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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.]
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is many things: a love letter to the original trilogy, the closing of a plot hole from the very first movie that fans had turned into an in-joke, a franchise extension attempting to find life outside of the series formula, and more. One thing it is not, however, is a movie that’s kind to its stated protagonist. Why, exactly, does Rogue One treat Jyn Erso so poorly?
Unusually for the lead in a Star Wars movie, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is a strangely passive presence in her own movie, a character with little agency who instead relies on others to point her in whatever direction the movie needs her to be in at that part of the plot. Jyn isn’t defined by what she does, but instead just the opposite: She doesn’t get to name the team — and therefore the movie — because that falls to Bodhi (Riz Ahmed); she doesn’t get to save her father, because of the actions of the Rebel X-Wing pilots, nor avenge her mother’s death, because that falls to Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), inexplicably. (Really — what is the narrative purpose of bringing Cassian back at that point? He dies moments later; he comes back literally just to prevent Jyn from having the showdown with Krennic alone.)
Even her biggest moment in the movie — the inspirational speech she gives to the Rebel Alliance that ultimately spurs the mission into action — is based on intelligence from her father and an emotional appeal (“Rebellions are built on hope”) that she heard from Cassian earlier in the movie. Notably, even that speech falls flat upon delivery; it’s in the next scene where we see that some have decided to join her, and even there, they’re following Cassian, who gives his own speech about needing to balance karmic scales for earlier actions.
The constant sidelining of Jyn is a genuinely confusing trend throughout Rogue One. It’s at odds not only with the promotion for the movie, which continually made it seem as if Jyn was a more self-possessed force (no pun intended) than she turns out to be, but also with the character’s place in the movie. Jyn is at the center of Rogue One, and serves as the Macguffin behind the mission in the first place — she’s the prop used to get access to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) in the first place. Yet she’s a void where the movie’s heart should live.
It’s possible that Jyn was a casualty of the reshoot process. On the cutting room floor, there could be sequences that show Jyn to be a more persuasive, natural leader who settles into the role and finds herself invested in the Rebellion for more than just the need to carry out her father’s wishes; someone that is more than the idea that all it takes to be a Strong Female Character™ is the ability to hit people and shoot a blaster. Certainly, I think that the people behind Rogue One weren’t trying to actively undermine the character, if only because it’s hard to discern what the point of that would be.
What remains in the finished Rogue One, however, is the ultimate argument against those who would try to convince you that Jyn Erso is just another Rey (Daisy Ridley) from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That’s clearly not the case, because Rey managed to take control of her own destiny and stand up to the forces working against her. Jyn, sadly, just ends up waiting for the next event to push her forward.
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