Our own world is no stranger to battles over sacred land.
The ancient history that stands atop such places is often swept aside for invaders to claim the resources that lie beneath. In Rogue One, an entire planet becomes this kind of combat zone – Jedha, a holy land for those who follow the Force.
“The Force is basically in Star Wars like a religion, and they’re losing their faith in the period that we start the movie,” says Gareth Edwards, director of the story that’s set just prior to the events of 1977’s original Star Wars.
“We were trying to find a physical location we could go to that would speak to the themes of losing your faith and the choice between letting the Empire win, or evil win, and good prevailing,” he says. “It got embodied in this place we called Jedha.”
With its narrow market alleyways, desert sands, and Ottoman-inspired architecture, Jedha has obvious Middle Eastern influences, but it could be any place where far-flung followers would gather to pray, reflect, or meditate – Mecca, Jerusalem, Canterbury, Bodh Gaya…
“It’s a place where people who believe in the Force would go on a pilgrimage,” Edwards says. “It was essentially taken over by the Empire. It’s an occupied territory… for reasons we probably can’t reveal.”
Pressed for a little more detail about why the Empire would send its military to dominate this world of worship, Edwards says, “There’s something very important in Jedha that serves both the Jedi and the Empire. It felt very much like something we could relate to in the real world.”
It sounds like whatever passes as a rare natural resource in the galaxy is part of what makes Jedha so special. A source of kyber crystals, perhaps? Those are the Force-sensitive minerals that power lightsabers and were used by ancient Sith to create colossal weapons of mass destruction.
As the Empire finishes its Death Star, kyber crystals could be a key component of the battlestation’s planet-annihilating laser. But there’s another part of these sacred places that is often overlooked in the battle over their resources – their people.
No doubt, they can be a source of tremendous power, too. The Rebels go there seeking one individual important to their strike against the Empire’s superweapon.
“Within Jedha, even though there’s the oppressive foot of the Empire hanging over them, there’s a resistance that won’t give up and our characters have to go and meet people there to try and secure a person from this group,” Edwards says.
Although faith is receding at the time of Rogue One, worshipers from throughout the galaxy, following many different threads of the Force, still gather to pay their respects on Jedha.
“In a wider level, there must be loads of people who just believe in the Jedi and believe in the Force and have been affected by it,” Edwards says. “If it’s a really ancient religion, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said, it’s got to exist in thousands or millions of people in the galaxy.”
The planet’s streets are filled with priests, scholars, and holy men and women. One inhabitant of the planet is described as a warrior monk – Chirrut Imwe, played by Donnie Yen – a blind man who is accompanied by his protector and guide Baze Malbuz (Jiang Wen), a non-believer in the supernatural who nonetheless has great faith in his friend.
It’s also the homeworld of Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) a pilot who was formerly conscripted into Imperial service but now serves the growing movement against Emperor Palpatine’s regime.
More on him, and why he still wears the Imperial insignia on his shoulder, in Tuesday’s story …