I have been a faithful Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching the Star Wars movies (part of a worn-out, VHS box set, of course), I have an early memory of my mom winding up my hair into Princess Leia’s iconic buns, and my brother and I used to cosplay our favorite Star Wars characters before we knew what cosplaying was. I have defended Star Wars through every B-rated actor and bad script, so it should be no surprise that this past weekend my main priority was to see the new addition to the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The film, starring Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, has already brought in $155 million, officially hitting blockbuster status, and is projected to beat last year’s numbers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Even with my crazed fandom, I was even more excited to see the franchise’s latest film—its second since selling to Disney—because for the second time, the lead character is female. It was the first time, however, that the character was highly relatable.
The movie breaks from the traditional anthology layout by filling a plot hole found within the original series. Set just before A New Hope, the story of Rogue One details how the rebels acquired the plans for the original Death Star. Jones plays Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, one of the principal designers of the Death Star. In a flashback at the beginning of the movie, we see that Galen had abandoned his work with the empire for a simpler life with his family. The empire tracks down Galen and his family, and Jyn is separated from her parents. In the present day, Jyn is an adult being recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help reach her father. Has he turned to the dark side in lending his genius to building the Death Star? Or has he some better plan up his sleeve? Viewers must wait to find out.
The Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm have been progressive when it comes to the roles they give women. From the start of the film series in 1977, Star Wars brought us a the feminine Princess Leia, wearing bold lipstick, but who could still wield a gun and stand up against the evil empire. Despite the strength of Leia’s role and what that meant at the time, the princess always played second fiddle to her brother and required saving on multiple occasions. She was also portrayed as what appeared to be a sex slave for Jabba the Hutt—a kind of sad pandering to a young male audience. In later movies we were given Padme/Queen Amidala, another badass warrior princess. Again, though, she took a backseat to the men.
Last year, I remember the buzz surrounding The Force Awaken’s leading lady, Rey. Finally! Star Wars had given us a strong female lead. However, for me Rey was not as relatable as I hoped. Her character was strong to a fault, and it came off as overcompensation. While Rey may have been a strong step in the right direction, I believe Jyn is finally a character for every woman.
Jyn is bitter and imperfect, but eventually finds a way to invest herself in the rebellion’s cause. She refuses to wallow in her life’s more unfortunate situations but rather channels her angst toward something greater than herself. As I look to real life, I cannot think of a single person who has not faced adversity like Jyn. Most of us reach that crossroads in our life—a point where something terrible has happened, and we think, now what am I going to do? Jyn speaks to us all in that way.
Jones said on BBC Breakfast that female action heroes such as Jyn and Rey are now “absolutely the norm...It's a wonderful moment for cinema and there's a great appetite for female action hero leads.” Jones also said that she modeled her portrayal of Jyn after Beyoncé, citing her as a powerful woman without airs. "She doesn't seem precious, and so she was definitely an inspiration for Jyn.”
President of Lucasfilms Kathleen Kennedy says the irony of this film is that Jyn is not just a female hero. “She’s just a very strong, wonderful character in a movie, and to highlight that as being something specific to being a woman, that's what I hope disappears over time, that it actually just becomes the vernacular of story telling.”
Jones’ character is not just a win for women in terms of scoring the top roles, but it was also reported that Jones was the highest-paid actor in the film. This is a stunning victory as women in Hollywood have been fighting the wage gap very publicly the past few years. Star Wars has remained one of the most popular franchises for the past several decades, and its fair treatment of women could have an impact on the future of female representation in the media.
Star Wars has finally given us an installment that is gritty and real, with realistic people standing up against unlikely odds. I like this analogy to real life and what it is to be a woman now in the twenty-first century. While not all of us may be fighting for our lives, the fight for fair pay and representation still rages on, and we need to decide whether or not to throw in the towel or be like Jyn and channel our doubts, fears, and hopelessness into something bigger than ourselves. After all, in the words of Jyn, rebellions are built on hope. If we do the best we can to further what's right in our lifetime, we can trust, as the last spoken lines in the film remind us, that there is hope for the next.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.