Character + relationship depth in Rogue One (Jyn + Cassian)
It drives me crazy how most people chronically overlook the importance of the characters and their relationships in Rogue One. Foremost among these is the fascinating one between Jyn and Cassian: their similarities and differences interact so tightly with the themes of Rogue One; they have in common parallel traumatic destroyed childhoods; both have a long history with the rebel cause, but cope with it and think about it differently.
Their paths diverge around personal connections: Cassian has stayed alone, and so the basis of his devotion to the cause is more abstract and less human. This sits badly with the fact that he clearly began as an idealist and an injured child, hence his inner conflict. (K2SO is interesting because we see that Cassian, in spite of himself, has found someone to care about, and the fact that he reprogrammed K2SO and this somehow resulted in compulsive honesty says a lot about Cassian’s repressed nature, I think.)
Meanwhile Jyn being involved with the rebels was tied to Saw, who took her in and raised her and was a substitute parent for her. She still had a personal relationship tying her to something, and his connection to the rebellion meant that when he ‘abandoned’ her (yay re-traumatisation), she made herself stop caring about the rebellion and became the hardened nihilist we meet on Wobani. Her passivity is the result of this.
This gets to Cassian because complete nihilism and isolation is too close to home for him - both his psychological shield that he uses to do awful things, and what he dreads becoming completely, thus losing what he’s supposed to be fighting for entirely. It also gets to him because it’s sort of the opposite to him: he lost all personal connection, and has kept going based on abstract, big-picture, universal, systemic understanding and a rational appreciation of the empire’s evils.
Jyn, on the other hand, primarily cares more about individuals (small picture), and deliberately refuses to “look up” (Cassian spends all his time doing this); but we see that while keeping her eyes on the ground, Jyn still sees and acts for vulnerable children. I think Jyn’s decision - her first moment of active choice in the film - to save that girl in Jedha city is what makes her start getting under Cassian’s skin. Ultimately, that’s what they’re both fighting for - but she strikes him as hypocritical for caring about that when it’s right in front of her (“We don’t all have the luxury of choosing when and where to care about something”), but not about the system that creates countless examples of that everywhere, every day throughout the galaxy, which is what he’s dedicated himself to: “some of us just decided to do something about it”. (Obviously, then, they also begin to be united by the obvious evil that killed that little girl anyway. The Death Star is a pretty potent way of making the abstract large scale power and evil of the Empire concrete!).
Meanwhile Jyn’s relationship with …. everything? herself, her past, her purpose, how she understands the world, her family, the Force itself gets turned utterly upside down by finding out that not only is her father alive, but that his love for her is as strong as ever, and that it’s inseparable from the rebellion. It fills in everything she’s been craving so painfully even since her family was ripped apart, and gives her a way forward. In the face of the apparent destruction of all hope, hers is restored by finding out that she is loved, and that, in a way that’s practical, and right at the heart of the horror that they all faced, that love has provided a way to save the galaxy. Her belief is tied to the strength of her personal connections, and her conviction accordingly spreads to everyone around her. It gets Cassian exactly where he hurts. And then Cassian dedicates himself to Jyn’s cause in a way that hits home to exactly where she has hurt most in the past - “I’m not used to people sticking around when things get bad”. When they come to understand each other, the abstract ('hope’) and the personal are balanced and united, and they (along with the entire crew of Rogue One) are forged into a common purpose.