that his death parallels Anakin Skywalker’s that in the final moment he chooses to disconnect from his life support and accept death.

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Cassian Andor’s Redemption — Cassian’s redemption and transformation throughout the movie was very powerful. Andor is a character rough around the edges. We like him because he is deeply devoted to the Rebel cause, but early on we have conflicted feelings as he shoots his informant in the back in cold blood to cover his escape and prevent information from leaking out. When in a prison cell in Gerrera’s hideout, Chirrut demonstrates his ability to sense the force by identifying Cassian as having a prison that he carries around with him always. Later we learn how significant this is when Cassian admits that he has done horrible things that he can only stomach because they were done in the name of the rebellion. It is obvious that in his heart, he is conflicted and troubled by his past. This comes to a head when he is sitting on the ridge on Eadu with Erso in his sights. He questions whether Erso was really complicit in the Death Star or whether he was rebelling from the inside as Jyn claimed. At this point, he sees first hand Galen’s courage to stand against Krennic in front of a firing squad to admit to his treasonous actions to save his fellow captive researchers. This is the pivotal moment in Cassian’s story where he learns that following what he knows to be right supersedes executing orders he knows to be wrong. He doesn’t shoot Erso, he risks his life to save Jyn, and then risks his life against orders to join Jyn’s rogue mission to Scarif. This ultimately costs him his life while at the same time saving it from his internal prison.

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Jyn Erso’s Redemption — Jyn’s redemption story is the most powerful of all. She obviously has a troubled past: watching her mother murdered by who she must have thought was a family friend, feeling abandoned by her father and wondering why he was agreeing to imperial service, and eventually being abandoned by her surrogate father, Saw Gerrera with no explanation at the time. She has grown up to be distrusting and feeling that she is on her own and only has to look out for herself. This is obvious when during her rescue attempt, she immediately attacks her rescuers and tries to flee. She agrees to help the rebellion contact Saw Gerrera only so she could win her freedom. She says as much to Gerrera, even saying that she can abide galactic imperial rule by simply not “looking up.” But it was on Jedha that she fundamentally transforms. Chirrut yet again shows his ability in the force by telling Jyn, “the strongest stars have hearts of Kyber.” He knew she was wearing a kyber crystal on a necklace that stayed near her heart. He may have even known the significance of comparing her to a star, reminiscent of her father’s nickname for her, stardust. He knew she had a strong heart, and would play a crucial role in defending the galaxy. This is even more significant considering that she is destined to destroy the Death Star and its “heart of Kyber.”

She realized the potential Chirrut and others saw in her as she watched her father’s message. She learned that her father had given his life to implant this one flaw in the Death Star, and that it was now up to her to dedicate her life to helping the rebellion exploit it. During the ride to Eadu, she shows evidence of this transformation as she rallies the crew to rescue her father and convince the alliance to steal the Death Star plans on Scarif. After her father dies, she knows it is up to her and her alone. She delivers an incredibly moving monologue to the Rebel Alliance council that doesn’t match the same Jyn we saw in the beginning. When turned down by the council, she selflessly mounts her own rogue mission to steal the plans. There comes a point that she realizes she won’t escape Scarif with her life, and she selflessly sacrifices any hope of escape to transmit the plans to the rebel fleet above. Even in her last moments, her last thoughts are on Galen, as Cassian affirms that her actions would have made him proud. We see how she is at peace having been redeemed and having found true meaning in her life.

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Fans flock to Star Wars for many reasons. Some are enthralled by the stories of epic space battles and lightsaber combat. Some are intrigued by the story of subtle political subterfuge and strategy. Some are drawn in by the tragic romance. Others, like my kids, love the comedy of comical characters like Jar Jar Binks and R2-D2. But for me, Star Wars will always be an inspiring story about how the seemingly impossible becomes possible through hope and determination. Star Wars teaches me that whether facing the menace of galactic oppression, or confronting ghosts of the past, hope provides the sustaining power to persevere and overcome. And even those with the darkest pasts can choose to make a brighter future and be redeemed.

Written by Jacob Burdis

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