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Star Wars is like an iceberg. The movies are the tip, supported by an expanse of supplementary material beneath the surface. Guardians of the Whills is a quintessential example, exploring two fan-favorite characters who appeared in Rogue One but didn’t get much time to develop on-screen.
Aimed at younger readers, Guardians of the Whills works equally well as an adult novella. It shares Rogue One‘s gritty atmosphere, a war story that deals with more complex moral questions than the straightforward heroism of the main Star Wars trilogies.
The desert moon of Jedha is being crushed by Imperial rule, with stormtroopers mining its Holy City for Force-sensitive kyber crystals. Those crystals earned Jedha its status as a pilgrimage site, but the Empire just wants them to power the Death Star. An apt metaphor for the Empire’s philosophy, stamping out individual cultures to gain unified military power. This setting made Rogue One the first overly post-9/11 movie in the franchise, depicting an escalating struggle between local insurgents and an invading army in a defenseless desert city.
Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe used to guard the Temple of the Whills on Jedha. Chirrut, a blind monk who believes in the Force, now wants to resist the Empire without exacerbating Jedha’s problems. Baze, who renounced his faith long ago, has a more cynical attitude—and a greater affinity for warfare.
They represent conflicting methods of surviving an authoritarian regime, but despite their political differences, they remain devoted to each other and to their home. Without going overboard into Star Wars‘ real-world parallels, it feels like a very relevant story today.
Baze and Chirrut had memorable but minor roles in Rogue One, with relatively little dialogue. Fortunately author Greg Rucka has a knack for drawing out their characterization from background details. Affectionate bickering holds their relationship together, coupled with a wordless respect during more difficult times. Baze’s taciturn toughness hides a compassionate nature, which is why he stays on Jedha to help Chirrut and the orphans of the Holy City. Meanwhile Chirrut may seem idealistic, but he’s surprisingly pragmatic about Jedha’s chances at defeating the Empire. (He’s also slyly funny, taking note from Donnie Yen’s performance in the movie.)
Guardians of the Whills is a gift for any fan who wanted to see more of Baze and Chirrut after Rogue One. We learn about their life together on Jedha, interspersed with lively action scenes from each character’s point of view. It also works as an effective prequel to the movie, showcasing the darker side of Star Wars‘ titular war.
While the main Star Wars movies follow history-altering achievements by powerful individuals, Rogue One‘s heroes were cannon-fodder. They performed an essential role to the Rebellion, but they died in the attempt—along with thousands of civilians. Jedha itself was a new viewpoint on the war, showing how the Empire gradually tightens its grip outside the drama of one-off attacks like Alderaan.
Like Jyn Erso’s journey from criminal to Rebel hero in Rogue One, Baze and Chirrut are forced to choose between several bad options: flee their home, survive without bowing to Imperial rule, or fight back and risk escalating a conflict with inevitable civilian casualties. Insurgent leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker’s character) advocates the most extreme option, while Baze and Chirrut aim for smaller victories. Embedded in their community in the Holy City, their humor and friendship stop the story from becoming too dark, even as it acknowledges the difficulty of their situation. It’s a fitting prologue to Rogue One, and hopefully not the last time we’ll see these two in action.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor