Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Chirrut Îmwe and Faith Expression

I love Star Wars. Other than Harry Potter, it is probably one of the things that has most influenced my young nerdy life. As a young religious girl I loved the idea of the Force and the Jedi and how their faith in the Force gave them power. Then, like many people, I was dismayed over how the Force and the Jedi were portrayed in the prequels. Maybe it was because of my own issues with my faith, but I very much disliked how overly regimented the Jedi were shown to be and how it seemed to take some of the mystery out of the Force. With the most recent movies, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, all of the things that I loved about the Force and the Jedi in the original movies were back, and I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe is one of the absolute best examples of someone of faith that I have seen in a long time. And more specifically, it was great seeing a beautiful faith expression that was more reflective of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.

Chirrut Îmwe is not a Jedi, but rather a warrior monk charged with guarding the Temple of the Kyber in Jedha, which is part of the Church of the Force, and Chirrut (and Baze) were “Guardians of the Whills”, or, in other words, protectors of the Temple. Chirrut is definitely one of my new favorite characters. While the Jedi and many in the rebellion are followers of the Force, we don’t often see this belief as a real example of faith expression. Yes, Luke uses the Force to be a Jedi and others may say “may the Force be with you, us, etc,” but that’s it. But faith expression is more than that. While others may express some basic belief in the Force, Chirrut shows real faith. He puts all his trust in the Force and he uses mantras and meditation to help him grow close to the Force. He seems genuinely excited when others show even a little faith in the Force. Chirrut prays and give himself totally over to his belief in the power of the Force. This character is also the best example of both Buddhist and Taoist beliefs in a Star Wars movie, which is why I think his faith feels so much more real than that of other Force-believers in past Star Wars movies.

via latimes

(via latimes)

In most of these Star Wars movies, the Jedi use their amazing abilities through the power of the Force, but Chirrut lets the Force use him. He allows the Force to direct and guide him in his path. Chirrut has such faith in the Force that he trusts it to guide him through the world and even into battle despite his blindness. You never see him stumble or fall, as he has given himself over to the Force. He often prays: “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” This mantra is said repeatedly throughout the movie to remind himself to have faith and let the Force guide him. In fact, we see him chanting this prayer during one of the most powerful scenes in Rogue OneDena Pech, a writer from Movie Pilot, explains the power of this scene. She writes:

Since the film links death with hope, Chirrut’s death focuses on life itself. Chirrut is a calm-inducing monk — he’s passive yet carries an ethical compass. The graceful walk towards the master switch is a symbol for harmony, even an ethical statement about the power of nonviolence over action, that itself protects Chirrut until he’s fulfilled his purpose. Without Chirrut turning on the master switch, Cassian and Jyn would have been screwed at the archives, and the Empire would’ve crushed the Rebellion.

This scene not only shows Chirrut’s total faith in the Force but is also reflective of real Buddhist beliefs and history. While Chirrut is still a warrior, this scene shows a strong example of Buddhist pacifism, showing Chirrut purposefully praying and walking toward the master switch, knowing that his faith will allow him to complete this act of nonviolence, and that his actions will have a bigger impact than all the violence the Empire throws at him. And while it was sad when Chirrut died, you kind of don’t feel too upset about it because he seems so happy. In Buddhist teaching, mantras are words spoken or chanted repeatedly as a form of meditation to help evoke enlightenment, and Chirrut certainly seems to have achieved that. Chirrut is at peace and harmony with his death knowing that he has fulfilled his purpose. Tumblr author L.J. Writes wrote an excellent article—which I highly suggest everyone read—about how this scene reflects both Buddhist and Taoist themes perfectly:

This is a beautifully Taoist moment where you let go and fall like a feather to where you were meant to be, instead of striving to rise toward what you think is bigger and better. It is achieving something greater than you possibly can with any artifice or effort, by lending yourself to the universe and letting it work through you. You do not leap against the waterfall, you relax and let the thundering water sweep you away, and by surrendering to its power you become the waterfall.

The scene is also replete with Buddhist symbolism where violence is met with non-violence. It reminds me of Buddhist monks in Burma braving bullets in peaceful protest, a parallel heightened by the robes Chirrut wears. That final walk is also a subtle form of renunciation where he is no longer the amazing martial artist, one of the last Guardians, but a servant to the Force. His skills, his titles, his vanities slip off one by one like robes he has outgrown. All that remains is him, simple and naked as a child, small and vulnerable without the things he had used to cover himself with–but also greater than he ever was before, greater than imagining, for only through such renunciation could he be one with the Force.

I have often said the Star Wars movies reflect Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, but they really are more of a poor Western understanding of Eastern religions, and the movies suffer for that. While the Force and the Jedi seem to reflect things from Eastern culture, it utilized the Force more as magic than as any real belief. The prequels try to get rid of a lot of the original themes from the movies, while the original movies try to be sort of religious, but not really. The original Star Wars movies focus more on what the Force can do for people instead of just having faith in the Force. Chirrut Îmwe, while not a Jedi, seems more like someone who follows the philosophy of the Force than any Jedi. Not even Yoda shows faith like Chirrut. We never see Yoda praying or chanting, and while Yoda seems like the head of the Jedi faith, he never seems to totally give himself over to the Force like Chirrut does.

Meanwhile, Chirrut may not be a Jedi, but he seems far more faithful to the ethos of the Force. Chirrut seems to be able to sense the Force, but not to the extent that the Jedi can, which means he relies more on his belief than on any sort of magic powers. Because of this, Chirrut’s belief in the Force feels more like genuine faith. By the end of the movie Chirrut is one with the Force; he has lost all individualism. And he rejoices even in death because he knows it doesn’t matter. Letting go of desire and the illusion of self in order to achieve enlightenment are important tenets of Buddhist belief. Adding real religious themes from real religions made the faith of the Jedi so much more real and beautiful, and makes Chirrut Îmwe one of the best examples of someone of faith in a movie.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Chirrut Îmwe and Faith Expression

  1. I would say this is how the Force should’ve been depicted since the first movie, as something a person simply surrenders themself to, and through it they can do incredible things, like Luke hitting the Death Star correctly. Midichlorians should never have come into the conversation and it would be nice if we didn’t have that as canon, I think.

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