This small ‘Character Trips’ segment proposes to take a look at and venture into each one of the Rogue One team members and see what they’re all about…at a first glance anyway.
The first one of the team to make an appearance is Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso, the Imperial scientist. Jyn’s role in this movie, as her introductions would have it hinted, are all about her righting the wrongs of her father…or continuing his rights. There is a reason Jyn is not defined as her own person, but as “Galen’s daughter.” as after all her character arc is so short lived she barely has the time to be her own character.
Don’t get me wrong, I do consider Jyn to be a strong character, she is after all fierce and determined once she finds her calling, but still, that doesn’t stop her from being devoid of her own personality and agency, unless they start with her father. Probably my only issue with Rogue One is the lack of character development, but once again, I tend to not mind it as the movie had to work within set limits, and I happen to think it did so exquisitely; it’s still a problem nonetheless.
We follow Jyn’s arc starting with when she was little and the Empire came for her father, stripping her of both her parents in the process. Jyn is alone, having to fend for herself until Saw arrives to take her under his wing. We don’t know much of what happens after, we can only hear the echoes of her past in her brief conversation with Saw later in the movie. She reveals she was 16 when Saw abandoned her, and Saw even offers that she was ‘the best in his arsenal’…at 16… We know very little of what drove Jyn to survive and fight enough to be the best at the age of 16 in what we can consider an actual army of extremist rebels; perhaps her gratefulness to Saw, perhaps her wish to one day be reunited with her father, perhaps her wish to bring trouble for the Empire.
When she’s apprehended by the Rebel Alliance however, she denies both the latter options:
“I like to think he’s dead, makes things easier.” (talking about her father)
“I never had the luxury of political opinions.”
And later with Saw:
“It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.” (talking about the Empire’s influence)
“The cause? Seriously?[…] All it’s ever brought me is pain.”
She is eventually moved to act only after finding Galen, having gotten his message and hen witnessing his death after all the sacrifices he’d done. Thus we can only conclude that we don’t really know what motivates her to scrape for an existence, with her going to such lengths that would eventually lead to her becoming a 16 year old soldier, and getting captured and imprisoned after being abandoned. Through all that time span we are left wondering what pushes her to keep fighting and defying the Empire if she anyway wouldn’t bother ‘looking up’.
After Galen’s death, the cause becomes real for the sole purpose that it represented and crowned every sacrifice that her father had made, as well as her destroyed life and lost family. If she’d not fight for the cause, everything that happened to her would have been for nothing, her options are non-existent if she is to honour her father or any of his sacrifices. She assumes the role, she becomes brave, a determined leader and a strong fighter, and her efforts pay off at the end of the film, with hope being delivered into the right hands.
In the exchange with Cassian after the Eadu incident, Jyn proves to be capable of incredibly morally sensitive thinking, and once she finds her reason to fight she argues and stands up to a disjointed Rebellion, too broken and confused to know what to do. She proves to make a strong leader in those moments and the ones that follow on Scarif, as she encourages young and inexperienced soldiers to “take the day” and make a change.
Jyn however doesn’t make it; in her last moments Cassian encourages that her “father would be proud”; her last moments still see her defined into the shadow of Galen. Within the limits of the movie, I’d say it works, though if you wonder what her character arc is…well…it isn’t. Or at least I can’t figure it out. I am a firm believer that not everyone needs to be a compelling character, characters should be also allowed to be common. Not all movie characters need to be hero stereotypes, it would actually prove very unhealthy and not at all realistic, and Rogue One is the best to proof, since it’s a movie about the ordinary people; the ones in the background, the ones we overlook and the ones which comprise the majority. We so often focus on the exceptional in movies (because why would you even make a movie about someone who wasn’t in any way uncommon) and we often forget that it’s the people in the background that are most of the times capable to bring the change, and that we have to be strong within our limits.