What gets me about Jyn’s arc is that it’s in some ways the exact opposite of the typical hero’s story, particularly the stories shown in Finn and Rey and Luke. Those stories are all about gain, and about finding your own, individual, importance. Jyn’s story is all about LOSS, and ultimately realizing that she is a part or a wider world- that by becoming part of a group for a good cause, rather than (realistically) focussing only on herself, she becomes more.
Jyn starts out with absolutely everything. She’s the daughter of wealthy scientist parents on a core world. They adore her, dote on her, spend time with her. She wants for nothing.
But her parents have to go on the run to Lah’mu. It’s a difficult change, to be sure- from urban center to middle of nowhere. And she has to work for her livelihood. But her life is still fun and livable. Her parents make sure she has plenty of luxuries and awesome toys.
But then the Empire comes for her parents. She loses her doting parents and the life they had in a single day, with her mother gone and her father as well as dead. But she still has a home, of sorts, with Saw Gerrera. It’s a difficult life- the extremist’s base is often lacking in basic necessities, and Jyn doesn’t exactly have anyone watching out for her anymore. But there’s a place with a fire and a hot meal and sleeping cot, and Saw Gerrera to watch out for her.
But then Saw Gerrera abandons her, and at sixteen she has to fend completely for herself. She’s lost almost everything, but at least she still has her independence, her mother’s kyber necklace. She can still watch twin suns rise and breath fresh air and decide the way she goes in the galaxy. But her life is almost impossible. To simply live, she has to lie, steal, cheat, and deceive on a daily bases. She forges imperial documents, pretends to work in Imperial facilities for the mess halls and showers. She steals property off of people who will probably have a difficult time replacing it. She resists arrest.
But then Jyn gets caught. It’s a minor slip up, caused by hunger and exhaustion. As she waits in Imperial processing in Wobani, Jyn thinks that this is probably OK. At best, she’ll have some kind of food and place to sleep. At worst … well what does her life mean to the galaxy anyway? She’s out of friends. Though she has never been much for the force, she prays for her end anyway. She has lost absolutely everything, even her freedom, even her freaking name.
When the rebellion rescues her, all Jyn can think about is escape. She’s long stopped caring about what the rebel flag stands for. All the rebellion reminds her of is Saw Gerrera, of the sounds of informants whose minds he scrambled for information that she used to hear from the cell. All she wants is a way out of this mess, and maybe … maybe find out about what her father has been doing all of this time.
But Jyn realizes that the rebellion stand for more than that. She realizes it in her growing relationship with Cassian Andor, but also in herself and the group of friends she’s found. The rebellion is more important than her individual safety, and though she has had the luxury of remaining uninvolved, staying neutral has only hurt her. Jyn starts to think of the kind of future she wants for herself, and for the world. Her life doesn’t mean much, but if could mean a whole lot more in this rebellion.
Ultimately, Jyn’s death hurts because it’s located at the end of her downward spiral. Her life has finally started to improve. She has a place in the world, friends, a sense of herself, a mission. Most importantly, she sees a home she’s started to rebuild. She knows she can now find a bed, a hot meal, comrades at the Rebel Base. And then there’s whatever she has with Cassian. Maybe . .. maybe it can become something more.
Jyn makes the ultimate sacrifice, and it’s telling that she’s smiling as she goes. The galaxy told her that she was worth nothing, so she told herself that her survival was worth more than anything else. Now she’s started to finally find a balance and a hope, and her life can finally be worth something to someone else.