Story Geeks blogger and longtime Star Wars fan Ashley Pauls digs deeper into her favorite franchise with the “Women of Star Wars” blog series, taking a look at the character journeys of the major female characters in Star Wars and examining their impact on pop culture.
A Rebellion is born
1. Who is Jyn Erso, and what characteristics define her?
When we first meet her in “Rogue One,” Jyn Erso doesn’t particularly care about the Rebellion, or what’s happening elsewhere in the galaxy. Trapped in a dingy, depressing Imperial labor camp, she focuses on surviving one day at a time because that’s all she can do. She’s had enough of “causes” and resistance efforts, thanks to her estranged relationship with her former guardian, Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera. Her mother is gone, murdered by Imperial troops, and her father is helping to build a secret weapon for the Empire. It’s that painful past that leads the Rebellion to recruit Jyn for a special mission, despite her supposed indifference to the cause.
Jyn has buried her longings for purpose and attachment, because she doesn’t want to be hurt anymore. She comes across as sullen and uncooperative, but these are really just coping mechanisms. She’s been hurt too much to let her guard down. It’s only after learning just how deeply her father really did care for her that she begins to invest herself in the Rebellion. She may have seemed like an unlikely hero at first, but she eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice, her actions leading to the destruction of the Death Star.
2. What are Jyn’s biggest hopes? What are her greatest fears?
At the start of the film, I don’t know that Jyn really has any long-term hopes or goals. She’s been beaten down and betrayed so many times that she can’t achieve any meaningful level of self-actualization. Her biggest fear, though she may not admit it, is that her father really did stop caring about her, and she’s alone in the galaxy. She likes to pretend that she doesn’t need anyone, but that empty ache of loneliness and abandonment continues to haunt her. It isn’t until that wound is healed, thanks to a hologram message from her father, that she is able to start caring about others, and the fate of the galaxy.
3. What is the biggest challenge that Jyn faces, and how does she overcome it?
Jyn’s biggest personal challenge is pretty much the plot of the movie: how do the Rebels destroy the Death Star and stop the Empire’s reign of terror across the galaxy? This mission is deeply personal to Jyn, because her father is involved in the Death Star project and has secretly built a flaw into the system in the hopes that later the Rebels can exploit it.
Jyn tries to convince the Rebels to authorize a risky mission to the Imperial databanks on Scarif, so she can steal the plans for the Death Star. However, the Rebel leaders are too afraid to greenlight this plan. Jyn could have easily given up at this point and abandoned the mission. But, inspired by her father’s sacrifice, she presses on, eventually sacrificing her own life and transmitting the information the Rebels need to stop the Death Star and save the galaxy.
4. What is Jyn’s biggest fault and/or moment of failure in the series, and how does she learn from it and grow as a character?
Jyn’s biggest flaw, at the beginning of the film, is that she doesn’t really seem to care about anyone else. Again, this is understandable based on her past trauma, but still, it’s definitely holding her back from finding true peace and purpose.
Throughout the film, she starts taking a broader view of the galaxy, and she sees that her actions could help save millions of innocent lives. She has to let down her guard and start trusting the other members of her team, like Rebel agent Cassian Andor. She has to let go of her painful past and forgive her family.
The film’s tragic ending means we don’t get to see what else Jyn may have accomplished within the Rebellion, if she had survived the battle on Scarif. But even with the heartbreaking ending, it’s so beautiful to see the peace in Jyn’s eyes as she waits with Cassian on the beach for the shockwave from the Death Star to hit. She trusts that she didn’t die in vain, and fans who have seen “A New Hope” know that she most certainly didn’t. Her actions, to borrow a line from “The Last Jedi,” were a spark that lit a fire that fanned the flames of Rebellion and gave hope to the galaxy.
5. What about this character portrayed as female stood out? Did she break any ground or does she feel more like a compilation of female character tropes?
This is going to be a long answer, but I promise, I will eventually get around to the original questions.
So the tricky part of analyzing the characters from “Rogue One” is that this is more of a plot-driven movie than a character-driven movie. That’s probably why this entry in the “Women of Star Wars” blog series has been the toughest to write so far, even though I REALLY love “Rogue One,” and it’s No. 4 on my list of favorite Star Wars movies.
We don’t get a lot of character development for the members of the main crew, which is actually not necessarily a complaint from me. This feels like a war movie set in the Star Wars universe; it’s meant to be a movie about a bunch of ordinary people who are thrown together for a mission. You don’t have characters like Rey and Luke Skywalker who are burdened by the weight of destiny and carry the fate of the galaxy on their shoulders. I actually like “Rogue One” just the way it is, even if it doesn’t lend itself to in-depth character analysis, like some of the other Star Wars films.
I’m glad they made Jyn’s character female; as Star Wars grows and expands, it’s important to have diverse representation, and “Rogue One” does a good job of this. But at the same time, I don’t know that Jyn was necessarily a groundbreaking female character. I feel like this character could have been male or female, and the story wouldn’t have really changed that much. It also feels like sometimes things happen to her, versus her being able to make her own decisions (though she does take on more of a leadership role at the end of the film).
6. What does this character teach us about women in the real world? Are there lessons we can take from the screen and translate them into real life?
One of the lessons Jyn learns in the film is that it’s important to care about the world around you. Sometimes there’s so much negative news that it’s easy to just retreat and block out all the headlines. I bet a lot of people in the Empire found it easy to just ignore some of the bad stuff Palpatine was doing and go on about their lives as if nothing was wrong. Yet if we live in our own sheltered world for too long, we may miss an opportunity to participate in change or speak up about an important cause.
We should care about what’s happening across the world, even if it doesn’t appear to impact us directly. Because in the end, we’re all in this together, and we should be aware of people who are being oppressed and mistreated, or are suffering in some other way (hunger, sickness, etc.). If we have the power to do something good, we should.
Jyn is a person who has been hurt and scarred by her past experiences, and I wouldn’t really blame her if she just wanted to hide from the Empire and the Rebellion, which wasn’t always a perfectly ethical organization, either. Still, in the end she decides to risk her life in order to help others, and that selfless attitude is one we should all strive to emulate.
Looking for more Star Wars content? You can listen to our podcast on the ideal Star Wars watch order, or join us as we dig into the character journeys of Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo.
Next up in the Women of Star Wars: Rose!