WARNING! The following post contains spoilers of the ending of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If you do not want the conclusion ruined, do not read any further. If you already saw it, or don’t care about spoilers, I hope you enjoy!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an intriguing addition to the Star Wars franchise. Rogue One delivers action, intergalactic dogfighting, and musing regarding if the good guys are really any better than the bad guys. What intrigued me most about this story in a galaxy far, far away were the Buddhist references peppered throughout the movie. These references include the use of mantras, the idea of life and the universe being composed of the same stuff, and the notion of death as a continuation, not an ending.
Chirrut Îmwe, one of the rebels in the movie, brings Buddhism into the movie through his use of mantras. Fans of the movie already know his popular mantra, “I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me,” but let’s examine the purpose of the mantra. Mantras are featured in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc. They are said to endow the practitioners with supernatural powers. Chirrut definitely demonstrates the supernatural aspect of mantras with the master switch scene. Chirrut and his group are pinned down by Imperial gunfire, preventing them from fulfilling their mission objective of sending the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. Chirrut puts his life on the line and begins chanting the mantra as he walks out toward the master switch. The mantra protects him long enough to fulfill his mission of turning on the master switch before the enemy succeeds in taking him out. He should have died on the spot by walking out, but the mantra endowed the warrior-monk with supernatural protection. Even though Chirrut doesn’t survive the battle on Scarif, his use of the mantra allows the rebels to accomplish their mission objective even though the odds were stacked against them.
Another way Chirrut brings Buddhism into the Star Wars universe is his description of the Force. It is important to understand what The Force is. For the uninitiated, according to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” This description is similar to the Buddhist concept of the self and how it is made up of non-self elements. Buddhism views us as connected to life and the universe because our bodies are made up of the elements. Within us are the earth element, the water element, etc. The same elements that run through all life runs through us. This sense of connectedness is also conveyed through the Force. The same energy field that runs through humans runs throughout the universe. The philosophy of the Force and the non-existence of the self may utilize different terminology, but the message is the same: we are all connected to the universe.
Besides expressing a Buddhist way of looking at our relationship to the universe, Chirrut also expresses a Buddhist view of death. Buddhism views death not as an ending; it views death as a notion that prevents us from seeing the true reality. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We think that we exist only from this point in time until this point in time, and we suffer because of that notion. If we look deeply, we will know that we have never been born and we will never die. A wave is born and dies, is higher or lower, more or less, beautiful. But we cannot apply these notions to water.” In other words, we do not cease to exist; we continue on in another form (e.g., becoming one with the earth when buried, as ashes, etc.). We are just like the wave. Whether cresting or crashing, a wave still exists as water. Whether we are alive or dead, we still live on in the universe in some way, shape, or form. When the warrior-monk is in the threshold of death, and his partner Baze is by his side, he tells his friend to not worry: “It’s okay. It’s okay. Look for the Force. And you will always find me.” When Chirrut says this, he is echoing this Buddhist idea of continuation. His body may cease to function, but he does not cease to exist. He will continue to live on in the form of the Force.
Though Chirrut does not directly state he is Buddhist, he does express a lot of Buddhist concepts in his way of life and his philosophy. His use of mantras places him in the ballpark of Buddhism as well as other Indian religions. The warrior-monk’s view of the self as composed of the same stuff as the rest of the universe and death as a continuation are concepts Buddhism explores at length. It is refreshing to see a badass introducing the audience to Buddhist concepts, especially when Christianity is the prevalent religion of American society. Let’s hope Hollywood continues to experiment with these ideas in future projects.