In defence of Jyn Erso and the characters of Rogue One [SPOILERS]
Rogue One has elicited some heated debate among hardcore Star Wars fans. Considering it’s the first standalone film in the Star Wars canon from Lucasfilm, it has raised one big question: what constitutes a Star Wars movie? No doubt, it’s a very personal question and it’s difficult to divorce new and upcoming Star Wars films from the old ones that dominated many of our childhoods. Is it the swashbuckling adventurous tone that evokes a sense of wonder? Is it the narrative satisfaction that’s baked into a hero’s journey? Is it the larger-than-life characters? Is it simply a matter of a John Williams score? Or the iconic visuals of X-wings and TIE fighters engaged in battle? While last year’s The Force Awakens apes the spirit of A New Hope (with MANY caveats), the brains trust behind Rogue One, which includes director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, opted for a different approach. One that took inspiration from real-life wars, one that shined a light on the ordinary people who worked on the fringes, one that was a grounds-up view of the galactic conflict.
One of the most consistent criticisms of Rogue One concern the characters, with lead Jyn (Felicity Jones) bearing the brunt. Some would call our protagonists underwritten, some would say understated (disclaimer: I’m with the latter, if you hadn’t noticed from the title of this piece). Regardless, the light touch here has divided people. It’s a pretty big deal, considering characters are the vessels through which an audience experiences a story. We need to be able to empathise with them. For some people, they could not latch onto Jyn, or Cassian (Diego Luna), or Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), or Chirrut (Donnie Yen) or Baze (Jiang Wen). They spent the film not caring for our band of Rebels and felt the big, powerful moments were unearned and hollow. But for some, the characters clicked. They felt these characters had a lived-in quality, despite the lack of backstory and no great, showy arcs in the film, and which were bolstered by the performances of the cast. I, for one, bought into the emotion of each of the characters and got pretty invested in them despite the flaws (I cried like 3 times the first time I saw Rogue One, don’t @ me).