“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opened in theaters Friday, and the most unbelievable part isn’t the lightsabers.
Before you read any further, this contains all sorts of spoilers, so come back and take a read after you’ve seen the movie.
It’s a good flick, all things considered, except for Jyn Erso being as deep as a puddle. The bottom line is that current female leads aren’t given the time to become something great because we the people refuse to allow for a movie where women aren’t great from the start.
Unlike Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Jyn doesn’t have multiple movies worth of time to develop (she’s dead), but she still has the same problems Rey does.
Both characters come pre-packaged with all the requisite badassery needed to fell their foes — they just need a semi-flirty male counterpart to help them realize their full potential. There’s no real romance, though. Female leads don’t need to fall in love, they only need a man to look on longingly. Sorry, Finn and Cassian.
The issue is that there’s no character progression. Jyn and Rey have superficial flaws that are resolved in their respective movies. They don’t mature into someone better. There is no Luke Skywalker-style evolution from whiny and incompetent boy to Death Star-annihilating Jedi.
Part of the reason for this shallowness, I think, is that modern-day feminism doesn’t allow for a female character to have weaknesses to criticize. One of the many problems this perfection creates is the inexplicable loyalty other characters display to that protagonist.
The script “saying so” can’t be the only reason audiences have to believe all those soldiers followed Jyn to almost certain death. If anything, they followed Jyn because they wanted to go to war in the first place, and she was their excuse to go blow up some Empire scum — not due to any inspiration she imparted.
If you ask someone to come up with some of film’s best female protagonists, they’ll most likely list off characters like Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and Clarice Starling. Their roles stick with you. Their stories are memorable timelines poignantly marked by fear, failure, insecurity, determination and success. What they become is built upon a foundation of flaws and triumph. They grow, and we grow to love them. Flaws, and overcoming those flaws, are what made them relatable and inspiring.
Young adult, flat characters like Katniss Everdeen, whom anyone could imagine being, conjure a flicker of intrigue thanks mostly to the actress in the role. Same goes for Bella Swan: There’s not much to them aside from being pretty. Some of you might scream sexism, except that Sarah Connor eventually became a gun-slinging, robot-annihilating milf. Connor’s attractiveness was far down her list of noteworthy traits because she was so much more than a pretty face.
What’s worse: Lucasfilms managed to create a robot that was more believable than the girl it follows around for two hours and 13 minutes in Rogue One.
Maybe Star Wars should take a look back at Princess Leia Organa, one of the core characters in the Star Wars universe. She had an excellent rapport with Han Solo and Luke. Leia, who Solo repeatedly dismissed as “princess,” was a core member of the group who proved herself through a sheer combination of will, courage, and a rebel general’s stratagem. Leia wasn’t immediately revered; the key players didn’t instantly follow her because of some awkward rallying speech. She wasn’t just eye-candy for Solo when she was wearing that smoking hot metal bikini — she flipped the script, choked Jabba the Hut to death and helped Han and Luke escape.
There will be no new impressive female leads for a very long time, so long as we’re too scared to portray women as humans with imperfections. Rey still has time, and hopefully we will see a genuine effort to evolve her past the perfect, shrink-wrapped product The Force Awakens presents her to be.
Scripts shouldn’t be neutered to pander to the perennially offended among us. Female leads deserve as much time to become something fantastic as male leads, but we have to be OK with watching them stumble first.