After having watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story multiple times (by the by, if you haven't seen it, you really should), in preparation for a conference I'll be teaching next month, I'm starting a short series on Rogue One and what roleplayers can learn from it.
In today's post we will be looking at two of the new characters from the movie, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, the first two Asian actors to land starring roles in Star Wars. And as you can imagine, fair warning: there are spoilers in this post, so be warned.
The Warrior Monk: Chirrut Imwe
Chirrut Imwe is played by the legendary Donnie Yen, and they could not have found a better actor for this role. A blind monk at the Temple of Jedda, Imwe is not like the Jedi of the prequels. Unlike the Jedi Council, the Jedda monks do not police the galaxy, nor do they manipulate the Force. Instead, they are true mystics, following its leading instead of using the Force as a tool.
The result is a very unique character: he is constantly praying the same mantra ("I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me"), underlining the central theme of the movie, which is trust (yes, I don't think it's hope: hope is the background, but trust is the true core of the story - more on that and why it matters to roleplayers in the next post on Jyn and Cassian). "Trust works both ways," says Jyn, and Chirrut's relationship with the Force works on the same principle: I am one with the Force (following it), and the Force is with me (trusting it). The result: a character that, for as little screen time as any "Magnificent Seven" character gets, is very deep and memorable.
The Despairing Guardian: Baze Malbus
Compare this to Baze Malbus, the "battle brother" of Chirrut. Played by Jiang Wen (a legend in his own right in China, though not as well known as Bruce Lee or Donnie Yen), Baze is the guardian who gave in to despair: he's agnostic to the Force after the fall of the temple and its pillaging by the Empire.
Malbus doesn't say much, but the lines he has are gold in the movie. Whether it is a witty quip war with Chirrut, or a somber dialogue with a friend, the little that he says goes a long way.
And while all of the characters in Rogue One have exceptional character progression, it is perhaps Baze that is most stark and moving. Which is where we turn next.
The Power of Character Progression
If there is one thing that Rogue One showcases in spades it is the art of dying well. Chirrut and Baze in particular though have a poignant death scene that marks a shift in the movie.
One of the big questions we had going into the movie was how many of the characters would live to see the ending credits. We were all prepared for someone of them to die, much like in The Magnificent Seven (which is the movie that this film resembles most). But the deaths of Chirrut and Baze mark a turning point while watching the film: we all knew that no one would escape Scarif.
Chirrut's death is notable because it follows the ultimate "crazy trust exercise": walking to a console through a hail of blaster bolts from death troopers as a blind man by trusting the Force. And true to the movie's theme, Chirrut is rewarded for his trust - he makes it, and plays a pivotal role in transmitting the Death Star plans to the Alliance. He's promptly shot afterwards, but he accomplishes his task as he desired.
Throughout the movie Chirrut has doggedly trusted the Force. While imprisoned by Saw Gerrera, Chirrut prays, and Baze remarks, "Really? You pray? He is praying that the door will open!" And Chirrut simply replies, "It worries him, because he knows it may work." Throughout the movie the tension of who Baze used to be - "the most devoted of us all" - and who Baze is now. And Chirrut's devotion stands in contrast to the agnosticism of Baze.
Baze sees Chirrut fall, and he holds his friend's hand as he dies, and thus begins the climax of Baze's character development. As he holds the hand of the dying priest, Baze is converted back to his belief in the guidance of the Force.
This does not keep him from dying, but it gives him purpose as he single-handedly clears the entrenched squadron of death troopers who killed his friend, and as he dies, he finally finds peace again.
And that's their story. It's short (they get less than 20 minutes of dedicated time in the movie), and yet when they die it hits us poignantly, because they not only have memorable lines and combat sequences, but also because their story has depth and progression. And as roleplayers this is what we should shoot for with our characters: we need to have an idea of who they are, what they desire, and how we can progress this over the course of the story.
In our next post we'll cover Jyn and Cassian, two other characters that grow and change a lot over the movie, and what we can learn from their unique twist on trust.