by Todd Stewart
Around the release of Rogue One – A Star Wars Story, I heard a fellow fan discussing how Lyra Erso stopped working to care for her daughter, Jyn, and support her husband’s research as portrayed in the lead-in novel, Catalyst. I could hear the distaste in the fan’s voice. It was as if Lyra becoming a stay-at-home mom was physically discomforting. In such a (fictional) egalitarian galaxy, that has given us strong leaders Leia Organa and Mon Mothma and more recent leading ladies Rey and Jyn Erso, how could we take such a huge step back with (gasp!) a homemaker?
We should judge Lyra Erso’s character differently. From Lyra’s portrayal in Rogue One and Catalyst, she should be admired and honored. Not without faults, of course. But she might even be more Jedi than the knights we know from the Prequel Era.
George Lucas and subsequent fan theorists have explained why Obi-Wan Kenobi vanished and became one with the Force. Part of the justification was Obi-Wan’s 20-year communing with Qui-Gon Jinn and the Living Force in the wastelands of Tatooine. But it also included Obi-Wan’s inherent selflessness; a willingness to give himself to the will of the Force. The Revenge of the Sith novelization describes Obi-Wan’s fighting style as the most diverse of the Jedi because he gave himself so completely to the Force. He ceased to be Obi-Wan and became an embodiment of the Force itself. This selflessness made him a preeminent warrior in the Prequels but also allowed him to quickly give up the fight and go into exile to protect a single boy he thought was the Chosen One.
Lyra Erso was just as selfless but on a more personal scale.
In Catalyst, James Luceno describes Lyra as an academic. A strong woman with an established career as a surveyor when she became a guide for Galen Erso’s field research into crystal deposits on the planet Espinar. They fell in love and married. Lyra became, in effect, Galen’s research assistant, helping him articulate his breakthroughs and transcribing his research notes. After five years of marriage, she gave birth to Jyn. Lyra left her career and went from caretaker of her husband to caregiver of their daughter.
Now here is where we come to the idea that we’ve taken a step back in Star Wars storytelling. Back to the days of Ozzie and Harriett. The era of dominant, professional husbands and submissive, domestic wives. Lyra gives up a successful career to babysit both egghead husband and newborn baby. Even Director Orson Krennic recognizes this about half-way through Catalyst:
“I mean, between motherhood and what you do for Galen, you don’t have a lot of time for yourself. I’m simply curious if you’re fine with having put your life on hold – temporarily, in any case.”
Lyra re-frames her situation:
She regarded him frankly. “I haven’t put my life on hold, Orson. My career, maybe, but certainly not my life.” [emphasis in original]
And then to her husband:
“I’m hardly sacrificing myself, Galen. Being here was as much my choice as yours.”
But she was sacrificing herself. She was giving up her own interests for those of her loved ones. Just as Jedi were “encouraged” to do.
This is a type of selflessness that many of us who are parents can relate to. My wife left a career of 10 years to stay home with our children for the next 10 years. During that time, my career advanced while she was a primary caretaker. I have no illusions of who had the harder job; I just happened to be the lucky one and the one that brought home the paycheck. But I always felt (and I hope my wife agrees) that she did not do this because someone made her. And she did not do this for me. She made a choice to put our children’s interests before her own just as many parents do on a daily basis.
Respite Turns to Conscientiousness
Lyra’s parallels to Jedi are more than just her devotion to others. Krennic, being an effective manager, recognized that he had to keep his top scientist on mission by ensuring that Galen’s home life was fulfilling. After all, “happy wife, happy life.” Krennic arranged for Lyra to spend a few months surveying a promising crystal vein on Alpinn.
The expedition could very well have recharged her batteries had her pilot, Has, not shown her Imperial exploitation on Samovar and Wadi Raffa. She returns from the trip with serious doubts that eventually lead her and her family to flee the Empire. When given more information about the Empire’s atrocities, she listens to her moral compass, which steers her away from Krennic and the Empire. Similar to how the Jedi are taught to listen to the will of the Force.
Both in Catalyst, and later in Rogue One, Lyra expresses her reverence for the Force. While on Alpinn, she channels her inner Yoda and describes the Force’s transcendence and interconnectedness with all life. Later, her parting words to her daughter are to trust in the Force as she hands her daughter one of the most revered symbols of the Jedi, a kyber crystal. She is clearly devoted to that ancient religion. It is her guide, and therefore her center, much as it should have been for the Jedi.
But like the Jedi, Lyra’s faults lead to her downfall. The Galens had worked out a contingency plan with Saw Gerrera so that if (most likely when) Krennic and the Empire found them on Lah’mu, Lyra and Jyn could hide and eventually escape with Saw.
Lyra’s decision to ignore the plan and confront Krennic and a squad of Death Troopers with nothing but a pile of clothes and a hand blaster was a vain attempt to protect her husband. Fighting – when she should have stuck to her ideals – cost her life and risked that of her daughter. And, in the end, Galen went on to build the Death Star’s superlaser anyway.
Just as we should not ultimately condemn the Jedi for fighting as generals in the Clone Wars, we should not condemn Lyra for her lapse in judgement. The Jedi still provided a thousand generations with peace and justice just as Lyra provided her husband and daughter years of protection and comfort. In their prime, each was selfless, giving up their own lives to serve the Force and those around them. Each listed to that voice inside. And each was a devout follower of the Force.